Tips for Choosing a Graphic Design Firm



With the seemingly endless supply of agencies, designers, and online sources available for small business brand and logo development, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. And, with prices all over the map, how does a business owner truly understand what they are buying, and what the best option is?

Experience is critical.
It seems obvious, but an abundance of experience in small business branding is a key factor. You want a designer or firm that has done this type of work often, and boasts a portfolio to prove it. If all of their work is more corporate, they may not be a good match for your needs; or, if they are a traditional graphic designer, they also may not be an ideal match. Just because they are a traditional graphic designer does not necessarily make them a brand designer. These are essentially two different skill sets. Business owners often make the mistake of assuming that the person who designed their brochure or website is also qualifies to create their brand. But, if you compare the work of full-time brand designers to graphic designers who rarely do branding, there is a clear difference in the level of work.

Who actually does the work?
The internet has spawned countless companies and logo mills that churn out a ton of work. Often, though, the logos displayed on the site are done by a designer who may no longer be on staff–or may never have worked there at all. Even if the worker truly was done by the company. It may or may not be an indication of the type of work you can expect to get. What’s worse is when the work presented does not belong to them. We have had several of our logos stolen and presented on the portfolio pages of other sites.

Will you speak to the designer directly?
Since many online logo sources outsource their work overseas, you may not have a chance to speak directly to the actual designer. Instead, they may rely on online creative briefs and email-only communications to navigate the brand-building process. Of course, I’m biased in thinking that this doesn’t work as well as communicating directly with the person responsible for your brand’s creation.

In my view, the process involves two-way communication. There should be equal amounts of listening and advising when it comes to the creative direction.

Do they understand all the media critical to your small business?
It is important that you choose a designer or agency that truly understands the various media critical to building a small business brand. This is where it’s important for you to have a handle on your brand executions. For example, is your logo only going to be used on stationery, websites or brochures? Or is outdoor usage your most critical brand implementation (e.g., vehicle advertising, signage, point-of-purchase displays)?

One good way to choose a designer is to examine case studies of brands they’ve created that mimic the needs you have for your brand. These real-world examples should give you a reasonable expectation as to their capabilities and an ability to understand your brand needs.

Is the artwork original?
Finding a designer or agency that builds original artwork for your logo is an important consideration. For one thing, it helps to provide a reasonable expectation that your brand will not infringe on the copyright of another brand. Second, it makes it possible for you to have your logo trademarked.

If your designer uses clip art, or derives your logo from clip art, it can never be trademarked. This also means that competitors can legally use the same logo or artwork in their designs, since it is not original and is essentially deemed public domain. Let’s say you plan to franchise your business one day, but your logo and brand was created with clip art. You’ll definitely be taking the chance that someone else will try to use it.

How much should it cost?
The factors detailed above should give you a better way to gauge the value of a designer, and the corresponding cost for building a successful brand. You’ll find advertised costs ranging from $99 to thousands of dollars, and more.

Buying a brand for your small business is not the same thing as purchasing an office chair based upon who has the cheapest price. It’s not a commodity, although it is often advertised as such. It really is a professional service. To be done properly, it can’t be rushed, and there are really no shortcuts a designer can take. It involves conceptualizing, planning, researching, sketching, refining, revising, and truly immersing yourself in the client’s business.

Look for a partner, not a vendor.

Usually your best bet when it comes to choosing a branding company is to find a company that can grow with you while acting as your strategic partner. Hiring a company that understands your brand origins as you prepare to implement that identity makes more sense than hiring a logo creator who can’t carry out a successful branding campaign across marketing materials (e.g., websites, collateral, and fleet branding.)

It is difficult–but not impossible–to find a company that (1) understands your brand vision, (2) executes it, and (3) implements your brand consistently across the board. Seek companies with a track record of success working with businesses just like yours, and your risk will be minimized. Do not take this decision lightly or act impulsively. This will be the most important choice you’ll make for your business.

Dan Antonelli is the CEO and creative director of New Jersey advertising agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc., The Small Business Advertising Agency, and the author of Building A Big Small Business Brand, available at For more information, visit

posted by Cynthia Le