Selecting a graphic design studio—what should you be looking for?

Every week I have the pleasure of meeting with many wonderful business owners—individuals, who are talented, honest, have valuable skills to offer the local community, and who are seeking a design studio to develop a successful image for their company. This group of entrepreneurs has the same challenge in common—to select a design studio that is a good fit for their company. What should they look for? How can they avoid the costly and damaging mistake of contracting with the wrong studio?

The Portfolio

Does the studio’s portfolio show a range of work, varied styles, and does each piece offer a value to the company it was created for? Not every piece of work will be in the official portfolio, but it should provide an overview of the studio’s abilities. Ask questions about the pieces you see: who was the audience, what was the original intent of the piece, how is it currently being used, and what was the final benefit of the piece for the client.

References, references, references!

One of the best ways to find a quality design studio to work with is to ask your business associates who they have worked with and what their experiences with them have been. In addition, review the studio’s client reviews supplied in their media kit / web site. Making a few phone calls to existing or past clients can reveal valuable information about working with any company. A design studio should have a reputation with their client base that proves them to be a valued asset and resource for all aspects of their client’s marketing endeavors.


Does the design studio work with either outside partners or internal departments to fulfill all project requirements? While having an internal department specific to your project’s requirements shows the studio deals with that area on a daily basis, outsourcing some services should be viewed as a benefit—you know the studio understands specialization and uses the most effective resources for your project. The important question to have answered is: can the studio provide the most effective solution for your project’s needs, and do they have experience working with the team providing that service.

Design “style”

Some freelancers (individuals who provide design services on a casual basis in addition to a full time career) tend to provide a single design style for all of their projects. While the design may look wonderful—is it really effective for your company? A design team—made up of at least one designer, marketing professional and content expert—will provide a unique design, as their “style” is focused on the effectiveness of the complete solution, not just the final look of the design.

Field Reputation

What is the studio’s reputation within the field? Ask them what service providers they work with (printers, web hosting, and other outside partners) and find out how these companies feel about the studio’s creative and technical abilities. Ask if the studio is active in industry groups such as educational organizations and trade associations—the design communications field is constantly evolving with new technology and you need to be working with a team that is willing to keep up to date on their technical knowledge.

Your Options

Finally, check out the competition—not every design studio is the best fit for every company. Your design team should be willing to learn about your company, build a quality relationship with staff, and provide effective solutions for your marketing endeavors. Remember, you are not merely looking for a flashy company image; you’re looking for an effective marketing solution for your company who will provide creative talent, technical skills, and a beneficial relationship with your company.

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