Choosing a graphic design studio to create your organization’s website is a significant business decision. Beyond the right creative fit, finding a studio or agency that aligns with your organization’s values and best interests will critically impact the value you get from the engagement. There’s a lot of variation in how studios practice, so comparing apples to apples is difficult when the crate is full of oranges and plums.
How to choose a reputable web design studio
Determining whether a graphic design studio operates from a solid ethical foundation will provide some degree of assurance that it will serve your organization’s best interests. That’s not always the easiest thing to do, but there are basic steps you can take to help with your assessment.
Studio website and portfolio
My first recommendation is to go beyond a quick overview when visiting a potential graphic design studio’s site. Go through as much of the site’s content as possible. Actually read through the core content of the most top-level pages. The studio’s website should reflect its best design abilities. Clearly, if the site’s overall aesthetics do not fit with your vision, it’s probably a no-go.
Next, I’d suggest reviewing the design studio or agency’s portfolio of client work. Case studies are the best way to assess if the kind of work the studio has done fits with your sector or area of business.
- Does the studio’s website meet your goals and aspirations around design?
- Can you find what you are looking for using the site’s navigation?
- Is the site content relatively easy to understand?
- When reviewing the design studio’s portfolio, does it point to projects that are similar in scope and sector to yours?
Testimonials and reviews
Website testimonials and online reviews speak to a graphic design firm’s credibility. Of course, the studio handpicked those testimonials but the fact that someone agreed to put their name and positive comments on the public record should provide a lot of reassurance.
You can also take your research beyond the studio’s website and look for reviews on platforms such as Google or LinkedIn. Generally, the more specific the comment, the more credible it is. You cannot always trust online reviews but they can serve as a crucial piece of information in your decision-making.
- Do the testimonials on the studio’s website go beyond general praise, speaking to how the team treated the client, what the client liked about the process or what results were achieved?
- Do online reviews span more than one platform? Are they specific, and do they speak to an aspect of service you value?
When principals, partners and other studio team members belong to organizations such as Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) or Registered Graphic Designers (RGD), it demonstrates they are invested in their craft, support the design community, and uphold professional standards. Graphic designers on the team who hold teaching or guest lecturer status at a college or university likely also demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in the field beyond practice basics.
There are plenty of excellent design professionals who do not hold professional affiliations. However, belonging to a professional body or having an association with learning institutions should give you more confidence in the team that you are considering.
Process and cost transparency
There is no one right process for managing a creative project such as a website, though studio and agency processes are relatively similar. However, the firm you are considering should be clear during your conversations about how they will work with you on your project and who will be on the creative team.
Philosophically, I prefer a collaborative approach with clients. Presenting work and obtaining feedback at every step simply delivers better results. At no point in a process should a client be in the dark about what is happening or why something looks the way it does. A rigorous discovery process with clients ensures that the studio understands your organization and its project goals and expected outcomes. Clients should receive a creative brief after discovery and before work begins to help ensure that everyone working on the project is (literally) on the same page. Design is best when it’s literally interactive – gathering client feedback at critical checkpoints and allowing for adjustments along the way.
Questions to ask the studio/agency:
- How will we work together on this project from start to finish? What will you expect from me, and what can I expect from you as the work unfolds?
- Who will work on my project from your team?
- What is the schedule for the work, and how often will I get updates and opportunities for input?
- Will I own and have control over my organization’s website?
Responsible digital design studios are committed to creating a web that is good for both people and the planet. They strive to use renewable energy, put people first, and act in ways that better their communities.
Certifications can help when choosing a studio or agency.B Corp certification, for example, means that a company is meeting the highest standards of performance and accountability around its social and environmental impact. Certified B Corporations like Manoverboard consistently look to improve positive impact and outputs for the environment, communities, customers, suppliers, employees and shareholders.
For example, many folks do not fully comprehend the impact that the web has on our planet. In fact, if the Internet were a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter. How design studios and agencies think about a website’s energy use when developing websites is a truly important consideration.
Questions to ask the studio/agency:
- How does your studio or agency demonstrate its commitment to sustainability?
- Have you signed the Sustainable Web Manifesto?
- How will you ensure that my website is accessible to people with physical and visual limitations?
- What vendors do you use for website hosting?
- In what ways do you and your team give back to the community?
Don’t ignore some of the less tangible but real cues that could indicate whether your organization is in good hands with a design studio under consideration. A studio should be your partner – like any professional services supplier such as an accountant, bookkeeper, or lawyer. They should always have your back. If something doesn’t feel right about your initial connection with the studio or agency, consider that above all else.
- How does the studio principal respond when you ask questions while carrying out your due diligence? Were they open, knowledgeable, and helpful?
- Does the studio or agency get back to you quickly with information?
- Do you feel rushed through your interactions — or listened to and respected?
Finding a reputable website design studio or agency is worth the time
It is not always easy to find a design partner. But choosing the best studio or agency to build your site and brand is critical to your organization’s credibility, visibility, and accessibility. Take your time. Ask hard questions. Don’t be afraid to seek clarification on anything you don’t understand. Done right, your new website will be a critical asset to your organization for many years to come.