Choosing a Design Agency based on Legacy

Posted by Opinion desk on 25 Apr, 2012 / Features

by Alastair Haarhoff, Owner and MD: Just Design

A legacy is the lasting impression a group or individual has on the rest of society. It’s something that is built over years, and is universally accepted. If business legacy were to be a Google application it would be one where you would be able to type in a company’s name and immediately be given a list of the outstanding things they had done, since their inception, both good and bad. 

For a comprehensive assessment of an agency and what it can do for you, it’s important to judge it for with regard to what it’s doing now, as well as what it has done in the past. Look at the agency’s history in terms of the type of work they have tackled. It would not make sense, for example, to choose an agency which has a good overall reputation to design a new beverage, if they have had little or no experience in beverage design. Look at what the agency has accomplished in your field and how it has benefited the competition specifically. 

Innovation and Originality are key. Does the agency continually better itself with campaigns and designs, creating something truly unique and lasting for each client? Choose an agency that doesn’t simply follow trends and stand on the shoulders of giants, but rather that sets trends and is in fact in their own right a “biggie” in the making. Even re-hashing a good idea will lead to staleness and consequently become unappealing. Don’t choose an agency which is stuck in a rut and doesn’t venture outside of its comfort zone. A remarkable agency is one with a legacy of challenging itself and winning, of setting not only themselves apart as a branded team, but also assisting clients to win with the work that they do. 

However, these days, outstanding branding agencies are becoming problem solvers over and above the designer function. Alastair Haarhoff of Just Design says, “We follow a strict strategic process to get a solid understanding of each challenge. Should we work across various categories, even if we have no experience, we should be able to find a solution. It’s the technical side that may prove slightly more challenging but any established agency should research the category to be aware of any pitfalls or problems.” Clients often do not consider agencies that have not worked in their industry. Often going this route provides more innovation and open-minded solutions, as the agency has not been “programmed” into thinking within a particular category’s conventional mindset. 

Does the agency have insight? That is, does it have an understanding and knowledge of the sector or industry within which the client operates? An agency needs to have a deeper knowledge than simply understanding the message the brand wishes to convey or a technical knowledge of design. Technically, how does the agency use its knowledge and expertise to create something individual? How has the agency overcome obstacles in the past, and how did they use their knowledge to create something that will stand the test of time? 

Do some research and ask past clients how the agency conducted itself. Has it formed lasting and positive relationships with clients, peers and employees? Does it present itself professionally and amiably? Does the agency have a history of delivering work on time, within specifications and have they gone the proverbial extra mile to make sure that the client is satisfied? This also holds water from an internal perspective, since happy and respected employees are creative and motivated employees. They will deliver exceptional work for you simply because they want to, not because they are coaxed to do so. More often than not, the way an agency handles its personnel is the way it will handle its clients. 

Does the agency have a good reputation amongst its peers? Is it respected, reviled or ignored? Ask people in the know if they have heard of a particular design agency, and whether their notoriety is positive or negative. There is no greater stamp of approval or sign of excellence in an agency than if it is respected by fellow designers – both for work done and for its ethos. 

How does the agency make you feel? It seems so simple, yet so much of what makes an effective logo or branding is the emotion it evokes in the viewer. Look at an agency’s portfolio – the first instinctive impression you get is most probably the one that will persist, and it’s what potential customers will feel, too, when looking at your logo. Studies show that first impressions do indeed last. When seeing someone for the first time, a person’s mind will be made up within the first second. This is no different for a logo, and even more so because people know it’s been created with a specific pitch in mind. 

What does the agency want its legacy to be? Is it simply cruising by and completing jobs by the numbers or does it want to make a difference in the world – does it want to leave a legacy? Sometimes a legacy is created by simply staying true to virtues and delivering excellent work. As a famous personality once said, “Strive to leave the world a better place than what you found it in. This counts for individuals and companies alike”. 

An agency’s legacy might be both shining or lack-lustre, depending on how deep you are prepared to dig. We’re not suggesting that you hire a private investigator, but the most telling way of knowing if an agency is suited for you and whether it will be a positive collaborative venture, is to see what they have done, what they will do and what they want to do.

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