Over my years working with and at various sized agencies doing user experience design, visual design, and web/mobile development for a number of great clients and companies, it still surprises me the misconceptions that can exist in clients minds about working with smaller creative agencies versus large ones. While no doubt talent and creative strength of an agency can be critical factors in the decision process, all too often the increased value that smaller agencies provide is overlooked. I’ve put together some of the top myths I’ve run into and give decision makers who haven’t worked with smaller agencies before something worth considering.
One of the first steps clients go through with their prospective project is to assess the potential size and scope. All too often, clients believe that since their project is larger, they should work with a “larger” creative agency. However, as is often the case, most large agencies scope out projects and create small teams tasked with providing the core services to the client. In the end, instead of working with a “larger” agency, the client ends up working with a small group of professionals anyways. Smaller agencies are typically prepared to take on very large projects just as larger agencies are and most have done a number of large projects already. Besides reviewing a potential agency’s website, the best way to find out is to just ask!
There is no doubt that certain trade knowledge and skills critical to a particular industry take years to develop and large agencies don’t get where they are without requisite experience and knowledge. However, many small creative agencies are actually run by professionals with many years of experience and industry knowledge that surpasses many of the lower level designer and developers used in the bulk of the work a larger agency provides. Often times professionals in the smaller creative agencies worked for years in the larger firms before sprouting their office and have experience and industry knowledge that easily rivals any larger firm.
Often described as “design by committee”, the practice of putting as many minds on a creative issue as possible unfortunately often returns as many possible solutions as people. If volume of ideas is key, the “design by committee” might be the right approach for you, but with quality design and solutions as the goal, the focus should be on a quality creative process by a small group of professionals and ultimately controlled by an informed decision maker. Larger agencies often fill board rooms with a sea of people to comfort a high paying client that their expensive investment is getting the full value. Unfortunately, it’s usually just an individual or two that provide the creativity the client actually ends up receiving. Small agencies cut out the middleman and pomp to give clients similarly great if not superior creative solutions.
A good project manager and account manager can indeed help keep your project flowing and help ease the management burden through the process. However, much of the time project and account managers become the go-between that slow and disrupt the creative process by breaking the clear communication line between the client and those that bring their vision to life. What clients often don’t realize is that while they may feel that they are being protected from fighting in the trenches, more often they miss critical opportunities to influence the project direction or pivot before it’s too late. One secret the larger agencies don’t outwardly share is that project and account managers are often there to keep clients from deviating from the original plan as well as keeping the agency talent from developing personal relationships with the client in fear of creating a competitor. Not only can a client develop an effective relationship directly with the talent at smaller agencies, the ability to stay nimble and continually innovative through close communication is a unique benefit that improves the end result and shortens the project runway.
One of the biggest challenges with funding larger agencies is the overhead. Large payrolls and support staff and large office space require large dollar amounts to sustain. The pressure to squeeze as much money out of clients is high. As discussed earlier in this post, often the talent actually working on your project is less expensive (for the agency) and inexperienced lower level designers and developers. The clear advantage a smaller agency has is that it can provide a similar if not superior creative service at a lower cost simply because its’ overhead isn’t anywhere near that of a larger creative agency.
Decision makers have a difficult task of picking the right agency for their project. While there are many great creative studios both large and small to work with in this competitive space, all too often the unique value a small agency can provide is overlooked. Hopefully some of these myths can be dispelled during the process so that clients can gain the most successful creative solution for their money.
With over 15 years of experience in the industry as a UX designer, visual designer, and web/mobile programmer, Joshua Bunting has worked the gamut of projects and with a multitude of technologies. Joshua is currently the Principal and Interactive Director at Facet Studios, a digital agency. After spending several years working in his second home of San Francisco he is now based out of the Salt Lake City area in Utah. When he isn’t obsessing with designs or day-dreaming in various coding languages, you can find him hanging with the family and kids, speeding down the snowy slopes, or hiking a number of the beautiful places Utah provides.