What do brands look for in a design studio? We asked three clients for their side of the story
We’re all quite used to hearing insights from creatives and studios themselves, with industry tips about running a studio or landing a new role more often than not coming from other designers. This time around, however, we decided to chat with three individuals on what some may call the dark side – the client side – to find out about their processes for finding the right studio to work with. How do they decide which ones to reach out to? What do they look for? And what may impact their decisions? Having worked with creative studios of different shapes and sizes, Jérôme Noyelle from Antalis, Simon Polet from Merchery and Architect & Interior Designer Alana Cooke share their thoughts.
Before we delve into the tips and tools for navigating the process, Merchery’s Co-founder Simon Polet makes one thing clear: “choosing the right agency is a lot of work.” Despite having creative agencies as clients themselves, the corporate merch service is no stranger to being on the other side of proceedings. They’ve worked with designers to realise their own identity and website, with matchmaking services also proving a handy means to find the perfect studio. “For example,” he elaborates, “we’ve been working with the amazing team at AUFI. They’re really helpful to guide us in the process.”
Write a brief detailing your needs, the stakes, and what skills are required...
It’s worth remembering that every good studio or agency is unique in its skillset and capabilities. Polet, therefore, recommends that before talks even begin, brands should have a clear idea of what they're looking for. “The first step, even before contacting any agency,” he notes, “is to write a brief detailing your needs, the stakes, and what skills are required to work on the project.” Being clear, concise and precise is essential, as Polet suggests, “the more you define yourself and the direction you want to take, the easier it will be to choose the right partner.”
With the internet and a global selection of creativity at our fingertips, brands are spoiled for choice. Narrowing down options may be easier said than done! Antalis’ Market Development Manager Jérôme Noyelle has had plenty of experience finding and collaborating with the perfect designers for their projects, such as Amsterdam-based agency Design & Practice for the rebrand of Antalis’ OLIN paper range. “As I am following various social media accounts and blogs (including TBI),” Noyelle recalls, “anytime I find a project either appealing to the eyes or just super smart from a studio, I browse their Instagram to discover their universe and see if they could be a good fit for a potential project.”
Likewise, social media proved to be a helpful tool for Architect & Interior Designer Alana Cooke, who approached Melbourne-based studio Both to work on her brand and website. “I began with a shortlist of studios that I knew of previously or found on Instagram through leads from other creatives or through the brand identity of products that I admired,” she reveals. “I had been following Both for a long time and felt a connection to the work they were posting.”
Once a client has found a studio they like the look of on social media, the next step is often to take a gander through their website. “I do what I think 90% of people do: I look at their portfolio,” Polet tells us, “for approval, but also inspiration.” There are several factors brands keep in mind, though. For instance, Noyelle is careful to make sure “they have not worked for competitors,” but at the same time that “they have worked with clients with potentially the same expectations as myself,” he adds.
I like it when the team is presented on the website.
Beautifully executed and presented projects will pique a potential client’s interest. That’s obvious, right? If the work looks great, what reasons may they have for hesitation? Noyelle confesses that he would be reluctant to contact an agency “with only a form” on their site and no information about their location or a phone number. “This is also why I like it when the team is presented on the website,” he adds, “it’s good to be able to know the background of the people you might work with.
Further turn-offs could include simply not having experience with their industry. “It might sound cliché,” notes Polet, “but if the agency hasn’t been involved in a similar project before, it will require a lot of work and open-mindedness to adapt and fully understand the stakes.” In a similar vein, technical abilities may also be scrutinised. In Noyelle’s case, he stays in touch with printers to hear their feedback on previous collaborations. “Working in (or for) print gives me the highest standards when it comes to execution and file preparation, he adds. “I have sometimes worked with agencies that had brilliant ideas but they couldn’t perfectly be realised under a print press.”
Above all, as our respondents reveal, it’s about having a good relationship. According to Cooke, “beyond the beautiful work, I am looking for a great working relationship that is thoughtful, responsive and kind.” And as we know, the key to a good relationship is communication. Whilst admiration for the work and curiosity about the studio led Cooke to reach out to Both, one of the aspects that rated highly in her decision-making process was the strength of their communication. “From our initial email and all the way through the process,” she tells us, “there was a generosity of information and consideration that felt beyond the scope.”
A design studio that has been published in various media is always more interesting.
No doubt, the relationship with the wider industry plays its part, too. “As a brand looking for the greatest reach across the design community,” Noyelle points out, “a design studio that has been published in various media is always more interesting.” At the same time, he understands working with less established and smaller design studios is important, “to give them a chance to rise.”
As a creative herself, Cooke found her experience as a ‘client’ on the other side of the creative process to be insightful and “a great benchmark” for the experience she hopes her own clients have too. “Selecting a design studio to work with is such a personal decision and it’s about finding the right feeling and connection with the studio you are going to embark on the process with,” she concludes. “It’s a journey you want to enjoy and I definitely did!”