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Choosing the right design agency

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

We know we’re biased, but in a 2022 survey of businesses who work with design agencies, 96% agreed that breakthrough creative ideas are more likely to come from external agencies than from within their own companies.

This finding is no surprise to us. We know that at the route of our most successful retail design projects lies a strong and collaborative client/agency partnership. Time and again, we’ve seen that by combining expert agency and client skillsets, we can create an alchemy that transforms design project outcomes.

Whilst this survey confirms the important role external design agencies have in optimising creativity, combining client and agency teams in this way can only be effective with the right team in place. This means that choosing the right external design agency to work with in the first place is absolutely vital to the success of a creative partnership.

In our experience, clients tend to be consistent with what they expect from their creative agencies. They want them to be flexible, honest, commercially aware, good communicators, and of course, creative and insightful. But what else should clients look for? If you have an incumbent agency who is falling short on any of these deliverables, then it’s relatively easy to identify what you need, but if not, and you are selecting a new agency to work with, where should you begin?

Here's our seven steps to help you find the right retail design agency for your needs…

1. Evolution or revolution?

With no shortage of retail design agencies out there, it’s important to know what you want from your new agency. We recommend having a clear understanding of the needs of your business. Do you want evolution or revolution? How big an intervention do you want, and how far do you want to be challenged? The answers to these initial questions will help you determine the scope of the project and the capabilities you will need from the agency.

2. Make a shortlist

Start by asking industry peers for recommendations. Look at projects you admire and find out who designed them. Then scour the agencies’ websites to see how they approach projects - reading their blog posts and case studies is a great way of finding which agencies are best suited to your needs. Don’t shortlist more than three to talk to – this will make comparisons of costs and services more manageable.

3. Size matters

Make sure you are talking to an agency that is the right size for you. This will depend on the scale of your project and the size of your budget. You don’t want to be a large fish in a small pool and vice versa. Typically, the larger the agency, the more expensive they will be because of their overheads. You want an agency that can handle the scope of your project and be flexible in their execution of the project deliverables.

4. First impressions count

Like any new relationship you need to feel that you can work with these people. So, make sure that in your first meeting you are seeing the individuals that will be actively delivering the work and who will be responsible for the day-to-day contact. There should be an immediate natural rapport as well as a sense that they really understand your needs.

Ask about how they will approach your particular project – do they operate a ‘one size fits all’ approach or are they flexible? Get them to explain their project delivery process too and make sure you are comfortable with it.

5. Experience & expertise

This is a critical question to explore with prospective agencies. You need to ensure they have the experience and skillset to deliver a tailormade project for you. Most agencies will take you through previous case studies to help showcase their skills and experience. However, they should be able to show more than just their creative output. Ask about results and the effectiveness of their design solutions – what impact has their work had on the businesses they’ve worked for?

6. Reputation counts

Every agency has an industry reputation so checkout their track record. If they’ve not been referred to you by a past or current client, then client testimonials are the next most reassuring way to check an agency’s reputation. You should find them peppered throughout their website, but you can also ask for them too. In addition, you can check their digital footprint – do they have an intelligent blog, does their leadership team speak at conferences or workshops?

7. Compare apples with apples

Finally, the most important thing when choosing between agencies is to ensure you can make direct comparisons. This means giving each prospective agency exactly the same project scope so that you can accurately compare differences in their approaches, proposals and costs.

We hope that armed with the above knowledge you will be more confident in choosing the right retail design agency to partner with and wish you success with your next breakthrough creative ideas.

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