Finding a suitable graphic design studio, agency, freelancer or employee takes a ton of work.
In this guide, we talk about where and how to outsource graphic design, the pros and cons of every facet, and what kind of specifications and key point indicators you need to measure.
Who should outsource graphic design:
- Print Design
- Social Media Collaterals
- Electronic Direct Mail / Newsletters
- Whitelabel Design (What is Whitelabel Design?)
- Pitch Decks and Presentations for Investors.
- Website Design
- Social Media Page (Cover Photos and Social Media Marketing Materials)
- Advertisement Design
- Print Design for Flyers and Brochures
- Brand Guidelines
- Email Newsletters
- Marketing Materials
- Print Design
- Print Design
- Magazine Design
Web Design Agencies:
- Web Design
- UI Design
- Web Marketing Materials
Graphic Design Studios:
Some western graphic design studios — whether you like it or not, outsource their work to 3rd world countries. They whitelabel the design and call it their own. The main reason is if they work on it full time themselves, it would not be cost-effective. It’s simply a reality of the industry and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. In any case, these design studios still implement their own standards so that they still give a quality product given to the client.
Who should not outsource graphic design:
Someone who just needs a one-off, project-based design and doesn’t have consistent design needs.
For that, we would recommend the following:
Hire a project-based freelance designer or design agency that can work on the budget you give. Outsourcing graphic design is usually a long-term, contractual agreement or a retainer. If you want a shorter service, outsourcing is not for you.
Graphic Design Studios vs Freelancers vs BPO Companies and Flat-Rate Graphic Design vs Graphic Design Contests
Outsourcing graphic design services to Boutique Graphic Design Studios/Agencies
Boutique (Small) Graphic Design Studios are suitable for companies that need to hire a dedicated team. Take note, studios charge higher than freelancers. The main reason is the upkeep, experience, and system they offer for quality control.
Freelancers struggle in quality assurance since they’re just a one-man team. They just have one brain. They don’t have any check and balance systems to make sure that they produce high-quality outputs. However, in a graphic design studio, the great thing about them is that team members or Creative Directors quality check the work of their designers. They have multiple brains and multiple decision-makers that work together to create a better output.
There’s accountability within the team to do better and deliver. When you’re giving your work to an external party, it’s important for you to get high-quality service.
Graphic Design Studios are also best for businesses with a consistent need for design work. If you want your business to grow, you’ll need more marketing materials and scale up the number of designers you need. A freelancer alone cannot adjust so you’d need to repeatedly hire new freelancers which takes time, money, and effort. This introduces more risk to you.
To sum up, hire graphic design studios if you:
- Need high-quality professional output and detailed work; (Better than BPO’s and Freelancers)
- Possess the right budget;
- Want to maintain a predictable standard or brand;
- Have consistent deliverables for a long period; and
- Need a design firm to grow with.
Where to find Boutique Graphic Design Studios for Outsourcing?
The short answer is, it depends on your budget and standards, along with the specialization of the graphic design studio you’re hiring.
If you are based in the United States, Australia, or Canada, hiring a graphic design studio can be a challenge in terms of budget. You may have a hard time finding a good deal with quality work in these countries due to the larger living costs.
It could be better for you to hire a design studio in a country with a lower cost of living and Westernized culture, such as colonized countries. With this in mind, the Philippines, India, and Romania are the best places where you can outsource graphic design services,
Graphic Design Outsourcing in the Philippines (Graphic Design Studio)
Outsourcing graphic design studios in the Philippines is tricky. Design agencies usually cost around USD 3000 to USD 200 per month, depending on the project scope and demand for work. For sure, Graphic Design Studios in the Philippines have better value for price and quality compared to hiring an American design studio. That is because graphic designers here cost less with comparable work outputs.
If you’re worried that the cultures and standards would be different. You need not worry. The Philippines is very westernized. We know a lot about Western Culture and we practice Western religions. This is why we can understand, communicate, and deliver better.
This is worth mentioning. One downside of hiring a design studio in the Philippines is the time difference. While designers in the Philippines provide great performance for the cost, you will be working in two different time zones. It could be a bummer in terms of communication as they may only start working by the time you go to sleep. However, there are ways to fix this problem.
Outsourcing Graphic Design to Freelancers
Now, from my experience, reliable freelancers to outsource graphic design to are probably the most difficult to find. Hiring an excellent and trustworthy remote freelancer is a challenge. There’s a lot of possibilities that can go wrong. You can hire someone who will ghost, change directions, unexpectedly resign, or be uncommunicative. That is besides the fact that it’s hard to find one who fits your standards.
Remember, a freelancer is just one human being who has:
- Other clients that can contribute to their plate;
- No one to check their work for quality assurance
Find a freelancer who is:
Note: While we do put here the cons of hiring a freelancer, Qadra Studio does not support remote freelance designers who have a bad work ethic, are slow to communicate, and are unreliable with their work. While there are truly great freelance designers out there, it’s very difficult to find them.
Outsourcing Graphic Design to BPOs (Business Process Outsourcing Companies)
BPOs or Business Process Outsourcing Companies are usually large companies who can handle various outsourcing solutions such as graphic design. How it works is, when you inquire in a BPO, they hire a graphic designer to their company based on the experience you need and the budget you have. The more experienced the designer, the more costly it would be. BPOs handle recruitment, benefits, salaries, quality assurance, and standards. It is their responsibility to try and make sure the people they hired can do the job.
The problems with BPO’s are its difficulty to ideate, plan, and conceptualize compared to graphic design studios that are small, solid teams built to do this job. BPOs hire people with the best resume based on their budget and hope they deliver for their clients. They work as the middleman. Once they hire a team, it takes time for the team to get a good rhythm and collaborate well together.
Graphic Design Studios are more dynamic as a team, especially if they have years working together. The relationships and work processes built among a Creative Director, Art Director, Senior Graphic Designer, Project Manager in a Boutique agency are typically better compared to a larger and more corporate BPO team.
Outsource Graphic Design to Flat-Rate Graphic Design Services like Penji, DesignPickle, Design Unicorn
Penji, DesignPickle, and Design Unicorn all just hire remote freelancers from countries with low labor costs such as the Philippines, India, or somewhere with cheap labor. Same with the freelancers mentioned earlier, there’re lots of things that can go wrong. The prices here are very cheap.
You get what you pay for. So don’t expect great quality at these services. The reality in these flat-rate graphic design services is that they do not plan on hiring dedicated graphic designers. One designer under their team may work on multiple accounts. This means savings for them but that results in relatively poor quality for you.
Outsource Graphic Design to Graphic Design Contest Websites like DesignHill, 99Designs
Sites like DesignHill and 99Designs host contests for graphic designers who want to take on your project. The disadvantage here is that graphic designers will be random. Literally, anyone without any credentials can join a contest and post something. You won’t be sure if they’re effective or good at their jobs. You’ll have to do a lot of research and trial and error.
However, the worst part of this is that these sites are bad for the economy and take advantage of the graphic design community. Good designers wouldn’t know their actual worth in the market. They’re a middle man who cuts the profits for themselves. They dictate how much a graphic designer is given which may be underpaying them.
Outsource Graphic Design to Job Posting Sites (Freelancers)
Freelancer.ph, Upwork, and Elance are crowdsourcing sites that host freelancers who can post various kinds of jobs that they can do. The prices may vary depending on the service and the freelancers themselves as they set their own prices. Freelancer has the most number of freelancers among the sites at 7 million with 4.4 million jobs posted. oDesk has 3.1 million freelancers with 3.6 million jobs posted. Meanwhile, Elance has 3.1 million freelancers and 2.9 million jobs.
Not all of those freelancers and posted jobs are in graphic design though. Still, it is a big number so you have a lot of choices if you want to. If you want to get an experienced freelancer who is fit for your company and needs, then you have a lot of research and work to do. Keep in mind that these come relatively cheap compared to design studios. As such, you get what you pay for.
Don’t expect the quality to be as high with a lot of work. Be careful in the work you assign. These sites work best for small projects. Big and complex projects will be harder to control and you’re better off with other options.
Local vs Foreign
When you’re marketing in your country, it’s better to work with someone who would naturally understand the type of market you’re in. That’s why it can be better to go local. However, as said before, designers in Westernized cultures like the Philippines can do this too.
Outsourcing graphic design to outside countries can be cheaper. The labor and living costs may be lower there so they can offer more competitive and cost-effective prices. If you have a smaller budget, a foreign country may be for you.
You don’t need to outsource to a foreign and cheaper country if you don’t want to. There are most likely many BPOs, design studios, or freelancers who can provide their services if you know where to look. However, you should be careful since you may be misled that you’re getting the service from a local business. When in truth, they are outsourcing the service themselves and passing it as their own. Remember to be vigilant and adequately check where you’re getting the service from.
Types of graphic design work to outsource
Graphic Design Studios and Design Competitions are a great way of getting logos done. Although, this depends on how you plan to sell or use the logos. If you sell logos as a service for your own company as a middle man, you’d have a lot of revising to do.
Design Studios or dedicated freelancers work better in not just designing logos but in iterating the entire brand. Design Competitions, on the other hand, are better for smaller and one-off projects.
- Website Designs or Layouts
Web Design agencies are the best choice for this compared to graphic design studios. The reason why is because their team is composed of Web Designers, UX/UI experts, and SEO and Content Writers. Web Design encapsulates more than the design and layout itself.
When designing a website, one of the biggest factors you have to consider is usability. Ask yourself these questions when users are visiting the site. Can they navigate it easily? Can they easily find what they’re looking for? Do all forms work as expected? Do users find it easy to fill forms? With bigger and more complex sites, ensuring that it is intuitive and user friendly is vital to the success of your site.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a designer who understands all the ins and outs of usability, or UI and UX. It’s practically impossible to find this cheap. If you don’t have a budget for a UI and UX expert, I’d suggest learning about this yourself and spoon-feeding the designer. You can both analyze and copy what other successful sites do, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google.
These include brochures, flyers, t-shirts, tote bags, or whatever traditional marketing materials they need. They work best when presenting and marketing to clients in shows. Which service to choose depends on the size of the design work. Freelancers work best for smaller or one-time projects while graphic design studios and BPOs are better for bigger print design projects.
Larger websites (i.e. more than 20 pages) with various elements will probably need a lot of ongoing design work. The best course of action for this is to find a designer that you can pay as a retainer. If you don’t want a retainer, you can get a designer to complete a lot of work on one go as part of a project-based service. However, you should ensure that you have very clear and final specifications before doing this.
Design for Conversion
Having a company website is one thing but not all websites can convert visitors into paying customers and increase your revenue. Acquiring this service is hard for low-cost or high-priced designers. You’d have to analyze the competition, your market, and customers so you can get an idea of what strategies to implement.
This is where getting a professional outsourcing graphic design studio is recommended. With their expertise in the field, they have a good track record of building a company’s brand, expanding business, converting visitors to paying customers, and increasing revenue.
Get the Design Brief Right
Communication is key. Even if you hired the best designer in the world, it will not matter if you don’t get the design brief right. Make sure the brief got the specifics right and is clear in the instructions. Also, make sure that all internal decision-makers have reviewed and checked it so that it is final. You don’t want to confuse the designer by giving conflicting or staggered instructions to them.
In the brief, you should give a general description of the project. Ensure that the brief includes the following information:
- Project title
- Where do you want the project to be delivered? (i.e. FTP, Google Drive, or Dropbox)
- Deadlines, milestones, and due dates
- Sketches or existing resources that may be useful, such as relevant market research
- Any calls to action, headlines, or body copy that should be added to the design
You also have to take into consideration if the plan in your design brief is the right one to go forward with. You need to be sure of the brief when you send it. You wouldn’t want to have work done on the design only to realize that it’s not the direction you want to go with. That’s a lot of time and effort wasted. If you need help or advice in creating the design brief, designers will often let you consult it with them. It’s a good idea to hear from professionals and experts in the field. If you want more brains to work together, Design Studios and Teams can do this for you, reducing any mistakes and resulting in a better design.
In the revision process in graphic design, the communication will be clearer when you give feedback on actual images rather than just the notes with no image for it. Check below the design feedback tools below to learn more about this.
Specifications/Key Point Indicators
Quality of Work
Look for their portfolio, case studies, or examples of their work. Take note of their style and how they present themselves. Is it impressive and elegant? Does it appeal or fit your taste? Or do you find the quality poor and ugly? Their portfolio gives you a glimpse at the kind of output they can deliver. Freelancers, design studios, and BPOs worth their salt have this. Research and analyze the proof of quality they can provide as this is what they can potentially do for you.
If they have case studies, take time to look at them. Case studies are detailed presentations of their process as a designer or design team. You’ll know that they’re good if they always offer a solution to a problem in their designs. Effective designers always aim to communicate a message in their design. They choose the designs not just because they did. There’s a well-thought-out reason for every design decision they have made.
The number of design studies they have can also be a factor in their experience. Large and more varied studies show that they have a lot of experience under their belt working for different kinds of clients. They solved varied problems through their design which they can also do with you.
What kind of project do you need? The budget can differ of course based on the scope, expertise, and deliverables. Is it a small project or a big one? Do you need a simple design or a complex one? How large is your company? Would you prefer an hourly based graphic designer or a design studio with a monthly retainer?
Ask yourself these questions within the company to determine the budget required for the project. With a smaller project or budget, a freelancer may be enough. With a more complex and large project, you may opt for a design studio or BPO company instead since they’d provide your needs better.
Deciding between Project-Based Budget vs Time-Based Budget
Project-based graphic design (1-time project) are usually charged higher by design studios, freelancers, and BPOs rather than a time-based retainer. This is because it would be a liability if the project went longer than expected. They base this on their own value to deliver the project and not the time consumed. If it goes longer, they may lose money on the project instead of profiting from it. So they charge a higher price to offset this. This is also the reason why freelancers who make up for lost time without any client ask for a larger rate than usual.
With graphic design studios, it’s better to be time-based if it’s a small project and project-based if it’s a bigger and more complex one. As a small project, they already have the expertise and experience to finish it quickly so a time-based project would be more cost-effective in the long run. With a larger project where many things can go wrong and it can be suddenly delayed for any number of reasons, it’s better to pay them per project. It may be more expensive up front but it’ll be worth it if the project extends or is more complex than initially thought.
How are revisions made? Are there unlimited or only a specific number of revisions? As a client, I’m sure you’d rather want no revisions when outsourcing graphic design (And they do too), but this is a reality that happens with any work. The number of revisions determines how much the designer will let you polish and refine the work. More revisions typically mean that you have more quality assurance. Don’t fret though as revisions usually only go for one or two with freelancers, graphic design studios, or BPOs.
How are design revisions conducted? Let them know that you want timely revisions with all comments addressed. Nobody wants a long back and forth because your comments are not being resolved. You should be sure that you can see eye to eye as bad communication can be the reason why revisions will go long. Make sure that you’re on the same page and have a unified understanding of the comments throughout the revision process to reduce complications.
Deadline and Turnaround Time
How fast can they deliver the work you’ve asked? Does it take a week or a few days? It would definitely depend on the type of work but this is a good indication of the type of company they are. If time is of the essence, you should definitely pick a freelancer, design studio, or BPO company with fast turnaround time. But if you’re more patient, you can just opt for somewhere slower.
How fast they can deliver can also determine how responsive they are to concerns and how fast you can get the revisions.
Communication / Language
When you’re outsourcing work to another country, communication is very important. Especially with the work done far away, a lot of barriers to communication can be introduced. First, you should make sure that wherever you outsource, they can speak fluent English. Ensuring you speak the same language is a good indication that you can communicate well.
Also, it’s a good idea to check how fast they typically respond to your queries or concerns. If you encounter a problem in any step of the process, it’s comforting to know that they’ll promptly communicate with you so you can solve it as fast as possible.
If you’re from a Western part of the world, then it goes without saying that you’re marketing to Western culture. In outsourcing, they may not have the same culture as you. So the output that they produce may not work well for your market. To avoid that problem, you should look for places with inherently Westernized cultures, such as the Philippines.
Creativity and Style
One more thing to look out for is if you have the same ideas for style and creativity or not. Having similar styles and creativity can help both of you in working well together. You’d be able to communicate your ideas better and they’ll be able to understand. This is harder to find as you really need to do a lot of research to find a freelancer or design studio that fits well with you.
Time of Work/Availability
Do they work remotely or in another country and thus live in different time zones? This can be managed, but if you want to be fully hands-on with the designer, then I suggest hiring a person who can stick with your time zone. There’re a lot more ways to go wrong when their work only starts when you’re asleep. For example, you wouldn’t be able to ask for revisions promptly in your workday since they’re already off work.
Confidentiality / White Label Graphic Design
Will they keep their word? Will they abide by their contract and keep themselves shut about the projects they work on? It’s hard to find a freelancer who is willing to do this. Professional Graphic Design Studio’s and BPO’s most usually abide by this since it’s just the usual business for them. Moreover, they don’t want to ruin the working relationship between them and the client. If this is your worry, remember to do the proper research by searching them on Google and studying their track record for white label graphic design.
How They Treat Their Clients
Are they hired to take orders or are they design consultants? There’s a big difference between hiring a designer who simply follows your orders or actively collaborates with you in every design decision you make. Someone who will not just work for you but partner with you throughout the service because they want to see your business be successful. Get a service that’ll be invested in your company as a whole and not just there to get paid.
Other important specifications to consider:
Stock Photo Database – Do they have their own stock image/design database, such as Envato Elements or ShutterStock? If they own these, it can significantly benefit the process of designing since it’s easy for them to look for quality stock images or mockups that can support a design.
Originality – Do always check if the design work they give you is original work. Some lazy and thieving “designers” just get stock graphic design and call them their own. Why would you hire that “designer” in the first place when they do not add value in terms of design? A fast way to check is to do a reverse image search or use descriptive keywords in google search to find if there’s any design stolen.
Unoriginal work is problematic as you can be copyright claimed or ruin your brand since it looks like you stole the design and there will surely be many like you. From my years of experience working with remote workers in the early days, you must make sure that every design submitted is originally done by the graphic designer
Mode of Payment – Which payment do you prefer? Paypal, Credit Card, or Wiretransfer? You need to make sure the designer you’re hiring can accept that specific mode of payment to make sure everything goes smoothly. Depending on where you are, you may need to fulfill more requirements than getting a Paypal account.
For example, in China, you need to have official bank papers, such as business permits and company bank accounts in order to do wiretransfers. Freelancers would rarely be able to do this.
Work Ethic – Check what kind of employee they are. Do they finish their work on time? Do they show up when you ask them to? Catching their work ethic is key to knowing what kind of work relationship you can have. You’d know it whether they’re easy to work with or not. Poor work ethic can be problematic and lead to other issues such as stealing designs or giving bad output.
Workspace (Computer, Internet, Electricity) – Believe it or not, there is some work at home people (i.e. freelancers) who could have unreliable Workspaces. Ineffective Workspaces can cause a lot of distractions, internet connection problems, and equipment issues. If they work from home, chances are their attention could be caught by family and other responsibilities. Their home may not also be the best place to have a stable internet connection or even a reliable working computer. If you want to outsource, make sure they can get over these possible issues.
This is why there are companies out there that can make sure they have fast and reliable internet connections and equipment — to make sure the process and progress move smoothly like clockwork. With this assurance, you may pay a little higher in hiring BPOs & studios but it’s worth it.
Graphic Design Outsourcing Tools
Design Feedback Apps
Task Management Apps
Time Recording Apps
File Sharing Apps
Design Feedback Apps
Review: Formerly Notable, Helio has a lot of features. You can put in screenshots, annotations, and presentations so you can comment on the designs. It even has tools for project management, user testing, and prototyping so you don’t need to use another software to get a good view of the project you have. It may have a little too many features based on your taste. But if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, this is it.
Starting Price: Free Trial
Review: It’s not as sleek as the other options in the list but it is feature-rich. You can do scrolling or whole-page screenshots which are very useful when adding comments in graphics that won’t typically fit one screen. I have encountered problems with the screenshots especially with animations but it is free with various sharing and annotation methods.
Starting Price: Free
Starting Price: Free
Review: The best part about this is its integration with Evernote. If you’re already in the Evernote ecosystem, it’ll be much easier for you to include this in your workflow. If not, it’s still a simple and easy way to get screenshots and highlight and comment on the design.
Starting Price: Free
Task Management Apps
Review: One of the best task management systems out there. They have a vast number of features compared to other platforms. You can assign, categorize, manage tasks to the minutest of details. It is perfect for big projects or even small tasks with the proper tweaking and configuration. The problem right now we have is that their mobile app on Android needs a lot of work. The UI can be cumbersome to use compared to its web and desktop counterparts. It visibly lags on the phones we have as well. However, if you spend most of your work time on computers and rarely on your phone, the app will work really well for you.
Starting Price: Free
Review: It is a widely used productivity managed platform for a reason. We thought it was the best until we transferred to ClickUp. Some might prefer the interface of Asana than Clickup.
Starting Price: Free
Review: A reliable chat system we’ve been using for a long time. Just make sure the point person you’re contacting and outsourcing to turns on their notifications. Slack is very reliable for documentation purposes since it’s a chat system. This means that the user interface is intuitive and user-friendly compared to alternatives such as Workplace, Bitrix24, and the chat client of ClickUp.
Starting Price: Free
Time Recording Apps
Review: Since it has to be constantly running in the background, it can cause lag on the computer the outsourcing service provider is using. It’s also an extra task that the freelancer might need so the tendency is for them to forget to use and maintain. Some freelancers find it too invasive in their work. It certainly feels like Big Brother is always watching and checking on you with it on. However, if you want to track the performance, it is a decent app you can try.
Starting Price: $12 (With 14-day Free Trial)
Sign up with Time Doctor here
File Sharing Apps
Review: Dropbox Basic starts with a measly 2 GB of storage but you can pay for more storage. It pioneered the cloud storage and syncing services until other software and services seemingly overtook it such as Google Drive or OneDrive. It has integrated tools such as Paper and Showcase for documents and presentations respectively. It has web and mobile apps but I like it for its integration with the OS — your Dropbox folder wouldn’t look much different than the standard File Explorer. It’s a decent third-party storage app but there may be better apps if you’re looking for something more integrated with your workflow.
Starting Price: Free
Review: This is integrated with any Adobe application that you purchase. It simply makes it easier to save and share files you made using their applications to other people. For example, you can save the PSD file directly in Adobe Cloud and share it from there. It’s a smoother workflow and integration if you’re already in the Adobe Creative Cloud ecosystem. However, it’s pretty much just an additional feature that Adobe Creative Cloud has and not a separate service in itself.
Starting Price: $4.99 (Free with App Subscription)
Sign up with Adobe Cloud
Review: The ubiquitous Google offers its own file sharing service in Google Drive. It is a fully-featured and generous cloud service with a lot of productivity and office tools included and integrated in it. Starting out at 15 GB for a free account, you can also edit documents, take notes, store photos, and back up files. Subscribing to their paid Google One plans is one of the most affordable ways to increase your storage. Its productivity, cloud syncing, and storage capabilities will certainly help you in working office tasks by yourself or with a team.
Starting Price: Free
Sign up with Google Drive
Review: As a Microsoft product, it works really well with other Microsoft apps. If you work on Word, Excel, Outlook, or PowerPoint, you can directly save your files to OneDrive as default. There are only 5 GB of storage for a free account but you can pay more for more storage. There’s also a generous 1 TB of storage if you bought Office 365. This works well if you want to keep working in Microsoft applications and Windows as they have arguably the strongest and most common office and productivity applications all around.
Starting Price: Free
Other tips in outsourcing Graphic Design:
If you’re hiring a graphic design studio, find out if their owner is hands-on or is a skilled designer themselves. Leaders who are also experts in graphic design can uphold their standards for their employees. They’ll also be able to understand, communicate, and explain the technical details of designs better.
A boss who owns a design agency but does not know design itself could lead to problems in management. If you talk to them in terms of design, they may not explain it properly. If you provide instructions on design, they may not pass it effectively to the actual designers. This could also be more costly since it’ll take more time and effort just to get the desired output. They’ll be too far up the food chain that they don’t see or show value to the team or the product.