In-House Designer vs. Agency: What to Choose?

15minutes read
in-house vs agency design

A five-year study conducted by the McKinsey Design Index revealed that companies making consistent investments in their design outperformed their peers, achieving nearly double the rate of revenues and shareholder returns. In the dynamic world of creative endeavors, businesses often face the crucial decision of how to approach their design needs. The choice between in-house designer vs. agency carries significant implications for the quality, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness of projects. As companies seek to establish or enhance their brand identity, the debate surrounding these two options intensifies.

In this article, we delve into the intricacies of this pivotal choice, exploring the distinct advantages and drawbacks of employing an in-house designer versus collaborating with a design agency. Keep reading!

The Importance of Design in Business

Design is crucial in business across various aspects, influencing everything from product development to customer experience. Design is a strategic investment for industries that can drive growth, foster innovation, and enhance the overall customer experience. Companies can gain a competitive edge and build long-lasting relationships with their customers. Here are several critical reasons why design is essential for business:

the importance of design in business
design's importance in business
  • First impression. Design is often the first thing customers notice about a product or service. A well-designed product or website can create a positive first impression, which is essential for attracting and retaining customers. 
  • Brand identity. Design helps establish and communicate a brand's identity. Consistent use of design elements such as logos, colors, and typography helps reinforce brand recognition and build trust with customers.
  • Differentiation. In competitive markets, design can be a powerful tool for differentiation. A unique and well-executed design can set a business apart from its competitors and attract customers looking for something distinctive.
  • Marketing & communication. Design is pivotal in marketing and communication efforts. Visual elements such as graphics, images, and videos help to convey messages effectively and capture the attention of target audiences in a crowded marketplace.

By carefully evaluating the trade-offs and opportunities when choosing between agency vs. in-house design, businesses can make informed decisions that empower them to harness the transformative power of design in driving brand differentiation and customer engagement. Let’s explore the topic from the inside. 

In-House Designer Overview

An in-house designer is a creative professional who works exclusively for a single company or organization rather than being contracted externally on a project-by-project basis. They are typically integrated into the company's structure and culture, collaborating closely with other departments and stakeholders to fulfill design needs across different platforms and initiatives.

The role of in-house designer

The role of an in-house designer is multifaceted, encompassing a blend of creative, strategic, and collaborative functions aimed at driving brand consistency, customer engagement, and business growth.

in-house designer roles
what do in-house designers do?
  • Brand control. In-house designers are crucial for maintaining and evolving the company's brand identity. They ensure that all design assets, including logos, color schemes, typography, and visual elements, adhere to brand guidelines and effectively communicate the company's values, mission, and positioning in the marketplace.
  • Graphic design. In-house designers create visually compelling graphics for various purposes, such as advertisements, brochures, packaging, presentations, and digital media. They leverage their creativity and technical skills to produce designs that resonate with the target audience and convey key messages.
  • User interface and experience. In the realm of digital products and platforms, in-house designers deal with intuitive and user-friendly UI/UX design that enhance the user experience. They collaborate with product managers, developers, and other stakeholders to create wireframes, prototypes, and mockups that streamline user interactions and optimize usability.
  • Marketing support. Internal designers can develop marketing plans to support various promotional initiatives, including print materials, social media graphics, email campaigns, and online advertisements. They align their designs with the company's marketing objectives, target audience demographics, and brand messaging to maximize engagement and conversion rates.
  • Product design. For companies that produce physical products, hired in-house designers are responsible for conceptualizing and executing product designs that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional. They may also design product packaging, labels, and other visual elements that enhance shelf appeal and convey product attributes to consumers.
  • Collaboration & project management. Internal designers collaborate closely with cross-functional teams, including product development, sales, and management, to understand project requirements, establish timelines, and deliver high-quality design solutions on time and within budget. They often serve as project managers, coordinating tasks, managing workflows, and prioritizing assignments to ensure efficient execution of design projects.
  • Skill development. Designers keep abreast of emerging design trends, technologies, and best practices. They seek opportunities for professional development, attend workshops, conferences, and training sessions, and actively engage with online communities to expand their skill sets and stay inspired.

Read also in Gapsy’s blog: How to Hire a Web Designer and Not be Mistaken with the Choice?

Advantages of having an in-house designer

In-house designers offer several distinct advantages to companies and organizations, making them valuable assets in the business’s creative and strategic realms. Let’s discuss some of them.

in-house designer advantages
pros of hiring an in-house designer

A deep understanding of the company’s culture and values allows in-house designers to create designs that resonate with the organization's ethos, effectively communicate its mission, and align with its strategic objectives. It enables them to infuse their designs with the company’s essence, ensuring the visual elements accurately reflect the brand’s personality and resonate with its target audience. 
These designers possess an inherent grasp of the company's messaging and tone of voice. They understand the nuances of how the brand communicates with its stakeholders, whether it's through marketing materials, product packaging, or digital platforms. As a result, in-house designers can maintain consistency in messaging across various touchpoints, reinforcing brand recognition and fostering trust among consumers.

Immediate availability for communication and collaboration is a significant advantage of having an in-house designer within a company or organization. Unlike external design agencies or freelancers, in-house designers are readily accessible to internal stakeholders, fostering seamless collaboration, efficient decision-making, and timely project execution. 

In dynamic business environments, priorities and requirements may change rapidly. An in-house designer enables the organization to adapt quickly to evolving needs and market conditions. In-house designers can pivot seamlessly between projects, accommodate last-minute requests, and address unforeseen challenges promptly, minimizing disruptions and maximizing productivity.

Consistency in design across various projects is a hallmark of having an in-house designer within a company or organization. In-house designers are uniquely positioned to ensure that all visual assets, from marketing materials to product packaging, maintain a cohesive and unified look and feel.

A consistent design aesthetic conveys a sense of professionalism and attention to detail. Internal designers meticulously adhere to design standards and quality benchmarks, ensuring that every visual asset meets the company's standards of excellence. Consistent design instills confidence in stakeholders and reinforces the organization's commitment to delivering high-quality products and services.

Challenges of having an in-house designer

While having an in-house designer offers numerous advantages, there are also challenges that organizations may encounter when managing an internal design team. The research shows that it takes approximately 44 days to hire. These challenges can impact workflow, resource allocation, and overall productivity. Look at some common challenges of having an in-house designer below.

in-house designer disadvantages
cons of hiring an in-house designer

One notable challenge of having an in-house designer is the limited diversity of perspectives that may arise within the design team. Internal designers, while deeply familiar with the organization's culture and brand, may sometimes lack exposure to various influences, experiences, and design philosophies. 

Without openness to diverse perspectives, in-house designers may struggle to generate fresh insights and innovative solutions to design challenges. Diversity of thought stimulates creativity and fosters the exchange of ideas, leading to more robust and dynamic design outcomes. In the absence of diverse perspectives, design solutions may become stagnant and predictable, failing to resonate with evolving audience preferences and market trends.

The potential for burnout is a significant disadvantage that in-house designers may face due to the demanding nature of their roles and the pressure to meet tight deadlines while maintaining high-quality standards. In-house designers can juggle multiple projects simultaneously, ranging from designing marketing materials and branding assets to creating product packaging and user interfaces. The volume and complexity of projects can lead to long hours and tight deadlines, placing strain on designers and contributing to feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion.

Internal design teams may be understaffed or lack the resources required to handle the workload effectively. Designers may find themselves in a difficult position with limited support staff or access to specialized tools and software. Without adequate resources, designers may struggle to manage their workload efficiently, increasing the risk of burnout.

Skillset limitations may interfere with designers’ ability to address diverse design needs and adapt to evolving industry trends. In-house designers often possess specialized skills in specific areas of design, such as graphic design, UI design, or illustration. While specialization enables designers to excel in their respective domains, it may also limit their versatility and ability to tackle projects that require expertise outside their core skillset.

Internal designers may become entrenched in the design needs and preferences of a specific industry or niche market, limiting their exposure to diverse design challenges and perspectives. Designers in niche industries may develop specialized knowledge and expertise but may face complexities in adapting their skills to different contexts or industries.

Design Agency Overview

A design agency is a creative consultancy or company that offers various design services to clients seeking to enhance their brand identity, create compelling visual assets, and improve user experiences across digital and physical platforms. Design agencies typically employ a team of designers, art directors, strategists, and project managers who collaborate to deliver tailored design solutions that align with client needs and brand aspirations.

Explore this topic further: How to Choose a Credible Web Design Company.

First impressions of a digital product are 94% design-related. Hiring a design agency gives access to specialized expertise, innovative solutions, and strategic guidance that can elevate their brand presence, enhance customer experiences, and drive business growth. By leveraging the agency’s collective talents and creative capabilities, businesses can achieve their design objectives with confidence and impact.

The role of design agency

Design agencies are pivotal in helping businesses articulate their brand identity, communicate their value proposition, and connect with audiences through compelling visual experiences. The following list will show you why UX design is important.

design agency roles
what does a design agency do?
  • Creative strategy & consultation. Design agencies work closely with clients to understand their business objectives, target audience, and competitive landscape. They provide strategic guidance, consultancy, and UX audit services if needed, helping clients define their brand identity, positioning, and visual language to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
  • Brand & visual identity design. Agencies develop comprehensive brand identity systems encompassing logos, color palettes, typography, and visual elements. They translate brand attributes and values into cohesive visual identities that resonate with target audiences and communicate the brand’s essence across diverse touchpoints.
  • Content creation. Design agencies produce media content, including videos, animations, infographics, and interactive presentations, to convey complex concepts and engage audiences effectively. They employ visual storytelling techniques and creative technologies to create compelling narratives that inspire action and drive results.
  • Project management & client communication. Design agencies serve as trusted partners to clients, guiding them through the design process from concept development to final execution. They provide project management, scheduling, and budgeting services, ensuring that projects are delivered on time, within scope, and budget. Design agencies also maintain open lines of communication with clients, soliciting feedback, addressing concerns, and fostering collaborative relationships throughout the project lifecycle.

Advantages of hiring a design agency

Hiring a design agency offers a bunch of advantages. According to reports, 59% of companies have stated that they attained cost savings by opting for an outsourcing model. Businesses will have creative innovation and comprehensive solutions that can elevate their brand presence and drive meaningful engagement with their target audience. Let’s discuss it in detail.

design agency advantages
pros of hiring a design agency

One of the significant advantages of hiring a design agency lies in its diverse talent pool and skill sets. Agencies typically house a team of professionals with varied backgrounds, expertise, and creative perspectives, offering clients a scope of skills and capabilities. 

Designers from different disciplines collaborate seamlessly, delivering integrated solutions and encompassing diverse design elements. For instance, a branding project may require input from graphic designers, copywriters, and brand strategists to develop a cohesive brand identity. The ability to leverage diverse skill sets fosters creativity, innovation, and holistic problem-solving approaches. Additionally, such creative studios have the flexibility to assemble project teams tailored to the specific requirements of each client and project. 

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Fresh and innovative perspectives lie in the design agency’s work philosophy. Studios operate outside of the internal dynamics and organizational culture of their clients. This outside perspective allows them to offer unbiased insights and innovative ideas that may not be apparent to internal teams. Design agencies bring fresh eyes to the table, challenging conventional thinking and sparking new creative directions.

Creative agencies foster a culture of collaboration and creativity within their teams. Designers, strategists, and other professionals collaborate closely to explore ideas, experiment with different approaches, and push the boundaries of design innovation. Through brainstorming sessions, design sprints, and collaborative workshops, design agencies generate fresh concepts and innovative solutions that captivate audiences and drive results.

Scalability for different project sizes is a notable advantage of hiring a design agency. Design agencies are equipped to handle projects of varying scopes, from small-scale initiatives to large-scale campaigns, thanks to their flexible structure, diverse talent pool, and streamlined processes. 

Agencies can allocate resources according to project requirements. Whether it's a small branding project or a comprehensive multimedia campaign, agencies can adjust team size, skill sets, and workloads to match the specific needs of each project. This flexibility ensures that clients receive the proper support and expertise, optimizing project outcomes while minimizing unnecessary costs.

Challenges of hiring a design agency

Engaging a design agency presents various advantages, yet businesses may confront several hurdles when collaborating with external design partners. These challenges have the potential to affect project results, timelines, and overall client contentment.

design agency disadvantages
cons of hiring a design agency

Cost considerations are crucial when hiring a design agency. While these agencies offer professional expertise and innovative solutions, their services often come with a price tag that businesses must carefully evaluate. Design agency fees can encompass a range of expenses, including design work, project management, revisions, and additional services. 

Balancing the budget while ensuring high-quality design outcomes can be challenging, especially for businesses with limited financial resources. Additionally, unexpected costs or scope changes during the project lifecycle can further strain the budget. 

Potential communication barriers represent a significant concern when collaborating with a design agency. These barriers can stem from various factors such as language differences, cultural nuances, time zone differences, and misaligned expectations between the business and the agency. Effective communication is essential for conveying project requirements, providing feedback, and ensuring that both parties are aligned throughout the design process. 

Differences in communication styles or preferences between the business and the agency may deepen communication challenges. Clear and concise communication channels should be established to overcome these barriers, including regular meetings, email updates, and project management tools. Fostering an open and collaborative atmosphere where both parties feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns can help bridge communication gaps and ensure that project expectations are met effectively.

A limited understanding of company culture may interfere when working with a design agency. Company culture encompasses shared values, beliefs, behaviors, and norms that shape the organizational environment and define its identity. Design agencies may lack insight into the intricacies of a client's company culture, including its history, values, brand personality, and internal dynamics. 

This limited understanding can impede the agency's ability to create design solutions that authentically reflect the client's brand identity and resonate with its target audience. Furthermore, design concepts that do not synchronize with the client's company culture may fall short regarding messaging, tone, and visual aesthetics.

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In-House vs. Agency Design Comparison: Factors to Consider

When comparing design agency vs. in-house, several factors come into play, each influencing the decision-making process for businesses.

in-house vs design agency
factors to consider when choosing an in-house designer vs. agency

Project scope & scale

In-house teams offer familiarity with the company's brand and culture. On the other hand, design agencies provide scalability, expertise, and flexibility to handle diverse project requirements effectively. By carefully assessing project needs and objectives, businesses can determine the most suitable approach for achieving their design goals and driving business success.

In that case, in-house teams may face resource constraints when handling large-scale or specialized projects that require diverse skill sets. Scaling up internal designers to meet sudden spikes in project demand may strain resources and impact productivity and project timelines. 

Design agencies can ramp up resources and allocate dedicated teams to meet project deadlines and deliver high-quality results within stipulated timelines. They bring diverse expertise and specialized skill sets to the table, enabling them to tackle complex projects that require specific design disciplines or industry knowledge.

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Budget considerations

Organizations must carefully assess their budget constraints, design requirements, and long-term goals when choosing between in-house designer vs. agency.

In-house design teams offer predictable costs as they are part of the company's regular expenses, including salaries, benefits, and overhead. Based on this, businesses have greater control over budget allocation and resource management, allowing them to prioritize design projects based on internal needs and budget constraints.

Engaging design agencies may require an upfront investment in project fees, retainer agreements, or initial deposits, which could be higher compared to utilizing in-house resources for routine design tasks. However, agencies offer variable costs based on project scope, scale, and complexity, allowing businesses to allocate budget resources more flexibly and efficiently.

Communication & collaboration

While in-house design teams offer direct access, deep understanding, and cultural alignment with the organization, agencies bring external expertise, structured processes, and objective feedback.

In-house teams have direct access to internal stakeholders, facilitating seamless communication, collaboration, and alignment on project goals and objectives. Nonetheless, internal designers may lack exposure to external design trends, industry best practices, and diverse creative perspectives, potentially limiting innovation and creativity. 

Design agencies employ structured project management processes, clear communication channels, and defined workflows to facilitate collaboration and ensure meeting the project milestones. Creative studios provide objective feedback and critique based on industry standards and best practices, fostering constructive dialogue and continuous improvement.

Design Agency vs. In-House: Making the Decision

Companies must assess their unique requirements, such as project scope, budget constraints, and desired level of creative input. Understanding these needs helps determine whether an in-house design team or a design agency is better suited to meet project objectives effectively. 

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option we discussed earlier. It involves evaluating factors like cost-effectiveness, expertise, scalability, and communication dynamics to make an informed decision that aligns with the organization's priorities and resources.

Beyond immediate project needs, you should evaluate your long-term goals and the flexibility required to adapt to changing market conditions and business priorities. It includes assessing how each option contributes to innovation, brand development, and the ability to scale operations in response to evolving demands.

Bottom Line: Agency vs. In-House Design

In conclusion, choosing between in-house designer vs. agency ultimately depends on the company’s needs, resources, and goals. Both options offer unique advantages and drawbacks that should be carefully considered before making a decision.

An in-house designer may be the ideal choice for businesses seeking consistent branding, quick turnaround times, and close collaboration. They provide a dedicated resource who understands the company's vision and culture, fostering deeper integration and alignment with overall objectives. However, design agencies bring a wealth of experience, diverse perspectives, and specialized skills. They offer scalability, flexibility, and access to a broader talent, making them well-suited for projects requiring creativity, innovation, and expertise. 

Choose Gapsy Studio as your design agency partner and unlock the power of creative excellence! Check our portfolio and contact us. Let's bring your vision to life together!

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