How To Outsource Graphic Design Effectively

Outsourcing your business’ design needs can be a great idea. But you should be sure to do it right. Here’s a complete guide on how and why to outsource graphic design.

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October 6, 2023

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Outsourcing graphic design can be one of the best business decisions you can make, but before you take the leap, make sure you understand the different outsourcing options you can choose from and which one works best for you. 

Graphic design is an integral part of your business. From branding to marketing design, the creation of professional visual elements helps you build your brand image, advertise your business and profits.

For that reason, hiring a full-time graphic designer to work in-house can be a sound investment. However, regular salaries plus administrative costs are a major expense. Moreover, if you don’t need design done on a regular basis, an in-house designer simply doesn’t make sense

So, why and how to outsource graphic design right?

Why outsource graphic design

More than a passing trend, outsourcing is quickly becoming the norm for most businesses in the US: in January 2023, Clutch reported that 83% of businesses were planning to maintain or increase their spending on outsourced services. According to 2019 data, over a third (37%) of small businesses are outsourcing at least one operation, and over a half planned to do so. 

According to Deloitte’s 2022 outsourcing survey, these are top reasons for outsourcing

  • Costs reduction (57%)
  • Flexibility (51%)
  • Access to specific skills (49%)

The general benefits of outsourcing are clear: you can be more adaptive, flexible and cut costs. However, why outsource graphic design in particular? Here are a few reasons.

1. Graphic design is an integral part of your business.

While you might debate whether graphic design outsourcing is a good idea, there’s no doubt that high-quality designs are vital for any business. Here are just a few reasons why that is:

  • 75% of people will recognize your brand by its logo.
  • 94% of first impressions of your site are related to its design, and 75% will assess how credible your company is based on web design.
  • Social media posts with relevant images can receive up to  650% more engagement than text-only, and visual content is 40 times more likely to be shared.
  • According to Ipsos, 72% of American consumers say packaging impacts their purchasing decisions.

So, if design has been an afterthought so far, it’s high-time to give it some serious thought. As we’ll explain later, an outsourced graphic design service can be a great way to get top-quality graphics for less. 

2. In-house design is expensive. 

We’ve mentioned that hiring an in-house design team is expensive. But how expensive exactly? According to 2022 reports, the average salary for a graphic designer in the US is around $60k annually, with more senior design specialists earning as much as $150k.

But that’s only half of it. Aside from paying regular salaries, and all the taxes and administrative costs, you still need to factor in paid leave and sick days. Sometimes this might mean you’d need to hire a replacement, such as a freelance designer, so 

3. You can be more creative.

We’ve already mentioned that one of the biggest reasons why businesses outsource graphic design is to get access to specific skills. So, whether you want to produce different types of design, or simply have the capacity to test more options, graphic design outsourcing services can help.

This can be especially helpful if you want to test out different versions of a landing page or ad design, or if you want to level up your content with engaging visuals or motion graphics.

Why you shouldn’t outsource graphic design

There’s no getting around the importance of graphic design. However, in some cases hiring a person from the outside simply isn’t a good idea. Here’s when business owners shouldn’t outsource graphic design:

1. You’re building a company culture.

If you already have your own design team and want to get some extra help from the outside, make sure everyone is on the same page first. If your own employees feel threatened by the prospect, don’t do it: studies show that stress in the workplace can increase resignations by 50%. Don’t lose your team spirit or your team just because you wanted to save some money!

2. You can’t retain ownership of your brand.

It’s perfectly fine to outsource technical, administrative, and yes—even creative tasks. But remember that you need to be in control of your brand (image). If someone else is planning, writing and designing for your brand, eventually it will stop being your brand. Take Apple’s example instead: while most of their manufacturing is outsourced, the core design is still done in-house. Anyone can make a smartphone; only Apple can make it an iPhone.

3. You can’t help micromanaging.

No one wants to admit they micromanage, but still, some people do it. If you don’t want to call it by this ugly name, at least think carefully about how comfortable you are with design happening out of sight. If it’s just going to make you more doubtful and stressed than usual, spare everyone the frustration and stick to an in-house team

Graphic design outsourcing solutions

If you think outsourcing is the way to go, make sure you understand everything this exciting world has to offer. Here are the most popular outsourcing solutions: their biggest pros and cons.

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It’s reported that 90% of designers in the US work freelance. So there’s definitely no shortage of talented design professionals to work with. The most popular freelancing platforms are definitely Upwork and Fiverr, but there are plenty of great alternatives as well, some of which are meant for design professionals only.

Freelancers’ rates vary significantly on their location. For example, the hourly rate of a US-based graphic designer is around $25-$30, while in India and South East Asia they can be as little as $10. Does this mean designers in this part of the world are any less qualified? Absolutely not. However, hiring someone who isn’t based in your country could be challenging at times, due to differences in language or time zones.

Here are the main pros of working with a freelancer:

  • Specialized skills: with so many people freelancing, it’s possible to find someone ideal for pretty much any type of design project.
  • Flexibility: they’re great for one-off projects as you can only pay for what you need.

And here are the main cons:

  • Hourly rates: these can turn out to be quite expensive in the long term, or with bigger projects requiring several revisions
  • Not fully committed to your projects: freelancers usually balance several clients at the same time, so you can’t expect them to be at your beckon call 24/7.
  • Communication: language barriers can occur if you decide to hire a nonnative English speaker (although be understanding of the fact that someone is communicating with you in their second language!); another thing which can be frustrating is the time difference which can sometimes cause delays in completing urgent requests.

Design agencies

For those who can afford it, there’s arguably no better service than a design agency. It’s not just the expertise, experience and professionalism that count; it’s also the scope of different services you get by working with an agency. Oftentimes a design agency will also be a full-service marketing agency that can help you with anything from developing ideas for your brand to technical optimizations of your web design.

While design agencies are, as a rule of thumb, quite expensive, there is a range of options here as well. Iconic design agencies such as Pentagram are likely out of your budget’s reach, but there are thousands of smaller agencies that you might want to work with.

An agency usually includes a whole team of designers, as well as people like project managers and copywriters, so it makes sense that you’re going to pay quite a bit more than just hiring a freelancer or even a full-time employee. Agencies usually don’t have set fees, but rather calculate the rate based on the complexity and scope of the project. Another factor taken into account is the size of the client’s company: designing for a large global corporation is obviously much different than designing for a small business with a local reach.

On an average, a single design project costs several thousand dollars. Logo design stands at around $1,500 to $3,000, while website design usually requires well over $10,000.

So, if you haven’t been scared off by those numbers, here’s a list of the main pros for this type of design solution:

  • Professionalism and quality: naturally, there’s hardly ever any assurance that things will work out perfectly, design agencies usually have rich portfolios and extensive experience; sometimes agencies specialize in working with a particular industry, which can be a good indicator of the right fit.
  • Full service: if you don’t just need designs, but rather someone to guide your entire branding and marketing efforts, an agency is an all-in-one solution.

As for the cons, there is one major one:

  • Expensive: we’ve already said it, but really design agencies, especially for the long term, are usually not within reach for most small businesses.

Unlimited graphic design service

The third most popular type of graphic design service are definitely subscription-based design services, such as ManyPixles.

If you don’t know what they are, here’s a quick rundown: they work similar to a design agency (meaning you can request different types of projects and get different design experts to work on them), but you pay a flat monthly fee and can request as many projects as you like.

Naturally, you can see how this type of solution is ideal for anyone who needs design regularly. Even more so, since most unlimited services charge between $300 and $900 per month, which is a fraction of the cost of a single project done by a design agency.

For a much smaller price, you get all the upsides of a professional design agency: vast portfolio, big design team, as well as project managers that oversee the design process and help remove any blocks or clear out misunderstandings.

Here are the main benefits of this model:

  • Unlimited designs, unlimited revisions: from simpler tasks like marketing materials, to complete brand design, you are free to make as many requests as you like every month.
  • Affordable: for a couple of hundred dollars per month, unlimited graphic design beats both freelancers (for the long term) and design agencies in terms of budget-friendliness.
  • Simple: if you like the idea of having one service to take care of all your design needs (like an agency), then you’ll love working with unlimited design service
  • No admin: every other type of service requires you to sign some sort of agreement (or it’s advisable in any case), which sometimes comes with additional costs or hours. With an unlimited design service it’s incredibly easy to sign up and you’re free to cancel the service at any time.

Of course, we have to be objective and point out a few cons as well:

  • Not great for one-off projects: it’s very likely that finding a freelancer to complete a single project will be more affordable.
  • It’s not as “personal”: if you’re a big fan of good, old-fashioned in-person meetings, know that this isn’t what you’ll be getting. Oftentimes, you might develop a really great relationship with a dedicated designer, and many services allow you to specify which designer you want to work with. But most of the time communication happens through chat and not calls or video calls.

Design contest

99Designs is a company best known for this specific business model, but there are a number of different platforms that host design contests as well. If you’re not familiar with design contests this is how they work: you submit a design request and designers from the community deliver their ideas on the solution. You can pick the winner or decide you don’t like any of them and get your money back.

There are several pros for this unique model:

  • You get plenty of ideas: even if you decide to go with a different direction it can be a good starting point
  • Affordable: contests start at around $300
  • Good for smaller projects: it’s a good solution for simple, smaller projects with a quick turnaround often needed on a regular basis by design agencies and marketing teams (obviously quality and complete brand guide isn’t something you can request in this case).

Naturally, there are a few cons as well:

  • Lack of knowledge of your brand: design contests are the most impersonal, so although you provide a design brief, most results probably won’t match your vision completely as you can’t go through the whole process together.
  • Not viable in the long term: they’re really made for one-off projects so if you need many designs regularly, consider a different option.
  • No big projects: same as the above, complex projects such as brand or web design require collaboration and lots of time, and can’t be created out of a single brief.

Which outsourcing option should you choose?

Now that we’ve covered the main pros and cons of different design outsourcing options, we’ll try to give you an idea of what might be the best option for you.

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Although it’s unlikely you’ll only ever need just one design, if you want some outside help to your in-house team freelancers are probably going to deliver the best ratio of quality and affordability.  You might get very lucky with a design contest, but it’s best to take it first as a brainstorming step, rather than expect polished designs right away.

If you need designs done regularly, the only sensible options are hiring an in-house designer or an unlimited graphic design service. A single designer will likely be a bit more expensive and won’t necessarily have all the skills for different types of projects, but they will have a deep understanding of your brand and target audience, so they can be a good fit for small local businesses.

An unlimited graphic design service is a great option for both smaller businesses looking to save on design, as well as teams and agencies who need diverse, quality designs delivered fast.

Finally, if you want to tackle a really big project, like a global rebrand or a complete website design from scratch (including web development) hiring an agency can be worth your while.

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.

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