The Difference Between a Design Company & a Visual Communication Agency

By May 27, 2020 July 15th, 2020 Design Tips, Visual Communication

Abstract design company illustration showing paintbrush and other artistic tools

The classic design company has been around for a long time, but the visual communication agency is a relatively new development. And when you’re looking for a creative content partner, it can be hard to know the difference. What’s the right fit for your needs and your brand? Let’s take a look at how to decide.

Defining Design

Design isn’t just the development of pretty imagery and objects. “At its core, design is systematized problem solving,” writes Chen Ye on Medium. Good design requires a deep and thoughtful consideration of the utility of what’s being produced. If a chair looks great but is uncomfortable to sit in, it’s not good design. Likewise, if your company develops an interactive landing page, but it loads incredibly slowly, that’s not good design, either. 

The Definition of Visual Communication

Visual communication at its most basic level represents information graphically in order to effectively and efficiently deliver meaning and understanding. So as you can see, utility is a big part of visual communication design as well. At its most basic level, visual communication should make information easier to understand and easier to share. 

That means that a visual communication designer must have all the skills that a classic designer is expected to have, but must also be specially trained at effectively and accurately translating information into visual forms. This is a critical skill in an era of “fake news” when trust in brands is eroding. The content you create shouldn’t just be visually appealing — it should have precise and authentic messaging.

What Is a Design Company?

A design company can take a variety of forms. Some design companies are built specifically around the type of content they deliver. For instance, animation companies might only focus on creating motion graphics, whereas advertising agencies might deliver a broader selection of asset types — so long as they’re being used as ads at the end. The latter will offer some strategy support for their clients in order to develop ads that deliver on specific goals and reach certain target audiences. But they probably don’t specialize in producing designs for a broader variety of purposes, such as content marketing and internal comms. 

Still other design companies will deliver a variety of assets for a variety of applications. But they probably won’t help you with your visual content strategy. You’ll need to approach them with a full content strategy in place, and with a list of assets you’ll need to put that strategy in action. 

What Is a Visual Communication Agency?

A visual communication agency takes your designs a step further by bringing their unique expertise to the table. They’re capable of not only developing beautiful visuals — they’ll also guarantee the accuracy of the information they portray. 

And it’s not just about accuracy: visual communication agencies specialize in telling stories visually in the most compelling way possible. A beautiful design doesn’t always tell a story in an engaging way. In order to do so, you also need to develop an effective information hierarchy, organizing the story that’s being told in a way that builds and develops over the course of the design.  

What Is a Visual Content Strategy Agency?

A visual content strategy agency is a visual communication agency that is equipped to help your organization develop a content strategy that will achieve your goals and reach your target audience. 

Why would you want to work with this type of partner when you probably already have some kind of marketing strategy in place? Because a visual strategy agency is uniquely versed in what types of visual content perform best with particular audiences and on key channels. What’s more, they can identify ways your visual content can go further to achieve your organization’s unique goals. So even if you have an overall picture of what your next marketing campaign should look like, a visual content strategy agency will translate that picture into a set of specific solutions in the form of visual assets that will achieve your goals. 

So the next time you’re working to develop a marketing campaign, consider which type of agency partner is the best fit for your needs. Not all design agencies can deliver visual communication content or strategy solutions. What will deliver the most ROI for your brand?

Erin McCoy

Author Erin McCoy

Erin McCoy is director of content marketing and public relations at Killer Visual Strategies. She earned her BA in Spanish with minors in French and Russian, and holds 2 master’s degrees from the University of Washington: an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literature. She has won nearly 2 dozen awards in photojournalism, and has dedicated those skills to boosting Killer’s brand recognition and thought leadership in visual communication. Since Erin took on her marketing/PR role, Killer has been named a member of the Inc. 5000 for 4 years in a row; has been featured in such publications as Inc., Forbes, Mashable, and the Huffington Post; and has been invited to present at such conferences as SXSW and SMX Advanced.

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