There are several factors at play when deciding whether to use a DIY platform or procure the services of a design agency. Though both provide a unique service that claims to be the best recourse to your visual communication needs, there are a number of things to consider before committing to one or the other.
Let’s take a look at a few of the main facets that differentiate these solutions so you can ultimately decide which one is best for you.
A bit about the solutions
DIY platforms come in many different flavors. While some focus on a specific form of visual communication — data visualization, infographics, social thumbnails, GIFs, etc. — others will offer a plethora of tools, templates, and assets for you to build any combination of visual content.
Agencies also have various specialized offerings that either focus on a single medium or provide a suite of visual communication options. Accompanying these offerings is the agency service experience, which can vary quite a bit in terms of agency client involvement (more on this later).
When weighing out these solutions, final decisions generally come down to services/resources, price, and product quality.
A good DIY platform will provide you with a pretty hefty suite of resources and tools ranging from icons and images to pre-made templates in various layouts; all of these come to you right out of the box and, for the most part, can be used as you see fit. Many will even auto-generate charts and graphs from your textual data.
One thing to be aware of is that even though you’re really only limited by your imagination in regards to how you use all the available tools, assets, and templates, anyone using that DIY platform will have access to those exact same features, which can compromise originality.
A well-established agency is one that provides a comprehensive service focusing on customer care, design, creative consultation, and implementation. They should have a honed collaborative process that is flexible to various visual communication needs and deadlines. You, as a client, should expect to do very little with getting your project off the ground; your main task should be to provide feedback and sign-off throughout the design process.
That said, it’s beneficial to verse yourself in where an agency’s services are coming from. Some places — without disclosure to the client — will outsource projects to content developers and designers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can cause issues with timelines and interpretation of project goals, especially if there are a lot of moving parts involved.
By far the most cost-effective approach, considering the alternative. Some work will be required on your end to customize the deliverable to your needs, but the purchase price overall is typically lower. DIY platforms will give you a considerable amount of bang for your buck and usually provide multiple payment options around monthly/yearly subscriptions or one-time purchases.
Just be sure you know what your purchase includes. Some DIY platforms will nickel and dime you by offering “premium” assets and/or templates at an additional cost to your basic package.
Agency pricing will be noticeably higher. Keep in mind, though, the services that come with a project quote — consulting, content development, design, project management, etc. — and consider the amount of aggregated man-hours needed to successfully fulfill each service.
Similar to DIY platforms, beware of hidden costs. Whether they charge hourly or on a per-project basis, reputable agencies will be 100% transparent with how they quote out projects. They will also be upfront with any additional charges and discounts that may occur based on various circumstances (project delays, design scope changes, etc.), all of which should be clearly laid out in the statement of work.
A DIY platform’s quality is measured almost entirely on user experience. A quality platform is going to provide easy navigation, an organized library of quality design assets and flexibility to edit and customize assets, and a number of templates. They should also provide a library of tutorials and other reference material to help guide you throughout the entire design process.
That said, be sure to consider the time it will take to learn the ins and outs of the software. A well-made solution should only take a few days or less to become familiar with. It’s also important to note the overall quality of the end product lies solely on you, so it would behoove you to verse yourself a bit on the elements of design theory.
Well-established agencies specializing in visual communication develop some of the best visual content with few exceptions. Quality will not only come from having teams of very talented individuals endowed with unique skillsets in messaging; branding; design; etc., but also from the fact that everything they produce is, or at least should be, completely unique to your project. In other words, nothing they produce should come from a library of stock imagery or recycled from old projects.
A quality user experience is also very important. An Agency should keep you in the loop throughout the duration of the project, providing you with a detailed schedule of deliverables, starting from content development to delivery of the finished product.
Whichever visual communication path you decide to go down, understand that exceptions will always be made and as technology continues to progress so too will the criteria for which we measure the most viable solutions. It really all comes down to your personal experience with the solution and your overall satisfaction with the end product.