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When to Hire an In-house Graphic Designer vs. Graphic Design Firm

May 11, 2023

by Sydney Wess

Creative directors, business owners, and entrepreneurs alike have graphic design needs. Sometimes, the human capital to produce creative works doesn’t already exist internally. In these cases, businesses should seek either a new designer for the internal team or help from design companies offering these services.

Designers produce everything from logo designs, website design assets, and graphic work for just about every marketing material you can think of.   
Graphic design plays more of a role in business success than one may think.

So, when your business wishes to scale up design, it’s important to make sure your provider offers everything you need to reach your goals.

How can a graphic designer support your business?

  • Brand designs (logos, typography, business cards, banners, etc.)
  • Social media designs
  • UX design
  • Some digital marketing activities
  • Web design assets

Both internal graphic designers and agencies have the potential to create quality designs. However, despite quality work, hiring a single designer vs. outsourcing design to an agency doesn’t have a singular answer across companies.

Pay attention to the advantages, drawbacks, and use cases of both options to make sure you bring the ideal design resources into your operation.

Skip right to the good part and hire the best design companies on Clutch.

In-house Graphic Designer

What is an In-house Graphic Designer?

An in-house graphic designer is an employee that will address graphic design needs as an internal contributor to your company. This means that they are one designer that will be part of existing in-house design teams within your in-person, virtual, or hybrid work environments.

In-house teammates can be hired full-time, part-time, or even contractually. This flexibility allows you to maintain an internal teammate while scheduling hours similarly to a freelance graphic designer.

5 Benefits of Hiring an In-house Graphic Designer

Hiring a new in-house designer is an exciting and beneficial process — keep tabs on these ways a new designer is ideal:

  1. Exclusive to your company
  2. Deep company understanding
  3. Cost-effective in the long-term
  4. Speedy and adaptable to feedback
  5. Collaborative in-house environment

Exclusively Your Full-Time In-House Designer

Unlike an agency or even freelancers, hiring a full-time in-house graphic designer means that they’re a dedicated resource exclusively for your business. In other words, the individual you hire will not have other clients or work obligations to work around while addressing your business needs.

Keeping dedicated resources in roles like these makes it easier for teammates to prioritize and deliver designs quickly.

In contrast, graphic design firms will definitely have several clients, which creates the potential for slower delivery and limited focus on your company’s projects.

Learn more about graphic design services and vocabulary with our graphic design glossary.

Deeper Understanding of Your Company

An in-house designer has a better understanding of your brand and business goals. They work within your company culture — and collaborate with internal co-workers — to gain an understanding of team culture and target audience.

This is particularly useful in graphic design because knowledge of audience facilitates designs that can resonate with customers.

Graphic design firms will eventually understand your audience, but it will definitely take more time and the understanding will certainly be less intimate than that of an in-house teammate. This can result in designs that do not align with your goals and values, if you choose to hire an agency.

Cost-Effective in the Long-Term

Sure, a graphic design firm may seem cheaper initially. However, retainers, agency fees, and project-by-project payments add up quickly over time. A graphic design firm charges for every project, while an in-house designer's salary remains constant regardless of the number of designs they create.

Given the nature of graphic design work and how closely it’s tied to branding, having consistent partners can be important. A continued partnership with an agency may outprice a graphic designer’s salary, even if initial onboarding costs seem daunting.

Speedy and Adaptable in Handling Feedback

An in-house graphic designer offers more flexibility and adaptability.

As mentioned above, one of the key perks of having design help in-house is that they work exclusively for your company. In this scenario, rounds of revisions or other tasks that appear time-consuming with external service providers can be done much more quickly.

Feedback and communication are recurring sticking points for those choosing to outsource design to an agency but shouldn’t be an issue with in-house employees.

Collaborative In-House Environment

Having an in-house graphic designer builds upon existing team culture and can foster closer relationships between co-workers.

Building a collaborative sense of teamwork in the office is invaluable and will directly affect how smoothly (and quickly) projects can be completed.

A cohesive team culture will make cross-team collaboration easy — working across marketing, sales, and product development will feel more streamlined than ever.

5 Disadvantages of an In-house Graphic Designer

In-house designers aren’t a fool-proof decision, and they’re not always the right choice. Look out for these drawbacks to hiring them:

  1. Lack of diversity of perspectives
  2. Potential for stagnant thinking
  3. Increased overhead expenses
  4. Turnover risks
  5. Limited potential to scale

Lacks Diversity of Perspectives

An in-house graphic designer may lack the diversity of experience and perspectives that a graphic design firm can offer. Working for a single company can limit exposure to different types of projects and clients, leading to a narrower skill set and less creativity.

Potential for Stagnancy

Graphic designers may become complacent or stagnant in their work. There is less pressure to innovate without the external pressure and stimulus of working with multiple clients and teams. 

They may become too comfortable with the company's branding and aesthetic, leading to designs that lack innovation or freshness.

Increased Overhead Expenses

Hiring an in-house graphic designer may not be cost-effective for small businesses with limited budgets. 

The cost of hiring a full-time employee, providing benefits and training, and investing in software and equipment can be prohibitive, compared to outsourcing to a graphic design firm on a per-project basis.

Turnover Risks

There is the risk of turnover and loss of institutional knowledge. If the in-house graphic designer leaves the company, they may take their knowledge of the company's branding and design processes with them, leaving a gap that may be difficult to fill.

Limited Scaling Potential

After hiring a new in-house employee, companies only gain one designer. They can’t generate as much design work in one day as a larger team of designers could.

However, graphic design agencies can staff more resources to projects that require speedy scaling. For large-scale projects with a definite deadline, an in-house resource may not cut it.

Graphic Design Firm

What is a Graphic Design Firm?

A graphic design firm is a business that devotes itself to serving clients in need of designs. In addition to graphics themselves, an agency may offer web specialists, project management, social media specialists, and more to ensure they offer a full-service experience for clients that need it.

Instead of following a traditional internal hiring process, companies will hire graphic design firms after reviewing portfolios, case studies, and proposals from interested agencies.

5 Advantages of Hiring a Graphic Design Firm

Graphic design firms bring a lot of experience to their clients as well as these distinct advantages:

  1. Ranging services
  2. Fresh set of eyes
  3. Flexibility project-by-project spending
  4. Fast turnaround times
  5. Industry contacts

Ranging Services

Graphic design companies boast larger teams of designers and additional industry professionals with diverse expertise. The variety within their team enables them to take on just about any design project that comes their way.

Similarly, agencies are able to keep up with new tools and trends, which may not be reasonable for internal teams to invest in. With these resources, they have the power to bring client design work to the next level.

Fresh Eyes

Design firms can provide more objectivity and fresh perspectives on design projects. An agency’s designers are not as entrenched in a company's culture or branding as an in-house designer, which can result in more innovative and creative design solutions.

Flexible Spending

Agencies can be engaged on a per-project basis, allowing for greater scalability and cost-effectiveness. 

This is particularly advantageous for smaller businesses that do not have a consistent need for design work.

In these cases, it makes more financial sense for companies to hire agencies instead of a new employee.

Faster Turnaround Times

In part due to their headcount and resources, agencies deliver faster turnaround times than in-house designers. Dedicated project management teams also support and facilitate design projects to make sure they remain on schedule, which is not a feature of in in-house teammate (who would need to be managed by someone already on your team).

This can be particularly important for time-sensitive projects such as marketing campaigns or product launches.

Industry Contacts

Graphic design companies can provide access to a broader network of industry contacts and resources.

For example, a firm may have relationships with printers, photographers, or illustrators, which can be leveraged to provide more comprehensive design solutions. It’s less common for a single graphic designer to have these connections unless they demonstrate significant experience in the industry.

5 Drawbacks of Graphic Design Firms

Collaborating with graphic design firms does have its disadvantages, including the following:

  1. Less internal control
  2. Expensive in the long-term
  3. Communication gaps
  4. Risk design continuity
  5. Lack of personal investment

Less Internal Control

Because communication is less frequent in outsourced settings, the final designs firms present may not align with the vision or brand.

This can be a huge letdown for companies with a strong and distinctive visual identity and may result in multiple rounds of revisions (which will make for a lengthier project).

Expensive for Long-Term Partners

While the per-project costs may seem lower initially, the cost of hiring a firm for multiple projects can add up quickly.

Additionally, a firm may charge for revisions or changes, which can further increase costs.

Learn how to create a graphic design budget to ensure a cost-effective partnership.

Communication Gaps

Communication isn’t always straightforward when working with a graphic design firm. As the client may not have direct access to the designers, there may be misunderstandings or delays in communication.

This can result in designs that do not fully meet the client's needs or expectations.

Risk Design Continuity

Outsourcing to a graphic design firm may result in less continuity and consistency in design. As each project may be assigned to a different designer or team within the firm, there may be inconsistencies in style and quality across different projects.

This can be particularly problematic for companies with a strong and consistent visual identity.

Lack of Personal Investment

Graphic design firms have multiple clients, so they will not be as personally invested in your company’s work as an internal teammate could be.

In-house graphic designers are fully invested in the success of the company and its branding, often resulting in more focus and a palpable commitment to goals.

Both Create High-Quality Graphic Design Work for Businesses

There’s no definitive winner for quality between an in-house designer and a design agency, but there are best use cases.

Cases for hiring an in-house graphic designer:

  • Companies with a consistent need for ongoing design work, such as those in the fashion, beauty, or publishing industries.
  • Companies with a strong and distinctive visual identity and desire a high level of control over the design process.
  • Companies requiring a designer who is deeply invested in the business's success and its branding.
  • Companies that have the budget and resources to invest in a full-time designer long-term.

Cases for hiring a graphic design agency:

  • Companies with a limited need for design work or who require occasional design projects, such as small businesses or startups.
  • Companies that require a wider range of design services and expertise than can be provided by a single in-house designer.
  • Companies that require more objectivity and fresh perspectives on design projects.Companies that require faster turnaround times or have time-sensitive design needs.
  • Companies that require access to a wider network of industry contacts and resources

Businesses can make their choice by evaluating the pros and cons of agencies and in-house graphic design employees.

Find the right graphic design firm for your next project on Clutch.

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