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Types of Graphic Designers

There are three main providers of design. Single designers, small boutiques, and large agencies. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Single Designers

There are two main categories of single designers: general designers and specialists. The line between the two is normally fairly thick, and should be evident with a little inspection. These terms are not something you should do an internet search for; searching for a general designer or specialist designer isn’t going to give you the results you want. Many designers will not outright classify what they are.

If you own a small or medium size business, or work for a smaller to mid-size business, you’re probably going to want to use the services of a single designer instead of the more expensive alternatives.

General Designers

Many graphic designers like to think of themselves as one-stop-shops for their clients and offer the design of many different items. They like to handle all of their clients’ design needs if at all possible.

Tip: A general designer can be a really good choice for you, particularly if the designer knows a thing of two about branding and marketing. General designers with backgrounds in advertising or marketing offer additional insight that designers who only learned design cannot provide. Specifically, they tend to produce designs that are more than just pretty. If you have a goal you want a designed item to help reach, you need a designer who understands the way consumers think and react, and that is best fulfilled by a designer with a background in advertising or marketing. Also, be careful to not mistake a broad list of services as a lack of focus with these individuals. The reason these designers like to tackle many different jobs is because they are focused on the bigger picture: your branding and marketing.

Designers with more than one specialty can save you money. If you need a brochure and website designed, you will be better off using one designer who can accomplish both tasks rather than one designer for the brochure and another designer for the website. Why? Two reasons. One, you will only have to teach one person about your business and/or brand. Two, part of successful branding and marketing is having an integrated look and feel to your entire brand. A single designer working on your brand’s look and feel is likely to do a much better job of communicating the same message over and over again in different forms of media than a second person trying to be a copycat.

Something negative about many general designers is that they can try to be everything to everyone. A hungry general designer may not turn down a job to do something they are not familiar with. Make sure that your designer is specialized enough that you are not asking him to do something he does not normally do. Check the services they list on their website and make sure what you are requesting isn’t too far from what they say they do.

Be wary of designers who offer many different services without demonstrating a mastery of them all. Despite the classification, the best general designers are specialized in some manner. They specialize in a limited number of jobs that they enjoy and do well, and these jobs will be represented in their portfolios and services. Single designers with massively unrelated services should be avoided unless you only have them do what they obviously specialize in.

Tip: Many designers who used to focus primarily on print have had to change the way they do business. Print has been a dying industry ever since the internet came about. Many print designers now offer web design. Don’t be afraid of them, but do take note: many of these designers cannot make a website work as a website without outsourcing work to a programmer. Make sure to find out if the designer is able to make his design into a finished website, uses a programmer he knows, or if you need to locate a programmer yourself. Programmers typically charge more than designers, so you need to consider that in your budget.


There are many single designers who like to specialize in only a certain area of design; perhaps they only do web design, logo design, or even print design. Sometimes they try to be a little more full-service than general designers and actually get your items printed or host your website, but not always.

For certain jobs, it can be best to hire a specialist. The type of jobs that are best for specialists are the ones that are really complicated, uncommon, or require a mastery of a certain skill. If you need an outstanding Flash animation for your website, don’t ask your print designer who just dabbles in Flash to do it, find a specialist. Asking a print designer to do this can be as inappropriate as asking a dentist to handle a nose-job.

Tip: Here is a list of just a few jobs that are best completed by a specialist: Flash animation, Flash websites, databases (things you can log into with a password or send data to) on websites, online stores on websites, vehicle wrap design (where the entire vehicle is covered), 3D animation, 3D modeling, extreme photo retouching, animation in general, graphics for display on television, and graphic user interface design (such as the way a program looks on an iphone or computer). This isn’t a complete listing of all jobs, but will give you an idea of the types of tasks that are a bit less common in the design world, and unlikely to be fulfilled by a general designer of print or web.

What is the easiest way to identify whether a designer is a general designer or a specialist?

Easy. A specialist will have a very narrow list of services.

Specialists can be extremely important, especially in assisting a general designer. These are the specialists who do things that general designers can’t do. For example, there are specialists who only set up online stores. Would you want them to design your site? Probably not, unless you’re wanting an Amazon or Ebay look to it. Would you want them to set up and provide the programming service for your website that has an online store on it? Sure! However, keep in mind that your general designer can provide the look of the store while the specialist does the work the general designer doesn’t know how to do. Teamwork between a general designer and a specialist can work out best for everyone involved.

Small Boutiques

Small boutiques are small businesses that may be composed of only two or three people. Some are much larger with perhaps 20 people. They can be composed of general designers, specialists, and people who provide services other than design, such as copywriters.

What’s important to know about these small design firms is that they typically offer a faster turnaround on projects than single designers can provide. In exchange for that quicker turnaround, you pay higher fees that are split up amongst the employees working on your project.

If you need a small boutique to do your design work, you would likely know it already. Clients of small boutiques typically have several design jobs a week that require more than one specialist within the boutique. Complicated web design jobs, TV commercials, and magazine design and layout are common small boutique jobs because they really require more than just one person.

Small boutiques are like a substitute for an in-house art department when you have a lot of design needs consistently throughout the year.

Something very positive about small boutiques is that they are normally well-established businesses with actual reputations. Single designers who have an established presence are out there, but they can be hard to find.

The downside to small boutiques is of course their higher fees to compensate multiple employees, but also that your input may be going through another person and not communicated correctly. When you work with a small boutique, you may not necessarily be speaking or writing to who is working on your project. In some cases, what you are saying may be getting relayed to an outsourced designer living in a different country.

Large Agencies

Large design or advertising agencies have dozens or even hundreds of people working on dozens of accounts for the very large businesses with names we ALL recognize. If you own a small business, or even a medium-sized business, a large agency is likely out of the question for your needs and financial ability. Bills of thousands of dollars a day are not uncommon.


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