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So you’ve been working with a design agency to handle all your creative design and development needs–but how do you know they’re still a good fit?

Outsourcing design work can be a significant investment for the average business owner. That’s why it’s important to know when that investment is simply not making the cut and when you should start looking elsewhere for creative help.

Here are the top 10 design agency red flags that will help you determine if you should give them the boot.

design agency red flags

1. They Just Don’t Listen.

You are the customer. To make the best creative work possible your design agency really needs to listen to what it is that you want.

If they aren’t listening well, then you need to shout from the rooftops that you feel ignored. Communication can often solve the trickiest of service provider problems, and they should share a plan to immediately do a better job of your specific pains. But if they can’t, or worse yet don’t react at all, it sould be time to start exploring other options.

Signs your current design agency isn’t listening:

  • The end result doesn’t reflect your vision.
  • The final product isn’t solving the challenges you’d originally discussed.
  • You continue to see the same issues you’ve repeatedly flagged as incorrect.
  • The team your working with is always changing.

design agency warning signs

2. They Haven’t Evolved.

You want to have confidence in a design agency’s capabilities, and if their own work isn’t up to scratch, then it’s not the best indication of their potential.

Many creative agencies get so focused on closing work, they forget to proactively learn new technologies or refresh their existing approach. This can lead to stale tactics and uninspired design, which is less effective. Customers trust their agency to recommend the best possible approach, which can be hampered by outdated thinking.

Another concern of agencies that haven’t evolved? This often means they don’t have the financial reserves available to explore. While not always, it can often be a big red flag of potential financial difficulties.

Sign your agency hasn’t evolved with the times:

  • The team never proactively shares new tactics.
  • The design feels outdated, even when you mention you’re looking for something fresh.
  • You ask about new technologies and they act confused.
  • The team isn’t sharing ideas on their blog or on social media.

when to find a new design agency

3. They Don’t Tell The Truth.

When you are starting out with a design agency, you need to be sure that their claims backed up with evidence. Your reputation is going to be at risk here, so you need to take the appropriate steps and check that everything will work well.

Each year we find our creative work stolen by other agencies who claim it as their own. This theft only takes a few seconds, and it can easily go undetected. Worse yet, this creates expectations for their future clients that they will be unable to meet. How can you make sure the team you’re talking to actually completed the work? This scary scenario happens more often then you’d think!

References are one simple way to validate their past work. Agencies should be happy to share multiple samples of both past work and references. If they can’t provide a single person to vouch for them, then this should really set the alarm bells ringing as soon as possible.

Another qualifier is word of mouth, team size, growth, awards, recognition, or even companies they work with. These are all positive indications that their work adds value to others and is recognized.

Signs your current agency isn’t telling the truth:

  • The make bold claims, but don’t back them up with their work.
  • They can’t provide references or samples that this work is indeed theirs.
  • They claim to have a team, but you only see the same few sales people.
  • They won’t let you come to their office, meeting at a local Starbucks instead.
  • Something just feels off about your interactions.

look for a better design agency

4. They Give You No Clear Plan.

Any good design agency is going to have a plan and if they don’t then you need to start to be concerned.

They should be quite happy to share this plan with you since you are the customer, but more importantly this plan should be modified to best meet your needs. If you’d like to include certain data or have this shared weekly at a certain time, this is the least that your partner can do. No communicated plan is as good as no plan, so it’s best to tackle the issue now before it’s too late.

Signs your agency isn’t good at planning:

  • They can’t make deadlines.
  • They don’t communicate timelines in the way you’ve requested.
  • They never share updated timings.
  • They seem disorganized.

design agency red flags

5. You Can’t Contact Them.

You are well within your rights to be able to contact the design agency for updates on how things are going whenever you want. While they may not be available, how they react is the real test.

If they are difficult to contact, by email or phone, then that could be one of the biggest design agency warning signs. It should never be tough to get in touch. Even more important: it shouldn’t be a challenge to communicate to them in the manner you prefer. If you contact them and just never seem to hear back, then they’re telling you it’s time to partner with an agency who can communicate respectfully.

Signs your agency aren’t great communicators:

  • Your phone call leads to an automated messaging system.
  • Communications often go unanswered.
  • You feel they aren’t there when you need them.
  • There is unclarity in who you should speak to when you need help.
  • Your preferred communication style is ignored.

design agency warning signs

6. Deadlines are Missed.

It’s always possible that deadlines can be missed for perfectly logical reasons. However, you should be made aware of this at the earliest opportunity.

If a design agency continues to miss deadlines and push things back further and further, then it’s a big warning sign. Have a meeting to discuss how to prevent this from occurring again. If these issues keep appearing then it’s time to cut your losses and go elsewhere to save you from becoming even more frustrated at it all.

Signs your agency is about to miss a deadline:

  • The deadline hasn’t been mentioned in some time.
  • Your project is nowhere near complete.
  • When the deadline is mentioned they act surprised.
  • They blame you for the mistake. While both parties are often contributors, a good agency will flag unrealistic expectations well in advance.
  • They blame a random accident for the missed deadline. Their internal scheduling problems should never be your concern.

when to find a new design agency

7. They Aren’t Open to Changes.

Even when you have an idea in your mind regarding a design, it can sometimes not look as good on screen. This is the case for first day marketers and established designers alike!

If the agency isn’t properly planning for ongoing changes, then you’re being set-up to fail. This becomes even more important if your contract allows for these change, so make sure to clarify the contract before you move a step further.

In other cases, a creative design agency may have their own vision for a project which they won’t let go. You are the customer, so while ideas are welcome, they should know when to stop pushing their own vision and embrace your point of view.

How to tell when your agency isn’t open to change:

  • They aren’t adding in time for creative exploration into their contracts.
  • Contract terms aren’t being followed.
  • They remind you that they’re the “creative experts”. Barf.
  • They don’t sound excited about your ideas as much as their own.
  • The team isn’t executing your ideas with passion in hopes to change your mind.

look for a better design agency

8. They Just Don’t Get Your Industry.

Even though it’s impossible for a design agency to completely understand every industry, they need to show you that they have done some research to help them come up with the final product. This makes their job so much easier, and it should be one of the first things that they do or else they run the very real risk of making mistakes. By understanding the industry, it gives them insight into what they can produce, so if they have clearly not done this, then this could be a good indicator for when to find a new design agency.

Signs the agency doesn’t get your industry:

  • They don’t ask relevant questions.
  • They aren’t willing to put in the work, expecting you to be the subject matter expert.
  • They mispronounce basic industry terms or brands.

design agency red flags

9. They Prioritize Speed Over Quality.

Even though some design agencies do work faster than others, there is a limit to that speed. If they seem to have completed the work in next to no time, yet come back with quality issues that can often be a bad sign.

You might strike it lucky, but on most occasions, designs being completed in no time at all will tend to mean that corners have been cut. Speed is important, but it can’t ever come at the cost of quality.

Signs your agency is prioritizing speed over quality:

  • Basic elements of your request have been missed.
  • You see spelling, grammar, or other obvious mistakes.
  • The design looks like a template.
  • You dread receiving their emails because you know it will mean more work for you.
  • When asked to review their work for more care, they are unable to improve their result.

design agency warning signs

10. They Don’t Care About Design.

You want your design to be unique to you. If a design agency is using standard designs and pretty much just changing some small aspects, then you are not going to get what you paid for and have to change agency immediately. You will be paying money for something that represents your business and not just to have a carbon copy of what is being used somewhere else.

Signs your agency doesn’t care about design:

  • They have 10 project managers and one designer on the team.
  • Their work looks stuck in the past.
  • They don’t provide multiple concepts or rounds of design for refinement.
  • All of their projects sort of look the same.
  • You don’t love the completed end product.


Is it time to hire a better design agency?

Cubicle Ninjas is honored to be one of the preferred design partners for some of the world’s leadings brands. From members of the Fortune 500 to small start-ups and from mid-sized firms to non-profits. We take on your toughest creative challenges and solve them like they are our own. With creative services ranging from Branding to VR App Design, we can help you bring any idea to life!



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