There is a little greasy spoon in my neighborhood that always has a line out the door on weekends. The fried eggs are so greasy they could stop your heart, there isn't a single homemade pastry or muffin in the joint, and the 99-cent cup of coffee tastes like coffee tasted before the American cuppa joe morphed into a gourmet addiction for the masses. The flowers are fake, the tablecloths are plastic, the cheese is of the fluorescent variety, and the silverware has spots. Yet there's always a line.
People love the restaurant because they know what to expect, get what they expect, and the service is consistently friendly and efficient. Customers do not expect homemade bread served with homemade butter and fresh-from-the-grove OJ. They don't come for lunch expecting panini with goat cheese and oven-roasted anything. They don't come expecting to be served a seven-course meal. They come with a friend expecting to leave full and happy for less than twenty bucks including tip. The bottom line is this: if you want a couple of fried eggs and toast, don't go to the Ritz for Sunday brunch. You'll have to pay for the extra food, live music, puffy chairs, perpetual water refills, refined wait staff and crisp linens. On the other hand, don't go to a diner if you want it all.
This analogy works well for design services. On one end is a freelance designer; at the other end is a large multinational design firm. Somewhere in the middle is probably a service provider to suit your needs.
I have developed a handy reference chart illustrating a range of service providers, what they do, and what they charge for a logo project and a brochure project. When you are looking for design help, if you need a simple brochure, avoid a large design firm; you'll end up paying for a copywriter, account manager, administrative task master and one or two executive salaries that will not benefit you. On the other hand, if you need diligent project managing, extensive strategy development, copy, and cross-media implementation of a new brand, a freelancer will not give you the services you need. Bottom line: know if you need your eggs fried or coddled.
View the handy reference chart here (PDF file).
Audrey Nezer is an award-winning graphic designer in Seattle, Washington. Her company, Artifex Design, creates playful, edgy and effective marketing and communication materials for companies and organizations throughout the United States. Visit http://www.artifex.net to learn more (and win a prize!)