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What is a design retainer? A guide to the perfect project partnership

Sarah Edwards
User Experience Consultant

As a fast-moving business, you have design requirements that demand quick turnaround and excellence in delivery. A design retainer can be the ideal solution to support your design needs, ensuring direct access to skilled professionals who are familiar with your brand.

 

What is a design retainer?

A design retainer is an agreement between a design retainer agency and your company to retain our design services on an ongoing basis for a specified amount of time. Contracts can be negotiable in length, but at Make it Clear, we recommend a minimum of three months, allowing time to become acquainted with your brand. In contrast to one-off projects, retainers provide several benefits, including:

  • Access to a dedicated team that has taken the time to familiarise themselves with your brand.
  • Increased speed of response as the time taken to negotiate terms and gain approval on costs is removed from the equation.

 

Understanding design retainers

A design retainer ensures access to a design team to support your requirements, particularly useful if you lack an in-house team supporting a certain discipline. Many clients utilise Make it Clear as an extension of their in-house digital team, with Make it Clear providing user experience and user interface support.

Business benefits may include the ability to scale up quickly: design agencies like Make it Clear include retained resources and a network of trusted freelancers that can be brought in at short notice to fulfil requirements. With a design retainer, you not only get creative expertise but also the structure and support of a larger agency, ensuring all work is developed, critiqued, and proofed before delivery.

 

The flexibility of design retainers

Design retainers can be increased at short notice to cover larger requests or several months of a retained fee may be used simultaneously to cover requests. When a request is received, the onus is on the agency to scope the estimated time needed, which should be communicated back to the client to ensure the retainer stays within the invoiced amount.

 

Selecting the right retainer package

When selecting a retainer package that suits your business needs, consider several factors:

  • Capabilities: Ensure the agency you choose covers the skills you require.
  • Specialisms: Different agencies specialise in specific industries, ensuring they understand the nuances of your market.
  • Software: Inquire about the software the agency uses to facilitate smooth collaboration.
  • Communication and reporting: Ensure the agency practices good regular communication and can adapt to your preferred collaboration platform.
  • Chemistry: It’s crucial to enjoy working with the selected agency and meet the team supporting your account.
  • Location: While remote work is feasible, consider an agency you can meet face-to-face for proper collaboration and understanding of your brand.

 

Getting started with a design retainer

If you’ve decided on a design retainer and selected an agency, here are the typical steps to get started:

  1. Agree on terms: At this initial stage, you will be creating a design retainer contract. You should agree on a monthly fee and specify the resources that will be assigned for that fee. Additionally, ensure clarity regarding the length of the agreement and the notice period in case of termination.
  2. Agree on communication methods: Ensure it is clear how the agency will be communicating with you. This may be via traditional methods such as email or through a chat facility. Also, ensure that you know how the agency will be reporting to you on their monthly activities and spending.
  3. Agree on KPIs: Design can often be subjective, but it can be helpful to set key performance indicators (KPIs). These could be based on the performance of creativity or engagement, for example. Setting these metrics will help define success for both parties.
  4. Hold a kickoff meeting: We suggest a kickoff meeting be held face-to-face. At this meeting, both parties should discuss ways of working, stakeholders, and personnel who would be involved on both sides and review any existing design guidelines or frameworks.
  5. Start seeing results: If you’ve chosen the right fit, it’s time to sit back and start seeing the results.

As part of ongoing work, conduct monthly planning meetings to plan activities, discuss learnings, and review KPIs.

 

Why select Make it Clear

At Make it Clear, we’ve built our business model around creating, fostering, and developing retainer clients. We’re eager to discuss your needs further. You can book a call with us or read more about our retained services on our website.


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