I wrote this for a presentation to international design buyers for the British Council. I think there is some useful stuff in here, I hope you do too.

If you commission any design services for the British Council, take a look at this list of questions below, they may help.

1: We have a Design Agency roster, what does that mean to me?
The organisation was obliged by EU law to carry out an EU tender process for all services in design. For an agency to get on the design roster it takes an awful lot of work. Out of the 600 applicants, only 12 agencies were of the sufficient quality to pass our assessment criteria - from smaller ‘one-man-bands’ to bigger companies. The assessment panel was made up of colleagues from all the major areas of our businesses including all our current Strategic Business Units. The roster ensures that your project will be handled by a company we trust.

2: What are the full range of services Design Agencies can offer?
Different agencies offer different levels of service, but there will be at least one agency that will cover every design and marketing need. The roster primarily covers graphic design which includes all print, exhibition and merchandise design. All the agencies can provide digital services, including websites, banner and Flash animations.

3: How do I get an estimate or write the brief?
Think very carefully about what you require before contacting any agencies. The more detailed your specification is, the easier it will be for the agency to understand what you want. If you are sending out a brief to a number of agencies make sure the same brief is sent out to them all, so you can compare easily. Ask for the estimate to be back by a certain time. You can download a brief and estimate template here.

4: Can I ask a few agencies to pitch?
The British Council code of conduct does not allow us to ask agencies to free pitch. This means you can not approach agencies and ask them to provide visual solutions to a brief without payment. You shouldn’t ask anybody to produce work for nothing, it’s unprofessional and unfair. You can ask for a credential or portfolio pitch and discuss a brief but if you wish to see visuals you must pay.

The typical pitch amount for a medium sized project is £250.00 for each agency you ask. This is a gesture towards time and materials against the agencies costs. The amount of work they produce will vary and is up to the individual agency. If you have specific requirements to see a number of visual applications or a more complex job, the pitch fee should increase accordingly. In the past the pitch fee has risen to thousands of pounds. If in doubt contact Tony Bains, Head of Brand and Design.

5: How many revisions will I need to ask for?
The roster contract stipulates that each agency should estimate for two sets of text amendments only. Additional sets of amendments should carry an additional cost (remember not asking people to work for nothing?) You should be made aware of an hourly rate for additional amends or a set rate for each additional set of amends. Try to get your copy proofed, signed off by your line-managers and in perfect shape before giving it to the designers. That way you get a cheaper and faster job.

Once a job has entered into the design process major changes of text are not as straightforward as changing text in a Word document. Time is needed to relink text, set styles and design styles may create reflow which needs restructure and pagination of the entire document. All this will have a repercussion on delivery schedules, possibly an increased page count resulting in increased print costs.

Gather up all the revisions together in sets. Remember text changes in design programs are more complex than making changes in Word, they take longer - what may appear a simple change could affect the whole document.

6: What might potentially cause extra charges?
On selecting your chosen agency be absolutely clear with your team and all your stakeholders on the final brief and list of requirements required for your project before entering the creative process. If this changes during the project the agency is totally within its rights to charge for additional work.

The agency should inform you before undertaking additional work, so that you do not receive any nasty surprises. When budgeting, allow a small amount of slippage, it may come in handy. You will also have to amend your purchase order if extra costs are incurred.

7: What should I look for in the estimate and proposal?
Make sure the costs are detailed and any assumptions are made clear. Check nothing has been missed or if the agency has misunderstood anything. Assuming you have provided a comprehensive brief, a good agency will look to apply their creative skills to the solution – rather than just follow your instructions blindly. After all that’s what you are paying for. Make sure the company has responded to all of your requests, if they offer a little more, that’s nice too.

It is good practice to break down large projects into clear stages of delivery so you can monitor costs against delivery regularly and deal with any issues that may arise.

Remember cheapest isn’t always the best.

8: How do I choose the right Design Agency for me?
Most of the agencies on the roster will have experience working on similar projects, ask to see examples if you like (Portfolio/Credentials pitch). But remember each job is different, look past the obvious comparisons. Colleagues can often recommend an agency. If you are unsure, contact Tony Bains in Brand and Design (tony.bains@britishcouncil.org) and he will be able to advise the best agencies to approach for your project.

9: What is the process a typical design job should follow?
Each project is different. And to a certain extent, each agency and client will work in different ways. If you have set demanding deadlines, make sure you can meet your side of the bargain. If you stop and start urgent projects and miss agreed deadlines your project may be delayed as agencies schedule for design and print work. A single day delay could have a knock on effect and result in a four day or more delay on delivery. Plan ahead, be reasonable with your requests and you’ll enjoy the project a whole lot more. Below is a list of typical steps for a design.
Establish the need internally
Write a comprehensive brief and specifications
Select which agency you’d like to work with or a range if you are unsure and view work online.
Receive estimates
Select the chosen agency
Supply a finalised brief, written content and high quality digital images if available. If you require content specific imagery there may be a search and licensing fee to pay.
At this stage it is a good idea for you and the chosen agency (preferably including the lead creative director/designer) to review the brief together and agree a response time.
Concepts received/presented. This should be a direct response to the brief. You may have specified three different visual routes applied to a number of items. At presentation stage, if the ideas that are presented are not quite right, or just variations on the same idea, be sure to flag this up early. Going back to the drawing board will effect the schedule.

Feedback comments to the agency, discuss with them your views and listen to theirs – after all they have huge amounts of experience and they may suggest a better route. Allow time in the schedule for you to make sure everybody who needs to see your copy and visuals has at this stage. Feedback to the agency should come from one central contact.

  • 1st full proof received with actual final copy
  • First round of comments and revisions from you
  • 2nd proof received
  • Second round of comments and revisions from you
  • Final proof ready for you to sign off. Once you do, the agency will prepare the artwork
  • Proofing from the printer (the agency may take care of reviewing the printer’s proofs for you)
  • Printing, folding, stapling etc
  • Delivery to you!

10: Do I always have to follow brand guidelines?
Yes. Every interaction we have with our customers reflects on our brand. From the condition of our offices, the way way we speak to our customers to the quality of our communications materials. The brand guidelines are an integral part of how we present the organisation and its values. The positioning and use of our logo and the use of our typeface must adhere to the brand guidelines. All projects that are solely owned by the British Council should be within their guidelines.

Don't worry, there’s plenty of room for creativity that’s for sure.

If you are working on a project that is funded, co-funded or partnered by British Council, then the guidelines may not apply, but the primacy of our brand needs to be negotiated. Contact the Partnerships team or Brand and Design and ask for guidance if you are unsure.