October 8, 2018

Should I Hire a Packaging Design Company or a Design Freelancer?

It’s no secret that your product’s packaging is the key driver of sales at the point-of-purchase. You know it, and we know it.

We don’t need to tell you that 72 percent of your customers will make their purchasing decisions based on the quality of your design. We don’t need to tell you that your packaging acts as a company representative in the shoppers’ eyes, providing information about your brand and subtly nudging them to choose you over the competition.

And of course, we don’t need to tell you how difficult these tasks are to achieve.

If you’re at that critical point where you need to begin deciding how to bring your packaging design to life, you’re at the cusp of a critical decision: Should I go with a packaging design company or a design freelancer?

How do the options differ?

For those who are unfamiliar with freelancing, let’s do a quick comparison of freelance designers and packaging design companies.

What’s a freelancer?

Freelancers work on their own, independent of a company. Jobs are sourced and completed remotely through freelancing websites or contest design sites like 99design. Freelancers usually work on a contract basis and communicate directly with the marketing team or small business owner.

The key thing to note here is that freelancers are lone wolves—they work all on their own without the input of other designers, managers, or quality control experts.

Compare with design companies

Design companies, on the other hand, involve collaborations among multiple minds in service of a common goal. Each design project generally includes input from multiple visual designers, market research specialist, and brand strategists. Depending on the size of the agency, this often means a more strategic process where projects are completed in phases, submitted for review, and then finished with the approval of the entire team.

So, is a packaging design company better?

Not always. As it usually is, it’s not a question of better or worse—it’s a question of which is right for you.

True, packaging design companies leverage the skills of multiple professionals in tandem to create products (and as we know, more minds usually means a better product), but there are situations in which a freelancer might be the better option.

When is a freelancer the right choice?

Let’s review when a freelancer might be the better choice for your design project. Freelancers offer two primary benefits:

1. Cost

2. Speed of project delivery

Most freelancers can put out a design project for less capital than you’ll invest in a packaging design company, and given that freelancers are individuals working on their own, they often offer quick turnaround times. (After all, they don’t get paid until the project is done. This can be a great motivator.)

This means that freelancers tend to be more appropriate choices for cash-strapped small businesses looking to take a new angle with their packaging design or for companies that require new designs FAST.

Although in truth, both of these benefits come with caveats.

Are freelancers really cost-effective?

Here’s the thing about freelancing. While freelancers offer cheaper hourly rates for their services than professional agencies, they’re only one person—meaning that there’s more risk involved.

Yes, you can receive a workable design for less money, but it’s more likely that the product won’t turn out exactly the way you need. This isn’t to say that it’ll be bad—it might look great on the shelf. But if it doesn’t engage your brand’s target audience and drive sales, you’ll be back to the drawing board.

Repeat this process a few times and you’ll find your project costs multiplying. The deadlines you initially set go out the window (and there goes the second benefit). Brands are left struggling to get their projects ready for pitch meetings and making last-minute corrections that should have been done weeks ago.

In the end, many brands find that they exhaust their budget in the early phases of their design—and that they end up spending just as much as they would have on a professional agency.

Working with a packaging design company means reliability

Of course, the above scenario isn’t always the case. It all comes back to the element of risk—sort of like gambling. You might get lucky on your first draw, but it’s far more likely that you’ll go through a few losing hands before you win—much as it is with freelancing through online marketplaces.

This is the biggest benefit of working through a professional design company (aside from the great quality of work, of course) Design agencies offer security. With a team of design professionals behind you and multiple stakeholders involved in your project, it’s far more likely that you’ll get the results you want.

And it’s not just about the design itself. A packaging design company is more than just a way to build a brand look; they’re partners in a very strategic process. Packaging design agencies can walk you through every step of your project to help you succeed and beat the competition:

 – Research into your target market

 – Strategic planning for your brand, purchase intent testing, visual layout, communication hierarchy, and production process

 – Iterative design process that requires minimal effort on your end

– Developing mock-ups, prototypes, or examples for pitch meetings

 – You get the idea. Unlike freelancers, a packaging design company has an experienced talent pool you can leverage throughout every stage of your process.

Choosing the best option for your design project

Yes, agencies cost more. There’s no getting around it. In the design world, you get what you pay for. But with that in mind, you may want to consider whether the supposed cost benefits of freelancers are worth it.

If you truly can’t afford the cost of an agency, don’t feel badly—there are plenty of great freelancers out there, and many of them can deliver decent results. But it’ll take quite a bit more work to get the designs that will resonate with your market, and there’s no guarantee that your gamble will pay off in terms of price. And while we might be a little biased, this simple fact is why we at SmashBrand always recommend trusting the skills of a qualified packaging design company. Agencies aren’t just about delivering great designs—they’re about getting invested in your project and delivering a design process that’s effective, efficient, and reliable.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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