What are the different types of creative agencies and their internal structures? A guide for graphic designers
Knowing how a creative agency is set up is an integral part of building your career as a graphic designer. Even if you decide to go the freelance route, your career path will come to a point where you will either collaborate with an agency or even want to enter an agency for a stable salary and benefits.
A creative agency doesn’t just mean “design agency”, it can actually be one of many combinations depending on what they offer the clients. A creative agency can be any of many things, and all of them have graphic design roles inside their structure, while others hire out. The way each creative agency is defined relies greatly on what they offer their clients. In some cases, graphic design is the main aspect of their services and in others it is an added service.
Creative agencies defined
Full Service Digital Agency
This type of agency will offer their clients a complete creative approach to their brand and campaigns. These include design of course but will mostly focus on advertising and marketing.
A digital agency will concentrate on creating and designing products and platforms. They focus on the technology and strategy and not so much on marketing and advertising.
Design agencies focus mostly on graphic design for online and for print. They might also collaborate with other types of agencies or have clients of their own. A lot of the time, a design agency will have a printing service in house.
Interactive Design Agency
These agencies focus mostly on web design and other technological and internet based development. They design and develop apps, games, and other interactive products.
These agencies are mainly geared towards marketing and advertising strategies. They might or might not have a design team in house but it is common for advertising agencies to hire freelancers or collaborate with a design agency.
Design Innovation Agency
These types of design agencies are a little different than the others in a sense that they don’t design “small” but rather solve big problems. They can either design and develop inhouse platforms or large scale products with huge complicated strategies and lots of planning.
Inside the Creative Agency
The best way to understand the inner workings of a creative agency is to analyze it’s two most important functions. The face of the agency; the people that work with the client directly and the backend; the ones that build, design and develop the projects for the clients. In some cases the line is blurred but it’s usually minimal. Another, more business oriented approach to analyze the structure of a creative agency is to separate Management Positions and Staff Positions.
As creative agencies have evolved from the classic Mad Men style advertising agencies into what they are now, the roles and positions have become less defined and sometimes one person can do the job of two (or three). What hasn’t changed is the hierarchy of the bosses and employees, it’s just the names and labels used that vary..
The Face and the Backend / Management and Staff
For an agency to have a face and a backend it needs to be quite a large affair. A startup design agency headed by a team of graphic designers will be both face and backend at the same time. The usual roles are taken care of by the original owners but all roles need to be covered anyway.
The usual management positions in a creative agency are the following:
- Business Manager
- Account Director
- Account Manager
- Creative Directors
- Product Directors
- Use Experience Director
- Technical Director
The management positions that act as a the face of the agency are the Account Directors, these are the connection between the clients and the rest of the staff. The Creative Director, Product Director, UX Director and Technical Directors do not usually deal with clients unless there is a strategy meeting or creative pitch.
The general staff positions in any creative agency are:
- Art Director
- Graphic Designers
- Front end Engineers
- Software Engineers
- UX Designers
Inside the Designers and Engineers positions there are senior and junior levels. Senior being the ones with the most experience and recognition, the junior positions are usually the ones fresh out of design school.
General staff in a large company does not usually deal directly with the clients, but smaller agencies do. A design agency will usually have each designer linked to a client for one to one conversations about the projects.
Freelance or Agency?
Choosing if your graphic design career is to be part of a creative agency or freelance is a personal decision. Each designer has different reasons to choose one or the other and no one can tell you which is best. It is very common for freelance graphic designers to start their own creative agencies. We hope that this little guide into the roles inside a creative agency will help in your personal career path.