On-Demand Design Companies Offering Agency-like Services with SaaS-like Pricing

The design services landscape has undoubtedly evolved in the last decade.

Regardless of size or model, there’s been a rich history of graphic design services being a “relationships businesses.” Firms typically became known and trusted for their leadership, teams, and results. Reputation is still a factor today, but the variety of means for engaging with design practitioners continue to expand.

Outside agencies still exist and are now competing with the impulse within some companies to either build or acquire their own internal design teams. Individual freelancers and small boutique shops are looking for ways to specialize in countering these pressures. Freelancer marketplaces have been around for a while and focus on a race to the bottom in affordability.

An even more recent trend is the rise of design service companies that commoditize typical graphic and digital design production services and outputs and wrap them up in a SaaS (software as a service) styled capabilities model that offers predictability of pricing and flexibility of commitment.

The business world loves its acronyms. Perhaps this is model could be known as “On-Demand Design Services (ODDS)” or “Unlimited Design as a Service (UDaaS)” 🤓

What do these companies have in common?

  • Emphasis on a tiered fixed-price model, quite similar to SaaS companies
  • A contract-less monthly commitment that can be canceled any time
  • Ability to increase or decrease the scale of services needed month to month
  • They are usually remote-only, nobody shows up on-site to help you
  • Anonymity and variety, no guarantees that you can choose or know the designer(s) working on any given project
  • Proprietary online portals track all workflow processes, job requests, feedback, iterations, and sign off – asynchronously online.
  • They are headquartered around the globe
  • Many offer unlimited revisions
  • A promise of end-product ownership (IP, files, assets)
  • Some offer a “risk-free” trial period
  • Some target a mix of end-customers, from companies seeking design help to other agencies and freelance designers that need immediate assistance
  • Most emphasize graphic design production, NOT strategic thinking or brand creation

Roundup

Here’s an alphabetical list of On Demand Design Services companies:

BrandStrong

BrandStrong bills itself as offering a design services that run the gamut of both traditional and digital design. “You have endless graphic design services and we have unlimited resources to provide you just that.”

Design Bees

Design Bees promotes a production-oriented talent augmentation approach. “Our service includes most things, but not everything… We work with your current brand assets and complete all your peripheral projects and small day to day requests.”

Design Pickle

Design Pickle aims to eliminate the hiring friction with a monthly fee approach that gives you access to a specific designer. “We match you with a designer who knows you by name and understands your brand, your needs and seamlessly plugs into your creative ecosystem.”

Draftsss

Draftsss offers a mix of traditional graphic design and digital design with explicit options for logos, branding and illustrations. “Founders, Developers, Startups, Freelancers & Agencies. We’ve got all of you covered with our design & code plans.”

Flocksy

Flocksy appears to offer a fairly diverse range of skill sets, including designers, video editors, writers and developers. “Flocksy’s intuitive system provides companies with the highly talented creative team members they need to grow and improve their brand at flat monthly rates with dependable turnaround times”

Graphic Rhythm

Graphic Rhythm offers daily and monthly subscriptions for services like digital, branding, and print. The also provide specific packages for company branding and product acceleration. “Daily Design is a scaleable monthly subscription that gives you access to our team of graphic designers. With Daily Design, we’ve got your back so you can focus on what you do best and let us focus on making your business look great.”

Graphic Signature

Graphic Signature offers a variety of traditional and digital design services. “No need to conduct interviews. No need to review portfolios. In just a few clicks you’ll have access to a professional and dedicated design team ready to jump into your brand and business.”

GraphicsZoo

GraphicsZoo offers a broad range of traditional and digital design services. In addition they offer a “White Label” option for their platform, presumably targeted at other design firms that leverage their services. “The best solution for all your online graphic design needs. Dedicated Design Team, Unlimited Brands, No Contracts”

Growmodo

Growmodo is focused on website design and development along with technical support and marketing automation. “Growmodo gives you on-demand access to a team of professional web designers & developers for a monthly flat-rate. Discover your website’s potential today.”

Kimp

Kimp provides unlimited graphic design projects, and has a light hearted brand of its own. “Kimp provides unlimited graphic design for one monthly fee. With Kimp you can save time, save money and go bananas with design requests!”

Lightboard

Lightboard uses a membership model to get to know their B2B marketing customers and optimize production for websites, illustration, presentations and print. “Memberships give you a dedicated design team for a fraction of the price of a full-time employee. Your team is led by an account manager and senior designer–backed by our collaboration software and team of designers–ready to deliver terrific design every day of the week.”

ManyPixels

ManyPixels offers graphic design services on a recurring basis for digital and traditional projects. “ManyPixels is for anyone who needs high quality graphic design on a recurring basis but is not looking to have a full-time in-house designer. With ManyPixels you get a vetted and reliable professional designer to help you with all your creative needs”

Parcel

Parcel positions itself as a dedicated design studio executing across all brand deliverables. Rather than a monthly fee, they have a fixed hourly rate and list their various services as having a set number of hours. This allows their customers to more easily estimate a budget for working with them. “Parcel studio packages give you access to all the services you’d expect from an agency at substantial savings – giving you room to do more with your budget.”

Penji

Penji is a design platform promoting itself with values of diversity and dropping some well known names on its customer list. They also pledge 10% of monthly profits toward select initiatives. “The better way to outsource your graphic design work. Create unlimited projects and have the top 2% of designers work for you.”

Superside

Superside offers a range of services, touts advantages over working with freelancers, and has price tiers comparatively higher than many on this list. “Built for Marketing, Creative, Product Design and Strategy teams, Superside makes it easy to bring your ideas to life. With a dedicated team assigned to all subscription customers, Superside delivers game-changing design at lightning speed with no pricing surprises.”


Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the above services, nor have a had the opportunity to work directly with any of them. This article is meant for information purposes only and is not a recommendation to purchase or use these services.

If I’ve missed any related companies, or if you are a business that has hired any of these companies in the past and wish to share your experiences – please get in touch.

Podcast Turf War is Inspiring Some Awesome A/V Editing Tools

Big streaming players and upstarts alike are driving the next phase of popularity in Podcasting. These players want to control that coveted position of the go-to Podcast app on people’s devices.

The ongoing demand is also inspiring some innovative tools popping up to help people create the supply of recorded media.

This roundup focuses on some notable recording and editing tools for A/V content creation. Not only that, these new tools are taking unique approaches to leverage transcribed text as a critical part of the overall editing user experience.

Descript

Descript “It’s how you make a podcast. Record. Transcribe. Edit. Mix. – As easy as typing. Take control of your podcast with Descript.”

Edit audio by editing text. Drag and drop to add music and sound effects. Descript is not just for audio either, you can also edit video by editing text.

Soundtrap

Soundtrap is a podcast audio editor – “With our interactive transcript feature, you can record and automatically transcribe your voice. Edit your recording as you would edit a text document.”

They are also pursuing the educational market.

Spext

Spext “Looks like a doc. Is actually an audio editor. Edit the audio by editing the auto generated transcript, add music & merge recordings together.”

Credit: Mic icon from Feather

Digitizing Your UX Sticky Notes

Sometimes the analog approach is a quicker and easier way to achieve a particular task.

A classic example is the appropriately stereotypical use of sticky notes by User Experience designers to facilitate various workshop exercises such as card sorting and other ideation models. The ability to quickly write-out and rearrange notes keeps the ideas flowing.

After your effort has wrapped up, there’s often a desire to capture the analog results in a digital format. Transforming analog work to a digital copy allows a team to move toward the next phase of sharing or synthesis.

Here are some useful apps that specifically address the challenge of digitizing your sticky-noted design thinking.

The Post-it® App

Post-it® App. Download on iPhone or Android™ devicesFrom the brand you know and love. “The Post-it® App brings the simplicity of the Post-it® Note to your Mac, iPhone and iPad. Whether you use Post-it® Notes for collaboration or for personal note taking, the Post-it® App helps you keep that momentum going.

Simply capture analog notes from a photo, or create new notes right on your device for those important reminders. Arrange, refine and organize notes and ideas on your board anyway you see fit. Then share your organized board with friends and co-workers, or export to your favorite applications and cloud services—including Trello, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF, Dropbox, iCloud and plenty more.”

Brill

Brill is an app that promises to help you digitize faster and work smarter “take photos of multiple handwritten sticky notes and instantly convert them to digital text in 100+ languages. Up to 200x faster than typing.”

“Save time when capturing your handwritten notes. Share to email, Slack, Jira, Trello and more!” With auto-detection and bulk uploading, Brill can “Take photos of multiple handwritten sticky notes and instantly convert them to digital text in 100+ languages. Up to 200x faster than typing.”

Brill Sticky note digitization

Miro

Miro digitize your notesMiro is your team’s centralized platform for collaborating on user story and customer journey maps, workflows, and more.

One feature is a “Stickies Capture tool allows you to convert real stickies to fully editable Miro sticky notes. Share them and collaborate in real-time, turn them into Jira tasks or make a part of digital diagrams, templates, and more.”

Evernote

Evernote lets you “Take notes anywhere. Find information faster. Share ideas with anyone. Meeting notes, web pages, projects, to-do lists”

“The Evernote camera is specially designed to enhance and transform your Post-it® Notes into beautiful, digital replicas of all your notes.”

Capture Post-it® Notes into Evernote

Mobile Data-visualization has a Y Axis Problem

There is a ‘trendy’ design pattern, many years in use, of not displaying the Y axis on a chart in some financial mobile apps.

I first noticed this in the app Robinhood. But I’ve also seen it in apps such as SoFi. Sadly, despite advocating for a change, these apps are still persisting this flawed data visualization design.

Why is this bad?

Overall, due to the mobile format, it often makes sense to show something like a line or candlestick chart that’s closer to a square or even portrait proportion.

Robinhood and Sofi app charts

When a chart in this format presents either a narrow rang of time or a fairly stable historical trend, even minor up and down movements of only a few dollars can look like wild swings at a glance. This is why this pattern is flawed. If a user can’t quickly understand the high and low price range that is traditionally communicated by the data on the Y axis, the glance could trigger a perception of movement that’s proportionally incorrect.

Presenting data in this way will require the audience to think harder than they should have to, for no apparent functional reason. Products that use this kind of design appear to be prioritizing spontaneous conversion of their Buy/Sell buttons over helping their customers make more informed decisions.

So what’s a better way?

The first option is to simply include the y axis. It is possible to do this in a small space. A few examples include Apple’s iOS stocks app and TD Ameritrade. What’s notable is that both take the approach of right-aligning the display of the text labels to make it more readable and functional in a mobile setting.

The Coinbase app offers and example of the second way to approach this. You can omit the Y-axis, if you include the lowest and highest price overlaid on the chart within the relative time period. This is another useful way to give the viewer a quick way to understand the relative volatility of movement while maximizing the horizontal space that a Y-axis would otherwise inhabit.

Apple Stocks, TD Ameritrade and Coinbase app examples

In Summary

You can’t completely do away with the relevant data that a Y axis provides on charts just because the screen is small. Alternatively, if your motivation is to make a chart look cooler or simpler then you are fueling the “dribbblification” tropes about superficial designers who don’t understand business, usability and customer needs. Lastly, it would be even worse if you are doing this on purpose to somehow distort or add friction to an end user’s comprehension of the data – as that seems to fall into the category of dark patterns.