For years, potential clients would come into Red Antler’s offices and—when asked about their business's tone, personality, and mission —they'd suffer meltdowns at the conference table, bickering about how to answer.

Knowing the search for a design services provider meant a long and miserable trudge for any business owner, JB Osborne, founder of Brooklyn, New York-based design company Red Antler, decided to make at least one step of the process easier.  When his company moved to its new, sun-drenched office, Osborne purchased a high wooden table and six red stools to replace the old conference table, trying to achieve a part-bar, part-mom’s kitchen atmosphere where clients would feel at ease.

“Because we work mostly with start-ups, there can be a handful of people in that room who have never gone through a process like this before, so it can be challenging when people have different expectations about what they want to have coming out the other side,” Osborne says.

A logo will come to symbolize your company more than anything else, adds Osbourne. Finding a firm that can craft a sophisticated design takes research, open communication, and an honest evaluation of your business. So we spoke to designers, experts, and small business owners to compile these four tips for finding the right firm and provide a list of a few design shops worth trying.

Decide on a Budget

Before the search even begins, determine how much you can spend on the logo. One thing to keep in mind is that, like any other business investment, the more you put into it, the greater the return. A logo that costs $100 will yield only the most basic design. In reality, small businesses should expect to spend anywhere from $2,000 to $12,000 for a logo—or more, if they can afford it.

If you’re cash-strapped, and you have a product that might interest the designers, try bartering. One of the first projects taken on by Hyperakt, another Brooklyn-based design shop, was a local Mexican restaurant, El Rincon Familiar. To pay for the work, the restaurant agreed to provide lunch for a year, whenever someone called.

“I would just call them up and basically say, ‘Make me whatever you want to make,’ ” says Deroy Peraza, Hyperakt’s creative director. “It was awesome. Bartering is good. I like bartering.” (Peraza grew to love the mole poblano, a rich, thick, chocolate-based sauce.)

Perform Your Due-Diligence

Nearly all design firms will have a website showcasing their work. (And if they don’t, mark that as a red flag.) Look at the online portfolio and examine the work. Some clients worry that if an agency hasn’t worked with other similar businesses, then they should look elsewhere. This is not necessarily the case, says Steve Heller, co-chair of the graduate fine arts department at the School of Visual Arts. A talented firm can handle any client, but you should first make sure you like the firm’s style, form, and previous work. “It’s that notion of the educated consumer,” says Heller. “You need to understand what you may or may not be getting,” he says.

Be Prepared to Talk About Your Company

This may sound obvious, but you should try to avoid that conference-room chaos mentioned earlier. During your first meeting, a good firm will ask you to describe your company’s personality, tone, and future aspirations. Some agencies use questionnaires to make things easier.  For companies just starting out, or even for older companies shopping for a fresh logo, answering these questions can prove tricky, especially if you have partners and associates with you; not everyone may agree on what defines your company and where the logo should go.

“You have to really know who you are as a brand, so you’ll be able to make decisions,” says Titi Branch, founder of Miss Jessie’s hair products in New York. She had a clear idea of what she wanted and discussed how Miss Jessie’s was a nod to her grandmother. The logo came out as a textual treatment, with “Miss Jessie’s” in a swirling cursive, similar to the writing of Branch’s grandmother.

Discuss a Contract and What It Will Include

A contract will not only secure the transaction between you and the designers, but it will also detail what will come next. You should ask how many iterations—or different design concepts for the logo—you’ll see, how long it will take to see a final product, the level of collaboration required between you and the firm, and who owns each iteration. Pamela Batson, who runs the Snooty Peacock, a boutique vintage-style jewelry shop in Dallas, felt better when she signed a contract. “You need some sort of guarantee that the work is done to your satisfaction,” she says. In the end, Pam loved the logo, a clever optical illusion of a woman’s head that resembles a crooning peacock.


So, ready to take the plunge? Here are three design shops that can help you get started.

For the Start-up: Red Antler

Osborne, Red Antler's founder, says some of his favorite work came for the food newsletter, Tasting Table. His firm put together a logo using 12 different fonts and played around with secondary branding, including what he calls the “meat stack,” a cartoon of a plant, chicken, rabbit, and pig on top of each other.

For the Profit Earner: Hyperakt

If you’ve grown since your company’s inception, then Hyperakt will serve you well. The agency now deals with larger clients, including General Electric and The New York Times. But they still try for the same pristine, clean look. “The simpler the logo is, the less opportunity for disaster,” says Peraza, the company's creative director.

For the Adventurous Owner: 99designs

If you don’t mind throwing some caution to the wind, 99designs offers an innovative solution to the design-firm search: Just crowd source it. The company allows you to post what you want, name a price, and then receive varied options from different designers. “The great thing about 99designs is that because it is an Internet marketplace, location doesn't matter and designers really can compete for business based on their work,” says Matt Mickiewicz, the company's founder.