My biggest issue with the design process has always been the cost relative to the unknowns. Typically, graphic design companies charge a certain price that includes up to 3-5 concepts from which to choose. That means if you don’t like any of the 3-5 concepts, you’re either out of luck (still responsible for paying the $3000) or you will have to pay more for them to come up with other alternatives. That’s always been a difficult idea for me to stomach.
Luckily, the internet has opened up alternatives for smaller businesses that still want to look professional and established. One of these alternatives, with which I’ve had personal experience, is Design Outpost. On this site, you set the bid price for your design project (e.g. most logo projects are set between $150-$350). Once the bid is set, any of the designers on the Design Outpost network are able to submit concepts. The idea is to get a wide range of concept ideas from different designers, from which you can choose the best one. If you don’t get at least three submissions, your money is refunded.
In my experience, the quality of design has been good. It certainly won’t substitute for a $5000 makeover by a high quality design firm. However, it provides a good value on a tight budget. If you are in the beginning stages of business creation or are still defining who you are, this is probably a fantastic resource for you. They are especially adept at logos, business toolkits (letterhead, envelopes, business cards) and website design. I have used them for other design projects, but have found that few designers on their network participate in miscellaneous projects.
Two caveats about the Design Outpost system: First, if you are pressed for time this is not a good solution for you. Because all communication is taking place on their website through a forum posting model, finishing your project will likely take 2-3 weeks (for a simple logo project). It can take longer depending on how diligently you respond and how clearly you can communicate what you like and don’t like. The second caveat is that unless you pay for a private account, your logo posting will be open to the world wide web. For new companies, this likely means that a Google search for your company name, at least in the short term, will probably return your Design Outpost logo post on page one.