How to find the largest, most respected web-design companies?
March 20, 2013 2:16 PM   Subscribe

My company wants to redesign our website from scratch. I have been tasked with narrowing the field of "all the web designers in the world" to a shorter list we can all evaluate. I have been asked to present two lists, one of large/major companies as well as smaller boutique or medium size firms. Both should be based or have offices in New York where we are located. Also, maybe "web design" is not the term these days. "Digital agency" maybe?

I work for the type of place that likes things "safe." The first 5 companies on my list have to be the first-to-mind, largest, well-reputationed companies, even if it's at the expense of creativity or the nimble-ness a smaller firm might provide better. I need to provide a boutique or medium list too, so all recommendations are welcome.

I am finding it very difficult to differentiate between any firms I find by simply searching online. (Lots of SEO shenanigans plus it's just hard to tell) How can I take a more deliberate approach? Is there a Fortune 100 list of designers? List of firms by size? I can't seem to find anything. I'm looking for both specific recommendations of firms as well as recommendations to my process.

In terms of our site and our requirements, think corporate branding with some maps and photos - nothing specialized or complicated, just a pretty standard corporate boring site.
posted by brbmaroon to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of the largest, most-respected boutique agencies have a very high minimum rate, which may or may not be important to keep in mind, depending on your company's expectations. Happy Cog (who do amazing work and for sure should be on your list) projects start at $100k.

You might want to look at the nominees and winners of The Webby Awards for the last few years, some names come up again and again.
posted by Jairus at 2:22 PM on March 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

The biggest, most well-established agencies are going to be, almost without exception, advertising and/or "brand development" agencies. Googling around in those categories should give you a better list to start with.

Another good place to look for hits is in a publication like The Communication Arts Interactive Annual. You can get names of agencies from the winners, and look up their web sites to see if they fit your criteria.
posted by smoq at 2:23 PM on March 20, 2013

Good point on budget Jairus. Going forward let's say no upper limit, just so I don't rule anyone out.
posted by brbmaroon at 2:32 PM on March 20, 2013

You really ought to figure out what you want to do with your website. Who are you trying to reach? What do you want to motivate them to do when they visit your website?

It's almost worth mocking everything up yourself in advance, and *then* finding an agency to do the work - you can see how much it is going to cost.

Usually what happens is that a business says "We need a new website" and then figure out some basic abstract requirements. Whoever wins the bid says, "Sure, we can do that" and if you have the money they will do it, no matter how dumb your requirements are.

Or, they spend a shit ton of money up front and never nail down the basic functionality you need to engage with your visitors.

But if money (and maintaining your sanity) is not a consideration...
posted by KokuRyu at 2:32 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could try sites like Agency Spotter or Sortfolio.
posted by spilon at 2:45 PM on March 20, 2013

Any of the super big fully-integrated advertising agencies like Wieden+Kennedy will have a New York office. It's easy to dig up a list of the big guys, but if you're looking for some kind of metric (since your workplace likes going with what's "safe") you could include qualitative details like the biggest clients attached to each agency. Coca-Cola, Nike, Kraft Foods etc.

That being said, I'd like to throw one for the little guys - Barrel for a smaller boutique agency.
posted by hellomina at 2:50 PM on March 20, 2013

You might find it helpful to check out the list of SODA member agencies.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 3:30 PM on March 20, 2013

I've been working for digital agencies for a large part of my professional career and have worked with some major clients. Your question is a bit complicated. Traditional agencies like WK will do great ad and marketing work but fall short on the digital front, or more likely, a company like Coca Cola will farm their ad dollars to a digital agency. Branding will come from one agency but be implementation by another, etc.

I would be very surprised if my agency is not on your list. There's a lot more than implementation: content strategy, social, to things that are more engineering related and would probably be better termed IT consulting with a site tacked on.

Feel free to MeMail me and I can give you more detail. I'm a simple engineer but I've seen enough projects to know where good fits are fiscally and culturally.
posted by geoff. at 4:10 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the smaller side, might I recommend Alley Interactive, co-founded by MeFi's own netaustin? The firm is small, but it's worked on some really high-profile redesigns, including for The New Republic, Chicago Public Radio, the New York Observer, and Alec Baldwin. I highly recommend their work.
posted by limeonaire at 4:44 PM on March 20, 2013

I'm a web project coordinator, I just went through that exact exercise for two different sites. I needed to find one agency that could handle lots of visuals and parallax animation, and one that could do a dense information-driven site.

The first thing to do is determine the scope of the project and what range of services you really want. The largest and most-respected firms might not be a good fit for a simple corporate site redesign. Many will offer you a full buffet of strategies and planning and media buys and SEO optimization and social media integration stuff you might not need. I needed design only for my sites, no coding or any extra services as those are handled in-house. Almost all the big firms I contacted insisted on the upsell, so they were right off the short list.

Then, think of the kind of site you want and google around to find other sites in the same vein. You'll need to do that anyway to write a decent brief to give the agency. If you find a site you like, find out who designed it. That way you choose your designers based on the strength of their work and fit to your project, not on prestige or slick branding.

That's how I ended up finding both agencies I signed. I saw cool sites, called and got the designers referred to me. Ended up with two small local firms, both eager to work with us and willing to tackle only the part of the project for which they were needed. All that at a fraction of the price of the fancy web gurus my boss wanted at first.
posted by Freyja at 9:34 PM on March 20, 2013

Yeah, you're looking for "brand development" or "interactive marketing" or that sort of phrase, generally speaking. There are going to be a ton in NY, all along the spectrum so while I can't suggest a good means for narrowing down the "top" 5 that hasn't already been suggested, or even your couple of boutique choices, I would suggest considering an outside-NY option as well, just to have a point of comparison.

One of my friends runs Forty, a branding and interactive design agency based in Tempe, Arizona, but they do work for clients all over the place. Reason being, a company like Forty may offer a more competitive price point while still doing extremely high caliber work.

Their minimum will also likely be lower than the $100k Happy Cog project price, which is helpful for the size of project you appear to be describing. This isn't the same as implying that they're cheap by any means, but I guess more flexible in any event.
posted by disillusioned at 1:58 AM on March 21, 2013

MeMail me and I'll tell you about my large, global digital agency.
posted by Lieber Frau at 4:02 AM on March 21, 2013

Great answers everybody. I'm running down all of your leads, if anyone has more please keep them coming! Thank you everyone as always.
posted by brbmaroon at 8:38 AM on March 21, 2013

I'll just throw out a suggestion that conventional wisdom that a branding/marketing agency (or an agency with historical roots innthat tradition) should have the *leading* role in a project like this. An alternative: UX, with a marketing/branding-oriented agency in service of overall user experience for your site.
posted by Good Brain at 9:16 AM on March 21, 2013

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