How to choose the right UX design agency: a definitive guide for startups in 2019

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It’s hard to believe, but ten years ago, UX design was not a “real thing.” It was used here and there, but generally, very few people cared that much about the looks and usability of digital products. Fast-forward 10 years later and UX/UI (product) designers are some of the most in-demand specialists around the world. Why?

Above all, because good UX adds value to businesses through improved customer satisfaction, retention rates, and a range of other product metrics. Besides, in 2019, it has become harder to appeal to the tech-savvy and to compete for the user’s attention if your product doesn’t have a sleek, engaging, and easy to use interface.

It has led to the emergence of a vast array of UI/UX design companies, willing to fulfill your design needs for a reasonable price. However, not all of them are good or suitable for your enterprise. How can you choose wisely and not waste your money and time?

Define your needs and goals

To make the right decision about which studio to hire, first of all, you need to understand what exactly you want to accomplish. Depending on your needs and goals, you can choose an agency that specializes in the kind of work that you expect them to deliver, with the right attitude. To do this, think about the following questions:

  1. Do you need to establish a brand or reinvent it?
  2. Do you expect a full brand guide or just some deliverables?
  3. Do you need help with marketing communications?
  4. Are you in need of an SMM strategy?
  5. Or do you need a design for your product?
  6. Is it a one-time project, or do you expect further support?

The list is far from complete but should give you an idea of where to start your search.

Define the state of your business

It is helpful to understand which stage your project is on, according to Mike Buzzard from Google Ventures. He evaluates companies based on three aspects: velocity, trajectory, and maneuverability. Depending on the size of your company, it’s stage and pace of development, you should choose more error-prone but fast-moving design teams or the ones with a more polished and reliable, but sluggish approach. 

Mind your budget

It’s cool to dream about pixel-perfect design that will make your metrics go through the roof, but it’s important to stay down to earth and make choices based on your budget. Design agencies usually bill based on an hourly rate, which gives you collaboration flexibility but sometimes can lead to unforeseen consequences like bloated budgets due to the planning fallacy. Some teams go for fixed-price projects, which are more predictable, but also more rigid. As a rule of thumb, you can’t predict everything at the beginning, and this leads to either raising the budget (again) or cutting the scope. So, unfortunately, there is no silver bullet here, but you can try to negotiate some mixed payment scheme or weekly/monthly rates instead of hourly.

Mind the deadline

In the ideal world, you could perfect the result as long as you wish. But, you probably are restricted by a deadline. This should influence your design studio of choice, as they range in their speed considerably. Choose the one that fits your timetable.

Look at the previous work and testimonials

In the case of UX design studios, the best indicator of their fitness is undoubtedly their portfolio (see examples here.) Look for projects and deliverables similar to yours. Also, pay attention to visual style, presentation, and design process. But even more importantly, analyze business results of the companies they provide their services to. They will indicate the result of the design delivered. 

Look at the agency’s resources and financial background

Agencies of any kind are known for spending lots of financial and human resources on marketing. Design agencies are no exception. Every business owner wants his or her enterprise to appear successful to potential customers and the general public, but one should look between the lines (of financial statements). Try to find real-world data by googling and interviewing your network on how well off are these businesses. It may tip the scale other things being equal.

Choose contenders and hold “chemistry meetings.”

As soon as you’ve considered all the aspects mentioned above, you should make a shortlist of final contenders. Don’t bloat it, so it stays manageable, and don’t stretch the choice process for too long. Then, hold “chemistry” meetings with those who are interested in helping you out. It will show if your teams get along and share the same language to communicate effectively.

Choose “the one.”

Before making your final decision, leave some time for impressions to sink in. You don’t want to be too emotional or impatient as a decision to collaborate with this or that studio will have far-reaching consequences, and switching costs will be high. However, do not ignore intuition (which is different from being impatient), as it always has some valuable insights we can not consciously analyze. 

Build a relationship (to understand each other better)

Although the result of your collaboration with the studio designs, to make the process effective, you need to build strong relationships with the people you communicate with. It’s vitally essential for clear communication and alignment of goals. It is even more critical if you consider working with them to support your product or marketing communication later.

Hopefully, this framework alongside taking into account your company’s unique situation will help you make the right decision and achieve great results with the studio of your choice.

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