12 Reasons to Hire a Product Design Agency

Are design agencies a thing of the past? We asked product managers, design leads, and research leads to understand why they opt for agency designers and researchers over in-house staff. This article summarizes our findings, combined with our agency experience of over 10 years.

At UX Studio, we’ve worked with over 250 clients in the past decade. Our experiences range from large tech firms to startups, each partnership has carried unique challenges and experiences. We want to spotlight the typical circumstances when it’s time to call your trusted agency partner.

When Should You Consider Partnering with an Agency?

Over the years, we’ve worked with a variety of organizations, from large international enterprises to non-profits and start-ups across various industries and locations. Our partnerships span multi-year collaborations to short-term projects. 

When we meet a new prospect, we ask a lot of questions to understand their needs and their reasons for reaching out to us. In this article, we collected the patterns in their motivations combined with our user research and responses in product design-related Slack groups.

1. The Product Needs Niche Expertise

There are times when you need specialists for particular tasks or projects that may not need hiring a full-time internal employee.

For instance, if your designers are struggling to maintain a consistent design system due to a heavy design backlog, hiring a design system expert could be beneficial. The design system expert could audit the product, develop the design system, consult with developers about its implementation, and train the designers on the new system.

The same concept applies when building a research operation. Even if you have researchers on your team, consulting with experts can streamline the research process and ensure top-notch data governance.

Here are a few more situations where an expert can provide valuable assistance:

  1. When product teams frequently lose access to research findings, a consultant specializing in research repositories can help establish a process and system to prevent losing research data.
  2. When there is uncertainty about the product’s compliance with accessibility standards, an expert designer can conduct an audit, offer suggestions, and provide accessibility standards training.
  3. When communication and decision-making with stakeholders are challenging, a UX consultant can facilitate the decision-making process and help translate decisions into product strategy.

When the product team is unsure about its design process, a consultant can audit the process and teach methods to improve it.Niche expert knowledge

Short-term collaborations with specialists can significantly help the team progress in these scenarios.

2.The Team Needs Resources

The business advantages that long-term relationships with agencies provide cannot be overstated. It allows companies to flexibly adjust their workforce numbers and maintain a lower internal headcount. In countries where domestic employment costs are high, companies may engage with agencies from other countries where quality labor is cost-effective.

Besides the business logic, trust also plays a significant role in these relationships. Initially, our large enterprise clients sought support for their workload and projects and selected our agency. After experiencing working with us, their trust grew, and they chose to extend the contract year after year. They view our designers and researchers as integral to their product design operation. Even though our agency’s designers and researchers have changed over the years, the relationship between our clients and our agency remains strong.

3.The Workload is Fluctuating

There may be months when a product team is overwhelmed with tasks due to tight project deadlines. During such times, it can be challenging (or impossible) to deliver the projects and still work on complex and strategic roadmap items.

In such scenarios, the ideal solution is to engage an agency with a clear scope and deadline. An agency has experience and practice to quickly understand your requirements, gather the information, adapt to the domain, and deliver the work on time. This approach allows you to focus on strategic goals while supervising the project.

4.You Need a Fresh Perspective

Inviting someone to deliver a project for you can lead to unexpected benefits. They may not only solve the identified problem and get the job done, but their outsider perspective could also shine a light on other areas and they can suggest methods that enable you to work more effectively and confidently.

Engaging with an agency, its designers, and researchers may lead to other benefits. For instance, internal team members could gain an outsider’s perspective on their processes. Collaborating with new faces could also enhance their creativity and improve their skills.

Aiming or simplicity

5. You Should Deliver Value to Investors

We have collaborated with multiple startup companies from the beginning of their journey. This is a critical period where they work tirelessly to build a new product and transform themselves into a successful digital product company while they have to manage investor relations and secure funding.

Startups where a handful of people work may lack the resources or knowledge to hire top-notch product design experts. At this stage, a startup needs to partner with the best agency they can afford. They should choose an agency with a proven process and track record. The right agency can adapt to the startup’s needs and deliver innovative designs that appeal to both early adopters of the product and investors.

Read our case study about how we designed the Red Dot Design Award-winning app, Oxa, for Nanoleq, a Swiss startup.

6. To Fill Positions for Short Periods

In everyone’s lives, there can be joyful events, like welcoming a new baby, or challenging situations, such as a prolonged illness. Companies should provide sufficient time for their employees to take care of their personal matters before they return to work. However, it may be challenging to cover the employee’s duties for an indefinite period during such times. In these instances, companies can engage an agency on a fixed-term or flexible basis to temporarily fill the employee’s role and carry out their responsibilities until they return.

7. The Hiring Process Takes a Long Time

We learned that companies prefer hiring internal staff for strategic, long-term roles. The recruitment and onboarding effort is worthwhile to have a deeply embedded team member with a thorough understanding of the product context. Business opportunities, goals, and budget availability for team expansion can also drive the hiring process.

That being said, finding, hiring, and onboarding the right people can be a lengthy process, often stretching over many weeks. This time-consuming process can leave certain tasks unattended and require considerable energy and effort from the hiring managers. External experts can fill this period and provide valuable contributions. They can lay the groundwork for the new staff member and potentially speed up their onboarding process.

We’ve outlined several reasons to hire a UX agency, such as a lack of manpower in your team, or the need for specialized skills or a specific role. The advantage of hiring an agency partner lies in their versatility. The benefits we’ve mentioned can definitely overlap.

Experts can help design better products

Why Should You Work with a Design Agency?

Choosing and hiring an agency may seem more challenging than finding a freelance contractor, but partnering with an agency offers several benefits. In the first part of this article, I outlined when an agency might be beneficial. Now, let’s compare engaging with agencies to working with freelancers.

1. It’s a Community of Experts

Designers and researchers who work at agencies have a broad range of experience. They have worked with multiple clients and acquired domain knowledge in multiple fields. Even though it may also apply to freelancers, one of the biggest benefits of working with an agency is that you hire the collective knowledge and experience of an entire company. 

In our agency, we put a huge emphasis on knowledge sharing and supporting each other in our work and professional development. What it means in practical terms is that we discuss our tasks and challenges, ask for advice and give feedback. As our client, you might work with one of our colleagues, but actually, you tap into the expertise and knowledge of the entire team.

When you work with freelance contractors, they simply might not have the access and time to maintain these strong professional relationships. 

2. You Can Expect High Standards

Let’s talk about professional standards. An agency hires its designers and researchers after an extensive recruitment process, they have evaluated their professional and interpersonal skills and decided that they are qualified to serve clients up to the agency’s standards. After the selection process, they provide further training for them to prepare them for client work. Freelancers may not have the same access or resources for further training. 

In UX Studio, we put a lot of effort into our recruitment process to find the best talent. After joining the company, every single colleague goes through training about how we work on design and research projects, then project management and client communication training. These are just the standard training, but we organise other in-house learning and development opportunities about working in agile development, design systems or applying AI-powered tools in product design, just to name a few.

3. They Offer Flexibility 

Agencies, including ours, employ experts with diverse backgrounds, allowing them to adapt flexibly to your needs and requirements. We consult with our clients about their requirements and deadlines and mutually decide whether to assign a single individual or a team of multiple experts.

This approach also provides the flexibility to adjust the team’s size according to the projects’ needs, and you can scale the team up or down as projects come and go. If necessary, you even have the option to pause and restart the collaboration.

4. They Create Simplicity

Even when you work with multiple people from an agency on one or more projects, you’re still maintaining a business relationship and administration with just one firm.

If you were to work with individual contractors, you’d have to manage hiring, contracts, communication, and billing separately for each contractor.

5. They Have a Special Commitment

When you work with designers or researchers from an agency, they have double motivation to do a great job. They will do their best to support you and complete their projects but they are also motivated to prove themselves in the agency and keep you as their client. 

Our team is aiming for high standards

How Should You Select a Product Design Agency?

If you decide to explore agencies, there are several factors you should consider before choosing one:

1. Answer Their Many Questions

A good agency wants to understand your work and needs as thoroughly and early as possible. It might seem interrogative while you’re still evaluating potential agencies, but it’s a positive sign. It means that the business developers are committed to crafting the best possible offer with the appropriate methods and tools. They may be already considering who from their team would be the best fit for you. All these preliminary steps help a smooth and swift start to the collaboration once you choose the agency.

2. Ask About Their Process

When meeting with people from the agencies, ask about their methods and processes for design and research. Genuine professionals will describe a stringent design and research process, but also adapt it to suit your business requirements, technical feasibility, and operational context. 

The right UX experts will invest time in the following:

  • Understanding your business and market context, and company operations
  • Conducting discovery research
  • Discussing and defining problems in collaboration with you
  • Ideating and sketching multiple concepts
  • Building and testing prototypes to identify the best solutions
  • Conducting ongoing discovery research and testing
  • Experimenting with their design and being receptive to feedback
  • Thinking in terms of comprehensive product strategy, not just screens
  • Having a process for research operations
  • Communicating effectively with developers

3. Check Their References

Review the references and case studies of previous clients’ works on the agency’s website. However, remember that many agencies are bound by confidentiality terms and non-disclosure agreements, so they might not disclose all their collaborations. If you are impressed by an agency’s presentation, it’s worthwhile to contact them for more information about their client work and industry experience.

4. Request Portfolios

Agencies often employ numerous designers and researchers, offering flexibility in your choice of collaboration. It’s recommended to ask for the portfolios of their available experts. Additionally, consider setting up an introductory call, similar to a job interview, to assess if they’re a good fit for your project and team.

5. Look for Special Skills

Our agency mandates specialized training to improve project management skills and other professional skills. When engaging with an agency or interviewing potential designers and researchers, I recommend asking about their project management methods, the tools they use for task management and remote collaboration, and their experience in client relationship management.


Who Should You Work With?

We’ve discussed why and when a design agency might be the best choice. However, with so many options available, choosing the right agency can be overwhelming.

To help you navigate your search, we collected the top UX design agencies and research agencies to work with. If you’re working on a SaaS product, we also listed several SaaS website design agencies

Did Something Catch Your Attention?

If any of the described scenarios seem familiar, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d be happy to set up a conversation to discuss your challenges and potential collaborations. There are no strings attached, but we’d be happy to be on your contact list.

Zita Gombár

I'm a UX researcher who ventured into business development and team leadership. I enjoy uncovering people's motivations and always on the lookout for new challenges.

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