Top UX Design Agencies in San Francisco to Work With in 2021

As a CEO at a UX agency with over 15 years of field experience, I would like to share my insights about the top UX design agencies San Francisco companies often work with.

In this article, I will talk about the top 5 UX design agencies in San Francisco and beyond. I will share my insights and practical tips on how to choose and hire the best UX agency for your business.  

I will also cover the following topics in the article:

  • How much design agencies in San Francisco charge for projects.
  • 5 stereotypes about UX agencies outside San Francisco.
  • Is it better to work with a product design company in San Francisco rather than choosing a remote company?

The best UX design companies don’t necessarily have huge offices with awards in the lobby. These humble enthusiasts do their job day to day, designing products and teaching others about UX design. Before we dig deeper into how to choose the most suitable UX design agency for collaboration, I will share a list of the top design firms San Francisco companies often work with.

Top UX Design Agencies in San Francisco

Ideo

A global product design and innovation company established in 1991 in Palo Alto, California.

Ideo is one of the pioneers in industrial design that has worked on the legendary Apple mouse’ design. 

By now, Ideo has grown its team to 700 professionals and 9 offices in the biggest cities worldwide. Ideo has branches in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Tokyo, London, Chicago, New York, Shanghai, Cambridge, and Munich. 

Based on its ranking, client portfolio, and well-established presence in the tech world, Ideo is considered one of the top UX agencies in San Francisco.

Famous for their design thinking and innovative approach, Ideo offers diverse teams of designers, researchers, and engineers to their clients. At the same time, some critics say Ideo ranks as one of the most expensive agencies on the market, and their clients are required an extensive budget allocation for their collaboration. Despite this fact, Ideo is an award-winning design and innovation company that works with digital and industrial product design.

UX studio

An award-winning UX design agency working with San Francisco companies.

UX studio design agency

I founded UX studio in 2013 with the goal of becoming a global UX design agency. I might be biased to write about my own company and put it into this list; however, UX studio is one of the fastest-growing European UX design agencies that was honored to rank among the top product design companies 2020, according to the reputable Clutch Global Award. 

We have also been featured as an exclusive member of the Zeplin design agencies community recently.

As a UX design agency that often works with North American companies, we have developed a framework for a successful remote collaboration that enabled us to work with different startups and industry leaders worldwide. 

We consider our partners’ needs and select our most suitable UX experts to become a dedicated member of the partner’s in-house product teams. 

From the beginning of the collaboration, we strive to establish frequent communication to ensure we are on the same page, and our partners are happy with the progress. 

Our designers and researchers know how to adapt to the partners’ working processes and remain transparent in our design progress. 

We are happy to share more about who we are and how we work. Get in touch with us, share your questions, and our business development team will get back to you with all the details.

Google, HBO, Netflix, the United Nations World Food Programme are among our most-well known partners. 

We have closely worked with the HBO team to redesign the HBO Go platform and let millions of viewers worldwide enjoy watching their favorite movies and shows on the web, mobile, and smart TVs.

It is an honor to work with and learn from the tech giants and industry leaders known all over the world.

Besides offering B2B design services, we also maintain our expert UX blog full of design tips, expert opinions, design, and research case studies read by more than  30,000 readers a month worldwide.

As a thought leader in the UX field, we hold product design courses twice a year and run personalized UX training for companies. 

Everything we know and practice in the field of UX, we implement in-house when building our own digital products. We are proud of creating UXfol.io, our portfolio platform used by over 30,000 designers worldwide.

If you are looking for the right UX agency to work with, let’s jump on a short call to discuss your product and objectives. 

You can select any suitable time and day for a call. It is a great pleasure for us to meet you and get to know your challenges better.

Thoughtbot

A design and development agency with 6 studios around the world.

Thoughtbot is one of the established design and development agencies in San Francisco. It was founded in 2003 and quickly grew to over 200 employees and 6 offices across the USA and UK.

Thoughtbot works with small, project-focused product experts to create powerful and enjoyable software solutions that are easy to use. Its mission is to support innovators, creators, business leaders in every step of the product design process.

Apart from doing mobile and web design, the Thoughtbot expert teams have JavaScript, Ruby, Python, Elixir programming languages capabilities. They also run design sprints and maintain open-source software projects such as Paperclip, Laptop,  Bourbon, just to name a few. 

According to Clutch, Thoughtbot’s minimum project pricing starts from $25,00 depending on the scope of work.

Thoughtbot design and development teams actively share their knowledge through podcasts, expert blogs, and books. Since 2012, they have been running a learning platform for developers called Upscale intended to help junior developers level up their skills through video lessons, workshops, and coding exercises. 

Frog

A pioneer in industrial design that has been serving clients for over 50 years.

Frog has been on the market since 1969, helping companies with physical product design, growth strategy, branding, customer experience, and service and mobile design. 

Frog is one of the biggest design agencies with 16 design studios across the globe. Its name is an acronym that stands for “Federal Republic of Germany” which is a home country for the company founder and industrial designer – Hartmut Esslinger. 

He started Frog as a small UX design company in Mutlanger, Germany. The small team has grown to over 1000 employees worldwide, with the company’s current headquarter in San Francisco.

As a global design and strategy firm, Frog aims to help clients transform their ideas into realities by creating digital products where user interfaces, hardware, and branding come together to deliver a great user experience.  

Designit

An international strategic design firm with over 16 studios worldwide.

Designit has started as a small design agency in Copenhagen, Denmark, and grown into an international design enterprise that has already been on the market for 30 years. 

Apart from having multiple European branches, Designit has spread to North and South America, Asia, Japan, and even Australia. Distance is no longer a limit or a boundary for the Designit teams. They work with brands from all over the world, delivering design solutions that matter. 

Nowadays, Designit (formerly known as Cooper) works with such industry giants as Google and Starbucks on interaction and service design projects. Its employees strive to collaborate in cross-functional teams, involving clients, end-users, and developers in the design process. 

Besides, Designit takes an active part in the design events, boot camps, online design education, and training.


How much UX agencies in San Francisco charge for projects

UX design agencies in San Francisco have higher average hourly rates. People living in the city have many job opportunities in the tech sector, which drives their salaries up.  Besides, the costs of living rank among the highest in the world. 

UX agencies in San Francisco are not cheap. An outstanding design solution requires extensive research, an appealing UI, and iterations to make it work. 

There is another reason behind UX design agencies in San Francisco having higher average hourly rates. People living in the city have many job opportunities in the tech sector, which drives their salaries up.  Besides, the costs of living rank among the highest in the world. 

With the vast spread of the remote work culture, more and more successful companies with headquarters in the Valley search for reliable UX design partners outside of San Francisco. A few well-known examples include Google, Netflix, HBO, Starbucks, Stanford, and even NASA. 

User experience agencies in San Francisco are forced to compete with such tech giants as  Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Whenever experienced designers look for a job in San Francisco, they are welcome in all these companies that offer high salaries and cool perks. Big, successful companies do everything they can to lure the best talents. 

I’ve checked the average pricing offered by the top San Francisco design companies mentioned above. Should you want to work with the Bay UX agencies, the hourly rate you would need to pay is between $150 and $300 per hour. The pricing can vary depending on your project scope, urgency, and the level of expertise of the team. 

The minimum budget starts from $50,000, according to Clutch. 

It’s quite a high price for the privilege to work with the Bay Area agencies. Thus, many companies nowadays look for reasonable pricing and experienced UX agencies for collaboration elsewhere. 

You can find talented UX experts all around the globe. 

An estimated 2-3 million people are working in the UX profession right now. Even the conservative estimates count more than one million UXers around the world. 

Bigger tech hubs have a higher density of these talents, but they also have greater competition. 

With the remote work policies and the high costs of living, professionals

no longer have to leave their families to pursue careers elsewhere. Even smaller cities have great talent pools these days.

To sum up, agencies in the Bay Area are forced to raise prices, to be able to raise salaries, and implement other incentives to retain their employees and attract skilled professionals. Eventually, the client is the one who pays for everything.

You can hire world-class talent for less than half of the San Francisco price.  For instance, at UX studio, we often work with overseas clients following a framework for effective remote collaboration designed by our experts, while our prices start from $50 an hour. 

If you are looking for a UX partner who designs digital products that delight users every day, let’s get in touch and discuss your current challenges. 


5 typical stereotypes about UX agencies outside San Francisco

1. UX agencies outside of the USA are less experienced 

It is easy to judge the companies you don’t personally know because they are not located in the USA. Everything far away seems unknown and frightening, especially when it comes to buying expensive services. 

According to the Clutch B2B service providers report, many award-winning UX agencies are located in the UK and other parts of Western and Eastern Europe. 

The rankings are usually made based on client portfolio, satisfaction rate, and company achievements. 

We are all living in a global economy where remote work policy and international collaborations become a regular thing. 

2. You will never meet your remote UX team

Despite the fact that remote collaborations have become a common practice these days, many companies still meet their clients in person to discuss business-related issues. 

So do we! 

UX studio is a global design agency that works with companies all over the world. The first thing we do to kick-off a collaboration is visiting a new partner to learn more about their current challenges to become a true extension of the in-house team and deliver the best work we can.

“Above and beyond” service and smooth collaboration are what we strive to provide to every partner regardless of the location.

3. A remote UX team won’t take responsibility

This very much depends on the company and its history. It is advisable to check an agency’s former projects, client portfolio, and testimonials before starting a remote collaboration. Reputable agencies usually have a convincing portfolio of former works, which they display to prove their expertise.

Smaller companies with a strong UX focus might take even more responsibility for their tasks than bigger companies with a corporate environment. 

At UX studio, we always assign a dedicated design team, working full-time on our partner’s product. Our partners are often impressed by how deeply we understand their business and how much we care about their product.

4. It is challenging to work with external UX teams 

It is true that an in-house team is always available right on the spot to discuss and implement design changes. However, a dedicated external team can challenge the status quo, provide new insights and new solutions to share with your in-house team.

External teams are accountable for the results and the client’s satisfaction; thus, they usually work harder to meet their client’s needs. 

At UX studio, we know how to adapt to our partners’ working process. Whenever a new partner comes to us with a request, we always dedicate the most suitable UX experts to meet the requirements and fit the company culture.

5. An external team cannot fully understand my business and product

Every design project requires feedback and iterations to make it work. It might be challenging to see the problems and discover new possibilities after working on the same product every day for many years. This is where a fresh eye on your product, design strategy, target audience, and overall business will be beneficial. 

For every client collaboration, we strive to assign experts who have already worked in the same or a similar industry, know the market, and have insights about the best practices. Clients are often surprised by how fast our designers and researchers can jump into a project and understand the smallest details.

Besides, it is important to kick off the collaboration in the right way. Thus, we always run workshops with product teams and stakeholders to learn about the product, user personas, current challenges, pain points, and needs. It is essential for us to become the true extension of our partner’s team.

We are not the only company that has this practice, but we know that we do it right.


Is it better to work with a product design company in San Francisco rather than choosing a remote company?

I will be bold to say there is no difference between working with a local or an external company these days. With remote work becoming more popular, businesses gradually get used to working in this new reality, under the new circumstances. 

There is not much difference between remote collaboration with a UX design agency in San Francisco and an agency somewhere else since the working process is almost identical. You meet your team via zoom; you are most likely to discuss details in chats and you send plenty of emails and interact in the digital space instead of the real world, regardless of your external UX team’s location. 

Businesses gradually change their mindset from “Let’s find a local partner” to “Who is the best to understand our needs and fit our internal culture.” 

As a UX agency with over 10 years of field experience, we’ve seen and worked with many overseas partners who were looking for a reliable UX partner.  

After many successful remote collaborations, I’ve collected several key points on why many start-ups or large enterprises in the US and beyond choose to work with remote UX teams:

  • A wider pool of design experts
  • Reasonable pricing
  • A fresh perspective and new ideas on old topics 
  • A faster project start or a possibility to quickly scale design operations 
  • Long-term collaboration possibilities  
  • More cultural diversity 

If you are looking for the right UX agency, let’s have a chat and discuss how our experts can help you with your current challenges.


How to find the most suitable UX agency to work with?

As the CEO of a UX agency who has spent over 15 years in the UX industry, let me share some insights that will help you choose the right design agency in San Francisco or beyond. 

Many people also ask their friends or acquaintances for advice, which can work to some extent, but some of those companies might not be the right fit for you. 

Thus, I suggest you start with a simple google search. Open a few companies that look appealing to you and check the following characteristics before getting in touch with them.

1. An established UX firm should have at least 1 famous client in its portfolio

It is important to check the agency’s former clients to evaluate their expertise and see if it worked on projects similar to yours.

If a design firm worked with well-known clients, they would most likely talk about it on their website. It is a sign of trustworthiness and expertise. 

UX studio has worked with tech giants such as Google, HBO, or Netflix. We are proud of these collaborations and highlight them on our website too. 

Keep in mind that some collaborations can be under NDA. Thus, if you want to learn more about a specific company, reach out and ask for more information. 

Trustworthy companies have nothing to hide. They openly talk about their former works, services, clients’ testimonials, and their own working processes. 

2. Look for expert case studies with well-elaborated UX processes and design decisions

Case studies are examples of the former works that design companies showcase on their websites to prove their expertise, gain trust, and impress potential clients. Only a few people know that appealing UI screens are not the only criteria to evaluate UX companies’ expertise. 

Here is what you should look for in the case studies:

  • Examples of visual design (final design screens are preferred)
  • Design process explained
  • Challenges tackled and solved 
  • Client names with links to their redesigned website or mobile app
  • Industries and project types specified (design, research, audit, branding, etc.)
  • Evidence of success (increased conversion rate, improved user flow, etc.)

These aspects are essential when it comes to the best design agency selection. Make sure to critically evaluate your potential design agency before you choose the one to work with.

3. An expert agency should be a thought leader in the design communities and educate about UX

The best UX agencies don’t just work on digital products but also share their knowledge with the world. If a company has a well-established online presence with a reputable blog, educational courses, and a large follower base, you can go ahead and reach out to them. You have most likely found an expert who can help you solve your needs and pass on valuable knowledge to your team.

At UX studio, we have a popular blog read by over 30,000 people a month. We also run intensive product design courses twice a year, where we share the same processes and insights that we apply in the real world. 

Our experts have given speeches at many public events and meetups to spread the word about UX studio and share our industry insights.

Remember, you will spend a lot of time working with your design agency. Thus, find the right one that will fit your team’s culture. It is much easier to handle challenging projects when you can get along well.

Searching for the right UX agency?

Get in touch with us, and let’s discuss your current challenges. Our experts are happy to assist you with UX strategy, product and user research, and UX/UI design.

Dávid Pásztor

Founder and CEO of UX studio. Author of the book Product Design, TEDx speaker, one of Forbes 30 under 30. Enthusiastic about self-managing teams, new technologies and human-centered design.