Hire The Best UX Design Agency – Tips from an Insider

If you are reading this article, you are likely facing some deep trouble. Out of all these brand names and similar-looking portfolios, you need to pick a UX agency to work with. Here’s how I would go about finding a UX agency for my own project.

By no means can I claim impartiality. Working behind the scenes at a design agency for this long, I have been analyzing client behavior and preferences for quite a while now. We have discovered some patterns in what clients look for in agencies, and how to serve them in a satisfactory way.

Why finding the right UX agency matters

Committing yourself to a UX design studio presents a huge decision. In this article, I attempt to cover most of the decision factors and bottlenecks that clients struggle with in looking.

In this article, you will learn about:

  • How to plan the scope of a UX design project
  • Where to find UX design professionals on the internet
  • Where the best UX agencies in the world reside
  • Whether you need an RFP and if so, what to include in it
  • How to calculate the cost of a UX design project
  • How to understand and vet agency UX design processes
  • What technical details to pay attention to while choosing
  • Common mistakes in choosing UX agencies
  • How to make the final call

What does the scope of the UX design project include? How do I decide?

You should have an idea of what kind of flows you want, but UX professionals at the agencies will also help you figure that out. Let’s look at a simple example.

Say you are building a new product. Imagine an e-commerce platform selling used lawn mowers. You have already validated this business model, the market, and user needs through interviews and testing. Now you want to build the product.

You want the following features/flows:

  • A list page for lawn mowers currently on sale
  • An item detail page showing more about specific lawn mowers
  • A checkout page customers get directed to after choosing the specific lawn mower

Your checkout page will likely need integration with a payments provider. The UX  design agency will ask about it.

A payment provider integration can already form part of the prototype. You might also decide that it would make more sense for an MVP to keep it simple and go with a cash-on-delivery system. That means the postal service or delivery confirms the receipt of money.

This type of high-level scope should start the conversation right at the beginning. If the agency doesn’t ask simple questions like this, suspect something. Why? Because UX professionals can infer from the flows that they will need at least three screens designed. They will proceed further on this basis.

Expect questions like:

  • What pieces of information does the user most importantly need to see about the used lawn mower? (brand / age / image / type / price)
  • Will users need a search function on the list page? Should it involve a filtering function?
  • How should product details appear? What do we want to show about the lawn mowers on the details page?
  • Do we want to showcase similar products at the bottom of each product page?
  • Should it include a newsletter subscription feature? Would it come with notifications about new lawn mowers?

We often make our clients fill out a user empathy map, “how might we” charts, or other tools that help teams structure thoughts and ideas into a whole.

Based on all the information provided during the first discussions and workshops, the UX team will define the scope and project length and send you a detailed proposal.

Where to find and hire user experience professionals

UX design community websites

Many people think it makes sense to look at community websites like Bēhance or Dribbble. While these platforms give the gist of the latest in UX design, they don’t do much in terms of agency-client pairing.

UX referrals

Many people looking for UX help turn to friends and acquaintances hoping to acquire tips on who to work with. This makes sense because you get input from a trusted source. They can also give insights, as opposed to the online route which normally makes that impossible.

Design talent sites

Vetted or unvetted talent sites also provide many a go-to place. You might get lucky and bump into someone talented and prepared to take on your challenge. Based on what we learned from our clients, these sites don’t usually prove useful in accessing talent for more complex, research-heavy projects. If you need help designing a few screens or one feature in a mobile app, you might get lucky. Otherwise, look for bigger UX teams instead of single, multitasking individuals.

Agency listing sites and client reviews

Most of our clients these days turn to Quora or agency listing sites like Clutch (where UX studio has featured among the top 10 UX agencies worldwide for years now) or Sortlist. These platforms do great in that everyone can leave reviews of agencies they have actually worked with. To understand how a specific collaboration works at a given agency, it might make sense to dive into the reviews.

Where do we find the best UX agencies geographically?

Thankfully, we live in an age where the location of a partner company doesn’t matter so much. A firm based in the US can hire developers from India, and a startup in South Africa can work with manufacturers in China. This happens ALL the time. It works no differently in the UX world.

But do geographical UX hubs exist? In our experience, UX goes hand-in-hand with other tech specialties. We can find great UX agencies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley or European tech hubs like Berlin, London or Dublin.

BUT! We see one definite trend these days, however: Western clients seeking UX help in Eastern countries. They may look from Eastern Europe to the Middle East, or Asian locations like Bangkok or Malaysia. This way they cut costs while not having to sacrifice quality or professionalism. We at UX studio take pride that so many global brands all over the world have recognized our expertise.

How to create a UX or website redesign RFP

Let’s get something clear right away. Do you need an RFP to get UX help from agencies? Not at all!

But we know that many firms favor RFPs over cold-calling agencies themselves or comparing portfolios. So, what to include in them?

What makes up a UX design RFP?

RFPs (request for proposal, one-pagers, briefs, whatever) give the client their only opportunity to outline the challenge they face, using as much color and nuance as the project warrants.

Does a proposal need an RFP?

I browsed through RFP examples gathered from our sales team. It gave me the impression that the client finds articulating these complex challenge almost as hard as the agency does solving them. This also likely explains why you can find ample RFP templates, drafts and “how to create an RFP” guides.

But, just like with any complex task tackled, investing this time has already brought you one step closer already to completing your digital project.

The most important aspects of your RFP

Have all stakeholders (product managers, developers, digital marketing professionals, etc.) and visual assets listed in your RFP. Still, agencies will actually focus on key objectives, milestones and end goals, existing resources, research data and the overall complexity of the project.

Should the RFP contain the budget?

Many organizations shy away from sharing budget information at the early stages of a project. From a professional perspective, budget size comprises important information in defining the scope, limit and deliverables.

By showcasing your budget in the RFP, you invite agencies to show what they could do with your money. This way, you can likely compare approach and features. Giving UX companies a consistent budget range ensures your ability to compare them more easily.

How much does UI/UX design cost?

The ultimate question, huh? As always, we have the answer: “That depends”.

On what? So many factors, but mainly your project goals.

If you hire UX professionals, you do so partly because you want them to guide you through the process and what needs to be done. From initial kickoff and goal-setting, through research and prototyping, to pixel-perfect design, the process will lead down a winding road. If you choose right, they will hold your hand.

Optional versus compulsory parts

While some parts of the UX and web design process at times can seem optional (like motion design or pixel-perfect UI), some you cannot save money on. Most importantly, research should form the base of any design: regular, well-planned, executed and followed-up user research.

Hourly rates versus subscription-based payment

At UX studio, pricing conditions vary by client based on the mutual benefit of both parties. While the hourly pricing strategy makes for the simplest, many of our clients prefer not to deal with such an administrative burden for no reason. For this reason they prefer to stay on a subscription basis.

How much does it cost to design an app in 2019?

In terms of hourly rates, UX design agency rates can vary tremendously. Based on Invision’s insights, agencies currently charge $180 per hour on average in the US. Expect similar costs in Western Europe as well. In Central or Eastern Europe, on the other hand, rates can run half of that, while India can go even cheaper.

Why work with a Central or Eastern European UX agency?

Clients, however, don’t only come to Central or Eastern Europe for lower prices. Based on their feedback to our agency, they also look for the quality of work and cultural fit and physical proximity. This makes them opt for our region over India, for instance.

What process do UX agencies follow?

UX as a discipline is growing. As a result, agencies these days tend to diversify their service portfolios in order to serve client needs better. Many also deliver full service when it comes to UX design projects (meaning research, design and development).

By an extremely broad definition, user experience design translates directly into various skills that expert UX designers deliver. UX designers and researchers basically focus on three main areas: product strategy and content, followed by prototyping and testing, then execution and follow-up. What do these mean in a more practical sense?

Product strategy and content:

  • Competitor and market analysis
  • User analysis
  • Mapping product structure
  • Creating/reviewing product strategy
  • Content development

Prototyping and testing:

  • Wireframing
  • Prototyping
  • Testing and iteration
  • Software development planning

Execution and analytics:

  • UX/UI design
  • Collaboration with and handover to developers
  • Measurement planning
  • Tracking goals and integration
  • Analysis and iteration

Vet the UX firm’s processes: How and when can they deliver what they signed up for?

A great UX design agency has a well-established, deeply rooted workflow and lots of experience creating hundreds of apps and website designs for a wide range of clients and industries.

This means you save an insane amount of time by hiring an agency. You don’t have to train your designers and researchers or make sure they have enough experience to get going.

UX design firms can create impactful work for your objectives right away. For example, we at UX studio could kick the project off the week after the initial outreach!

Sometimes the UX company doesn’t want to spend a great deal of time understanding the exact goals of the project which would give an overview of user preferences and the market. If they won’t invest this time into heavy research, it likely means that you’re dealing with an agency not primarily motivated to deliver good, data-backed, lasting work.

Good agencies will ask tons of questions at the start of the project. They might ask for access to your analytics tools and any user research data gathered so far.

After getting a general overview of the goals and deliverables, the UX team will start working at a fast pace. We at UX studio work in weekly sprints. At the beginning of each week, the UX-ers meet the client and brief them about the past week’s developments. Then they plan the next week together.

During the rest of the week, they work on the design, based on the research input gathered the previous week, while the researcher constantly brings in new results.

Take a look at the project plan of one of our clients.

Don’t forget about the technical details

It also makes sense to define the technical details in the beginning, such as:

Which primary tool will we use for communication?

Will we use a dedicated Slack channel or do you prefer email? Skype or Google Hangouts during remote calls? Will we hold in-person meetings? If so, how many?

What software will the UX-ers use?

We can select from a growing number of different tools. Typically, we use Axure or InVision for prototyping, and Sketch or Figma for creating designs. After finishing the design, our designers share the codeable outcomes with devs over Zeplin. Some clients request designing with Adobe XD or even Photoshop sometimes, while they prefer Framer for prototyping. These things all bring flexibility, but settle on them before setting off with the project.

Common mistakes in choosing an experience design agency

1. Not understanding what makes great UX design

Good design doesn’t look pretty or artistic. Good design from a UX standpoint aligns user needs with business interests. Don’t let bright colors and fancy portfolios captivate you. Look for research focus, not graphic design excellence. Graphics do have value, but users and their needs simply come first. User interface design only results once you have solid, fully research-based UX finalized.

2. Too many requirements

Often, the decision to hire a UX agency results from a long preparation period. In it, the client gathers all the problematic points they might have with their product and pairs it with internal company rules and bureaucratic barriers, a recipe for an unsuccessful project.

How to avoid it:

  1. Specify focus and goals
  2. Align stakeholder interests to bring them all on board
  3. Clarify expectations
  4. Reduce bureaucracy and internal standby times

3. Focusing on design elements of former projects

Often someone browsing portfolios falls in love with a finished project and decides they basically want a close copy of that UI adapted to their project. Don’t. As said before: no design comes without research. UI styles and elements that benefitted one client might do the opposite in another. (Refer to the first point to read more)

4. Expecting a quick turnaround time

Clients understandably come under time pressures. Of course, if they didn’t, they would have already hired a design team or started on their own. Probably they didn’t have time, and once they made a big decision like hiring an agency, they sought quick relief to their pain. But it doesn’t work this way.

Even after finishing and developing a UX project, it will take several long months before you see justifiable, exact results.

What to look at when choosing a UX design agency

  • Expertise: Does the agency have the abilities and offer the types of expertise essential for the success of the project?
  • Proactivity during planning: Does the UX agency work proactively in the planning process? Do they present ideas and offer alternatives? (Think back to the lawn mower page.)
  • Details of the proposal: Once they have sent you a proposal, look how detailed they made it? A truly caring UX design agency will go to great lengths to ensure you can precisely imagine how the collaboration will look. Do they make the expectations and deliverables clear?
  • Clarity on pricing: Do they explain numbers well? They should care about whether you understand and have gotten on board with the pricing and payment agreements.
  • Process presentation: Have they got well thought-out, battle-tested UX design and research processes? The best ones make you part of it. They view client input as necessary. More than that, they want you to consider the final result 100% yours.

The final verdict

Really great UX companies want to give you as much information as they can to guarantee you can make the best decision possible.

Particularly in the design and development world, many agencies, unfortunately, take on projects they haven’t got the equipment to perform or the capacity to deliver good work on.

To avoid falling into these traps, focus on four main characteristics that enable great UX design collaboration:

  1. Proven UX research processes
  2. Visible emphasis on UX design (and less on the UI and graphic)
  3. A great portfolio of UX design work
  4. Credible, authentic reviews from real customers

You may have trouble finding reviews on the design company’s own website. If so, head over to digital agency listing sites like Clutch. They focus on gathering real client feedback on recent projects.

Any thoughts?

Have you experienced a situation like this before? How did you make your decision?

Let us know in the comment section!

Brigitta Puskás

Online marketer with a big smile, an endless desire for learning, and an unfortunate tendency to miss flights. Inexplicably fascinated by cargo ships.