As a design expert who has worked as a freelancer as well as at large, mid-size, and boutique agencies, I understand how difficult it can be to figure out your design needs. The good news is that no matter what scale of project you’re working on, you have some great options.
You have a design project that needs a fresh perspective or you want to improve the customer experience of your product. Whether you want to make something more intuitive, work better, or bring more delight, a UX Designer or digital agency can help.
You can hire a UX Designer (a) to work in-house directly at your company, (b) to freelance at your company, or (c) you can hire an agency that specializes in UX Design. As a designer that has worked in all three capacities, here’s my insider’s perspective on the pros and cons of each.
An in-house designer works directly at your company. This person usually collaborates closely with product and engineering teams – working on research, designing features, and pushing new releases. Working so closely with individual stakeholders, the UX Designer/team gets to know the ins and outs of the product really well. Sometimes this is great, but other times this may create blind spots. Because the designers “know” the product so well, it’s hard to approach problems from a fresh perspective. There may sometimes be internal bias within the team or within the organization around an idea or around Design itself. Since an in-house designer is a full-time employee, costs like salary, benefits, etc. must be considered. In-house design teams work best when there is strong design leadership that can organize and manage the entire product design process with technology and product leads. In an ideal world, these design leaders would collaborate closely with C-level stakeholders on design thinking strategies to create new business opportunities and outcomes.
Freelance designers can be hired on an hourly or per-project basis. This allows for a lot of flexibility for both you as the client as well as for the designer. Finding a designer with the potential breadth of skills needed for your particular project can be challenging. Sometimes designers specialize in one area, for example their wireframing skills may be stronger than their detailed graphic design skills. This may lead to some parts of the project being overlooked or less polished. Also, when you work with an individual freelancer or design consultant, your organization doesn’t have the opportunity to benefit from having multiple designers. I can honestly say, in every project where I was the sole practitioner first and later brought in a team to support my work, the final product was always better when I worked with a team than when I was working as an independent designer. More design minds collaborating make design work stronger.
There are many different types of agencies, just like there are many different types of designers and creatives. Let’s group them by size for simplicity – large, mid, and small. If you choose to work with a large agency (let’s say 75+ people) the rates are normally going to be higher – but that doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of the work will be better than what you would get with a small or mid-sized agency. At larger agencies you will be paying for a larger team with more project managers, account managers, proofreaders, junior designers, levels of bureaucracy, etc. You are not paying for efficiency, in my opinion, but you are paying for de-risking the creative. If you decide to work with a big agency you can be confident they’ll deliver and provide a working product. That doesn’t, however, mean it’s always going to be the best product or process.
A mid-sized agency is another option. Some are owned by larger organizations and some are independent. I think it’s nice to know which type you’re working with, which also can help explain their pricing models. A mid-sized agency will probably have a stronger specialty, so I recommend interviewing a few to get a sense of their work and their design process in order to know if it’s right for your organization. Some agencies will have project managers or account directors to facilitate the project and client relationships, while at other agencies you may work directly with the design team.
With a small or boutique agency like Cue Studio, you will work closely with the designers who are working on your project. A small agency will have niche specialists who can focus on your particular design goals, with supporting designers who join the project to round out any other specific skills that are needed. At a small agency, you will more commonly be working with more seasoned designers who support and mentor junior designers that also help on the project. Boutique agencies may also have particular industry specialties, like finance, healthcare, or beauty.
At a mid-sized agency or small, there are few ways pricing could work. The project may be flat-fee based on a certain scope. Alternatively, there may be retainer for a certain number of hours per week or month. Even more simply, there may be an hourly service rate for billable hours. Pricing often depends on the firm and the size of the job. At Cue, we work at an hourly service rate for larger, ongoing projects. For smaller or more time-constrained projects we charge a flat fee for a set scope. Sometimes we offer clients a choice between the pricing models, because ultimately it’s just a question of “how much design time does your organization need?” We’re flexible and happy to work with our clients on what’s right for them.
One of the largest benefits of working with any digital agency is that the folks who work there are experts in the field. Skilled designers will help you uncover what experiential and communication methods are best for your business and customer experience. At Cue, we help you plan and execute on your goals while envisioning the future with you. We suggest services or products that might be helpful for what you are trying to achieve, and connect you with the additional creative specialists you need.
There is value in hiring a design professional no matter which route you choose. After all my years in the field, I can say that what’s most important isn’t necessarily which kind of help you hire, but finding the people and team that share your vision and have the skills to execute it . What design project are you currently working on? Let Cue know how we can help take your product to the next level.
About the author:
Selma-Rachel Swire is an award-winning designer and creative director. Founder of Cue Studio, She has been practicing as a digital designer for 14+ years. Outside the studio, Selma-Rachel lives with her partner, 2 kids, and Yorkie named Pablo Picasso who all keep her very busy. Read more on Linkedin.