Don’t take the decision to hire a UX design agency lightly.
It requires a good amount of self-awareness, research, and understanding before coming to a decision. A good choice will allow a healthy relationship to blossom that could do wonders for your product and business goals. A bad choice could stop you from achieving what you initially wanted.
Questions to ask yourself
1. What are your goals?
Start with clarity as to what you are looking to achieve at the business level. Which aspect of your functioning are you looking to improve? The best UX design agencies understand business - they understand how UX design helps fulfil business objectives.
Once the objective is known, you can identify your design needs.
2. What are your specific design needs?
In terms of skill, the capabilities needed to build a website from scratch differs from mobile app development, rebranding through visual language and logo, or conducting user research. Agencies are capable of a wide variety of functions.
However, you may not know what you require, or you may not need what you think you do. As a client, go in with an open mind to see how UX designers can help you decide the type and timing of the inputs you need. When these decisions are driven by business logic and design sensibilities, there is a better chance that your goals will be duly achieved.
Questions to ask the UX design agency
3. What is their process?
Adaptability and customization of processes in UX design are inevitable. Every project is treated differently because the user and client's needs differ. However, experienced agencies have a consistent method of working that they will be able to easily explain. Look for the clarity in their description beyond buzzwords.
Pay special attention to how they treat the relevance of user research. While it may seem like user research is eating away from your launch timeline, it is a crucial component that will lay the foundations for your design decisions. It should not be disregarded. Testing on real users is the best way to avoid bias and extract valuable, actionable feedback.
4. What are the terms of engagement?
There are multiple aspects to this question. The first is the division of work within the design team. Will a designer be giving your project their full attention, or working on multiple projects simultaneously? When designers commit to only one project at a time, their energy often extends beyond work hours. As David Pasztor puts it in a blog, “I usually think a lot about different design solutions while commuting or in the shower.” The linear focus on a project is what leads to great solutions.
Also, consider the length of the agreement. It may do more good to be able to work with the same designers continuously given that complications arise and there is always room for user feedback-based improvements.
Understand the extent to which they provide post-launch design support. This means collecting qualitative feedback, customer behaviour metrics, and conducting A/B testing to understand which product versions are performing best. Choose an agency that aids you in gathering insight so that you can address issues and make improvements in new iterations.
5. Do they have specialists or generalists on their team?
In the design world, specialists are those who have niche expertise, for example, heuristic evaluation, data visualisation, competitor analysis, etc. They are very skilled in specific aspects of the design process. Generalists, on the other hand, have skills that span more functions but with less depth.
Specialists are harder to come by but are the best bet for fulfilling specific needs you may have. Generalists are more widely available, good team players (given their understanding of multiple functions), but wouldn’t be able to solve intricate problems with the same finesse as specialists.
However, the recommended approach now is towards “T-shaped” designers, who have the breadth of generalists and depth of specialists in one or two areas. This makes them more equipped with working with the others on the design team who have other specialisations.
6. How do they approach project management?
UX design and project management are not two different entities. They cannot be separated from one another. To do justice to a project, the design agency must be involved throughout the process, keeping in contact with various stakeholders, so that informed UX decisions can be taken and that the result is in line with the original vision.
This plays into another question, how involved will you be as a client? Ideally, a UX Design agency-client relationship should be a partnership - equal stakeholders invested in making the right solution for the required needs and objectives.
This is an important part of the initial discussions, so that both parties are mentally prepared to commit to the effort required of them. Often, product teams are thrown off by the number and speed of decisions they will need to make on their design journey.
7. Are they experts?
You can gauge an agency’s expertise through their portfolios, case studies, client testimonials, and client references. If possible, ask to speak to another client about their experience with the agency.
The company leadership also sets a benchmark for the quality of work the agency does. Ask after their qualifications and accomplishments in the field of UX design. Leaders set the quality standards and atmosphere that defines a work culture. Teams are inspired by them and take after them.
Things to keep in mind
Apart from these questions to ask yourself and the agencies you are reaching out to, be sure to observe how your interactions with these agencies go.
Communication is what could enable and sustain this potential business relationship. Apart from establishing convenient modes of communication, analyse whether you can understand each other. Are they able to answer your questions? Would you trust them with your ideas?
You can gauge this chemistry by asking them questions like what sort of client they would ideally like, or how they may manage conflicts.
A good way to know how insightful the designers are is to look at the questions they are asking you. Intelligence isn’t just knowledge, it’s figuring out how to get that knowledge. Intelligent agencies ask intelligent questions, ones that lead them to insights. If they can do it through a conversation, you can trust them to maintain it throughout their process.
In UX, every insight, whether large or small, plays its part. It’s often a balancing act between paying attention to tiny details while keeping the end goal in mind.
Apart from these questions and values, take stock of what is important to you as an organisation and what you require in achieving your goal. Let the decision of which UX agency to hire be an informed one, so you can reap the benefits for as long as you need.
At Twist Open UX, we pride ourselves on getting completely immersed in whichever project we take on. We’re here to listen, learn, research, and design the solutions you need.
We offer the following services and have worked on numerous projects.
Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org