In 2021, the importance of design for business is not abstract: the business value of design has been proved by McKinsey, in addition to being, well, quite an obvious fact.
The investment in design will pay off. The question is, how to invest with the biggest ROI? The most common options are hiring an in-house designer or a design agency. We’ll go through the pros and cons of each option (scroll to the end to see the alternatives).
With an in-house designer, you can stay on track of their work as close as you wish, thus being able to ensure they’re moving in the right direction. The errors can be fixed at the very beginning.
Your designer is a person that fits brand values, corporate culture, and is a member of the team. Being able to communicate closely with developers, marketers, and other team members is crucial for good product design.
By paying salary, you know exactly how much time the designer dedicates to the project, and the cost of each hour is crystal clear. The only extra payments you do are social security, and these are also transparent. No hidden fees, no overhead.
Hiring a good designer is not an extra hard task, but when you are determined to find a person who would be a perfect fit for your product and team, it naturally takes a while (not counting the onboarding). And for small companies that have no HR, all this time comes at the price of the product lead.
Employees can quit any time for a range of reasons, most of which are not even related to the company. It just happens. And in this case, the company would have to go through all the hiring process again.
Having constant design support after the launch is crucial for product companies. While ad agencies can easily step aside after the end of the campaign (or even before), product design never ends at the launch. The launch is just the first step in the long line of iterations.
Agencies work hard on finding the best experts. They constantly hunt the best UX professionals designers and researchers. What is more, they have been working in a team for a while, so you can be sure that the time for onboarding won’t be too long.
Designers employed in agencies are constantly working on various projects, gaining experience and growing all the time as professionals. They typically have wide professional horizons and are used to finding creative and innovative solutions to all kinds of problems.
When working with a good agency, the human factor is almost excluded. You know that if a designer gets sick, goes on vacation, or leaves, they would replace them with another seamlessly and the deadlines will be respected anyway.
In addition to paying the working hours of the designers, you would have to pay the work of the account manager, agency overhead, and possibly other expenses. They are not explicitly listed in the bill, but the fee is substantially higher to cover the operation costs of the agency.
In agencies, you have a team of professional designers working on your project, but you happen to communicate mostly with the manager. There is very little possibility for the other team members to communicate with designers directly, involve them in the team, get designers to better understand the product, company, and its values.
The amount of work the agency performs is decided at the stage of brief, at the very start of the collaboration. Whenever you need something extra, you would have to pay for it separately.
The agency is the best choice when you have a large project to do in a short period of time. Even when you have an in-house designer, agency services are needed when the tasks require specific skills or when the project is too big for internal staff to handle.
Despite most companies choose between an in-house designer and an agency, there are more options on the market. You can hire freelancers, a remote team, or combine one of them with an in-house designer.
The pros and cons of hiring freelancers are well known. For the design work, it means lower costs but lower reliability: freelancers can disappear any moment, without even handing out the work to someone else.
Freelancers are a good choice when you have an in-house designer who knows well what kind of tasks can be easily outsourced and can find good freelance designers to do the job.
This option combines the best of agencies and in-house designers. Retainer agency offers you top designers who would work on your project constantly, communicate with the team, and deliver the results in time. All that for a fixed monthly fee that doesn’t include the manager’s salary.
Retainer agencies are good for the products that are in constant development and want to conduct ongoing research to better respond to users’ needs.
While classical agencies are great for advertising campaigns, retainers are made for UX design, where the project needs constant research and improvement. Design services with fixed recurring costs are a perfect fit for the modern SaaS companies that have recurring incomes from the subscription-based business model.
Want to learn more about retainer model? Check out this page.
Choosing between an agency and an in-house designer is not easy. If you find yourself confused, use this simple rule: when you have little time, go with an agency, when you have more time but less budget, go with an in-house designer.
When the situation is more complicated, remember that it’s not either one or another: you can have both in-house designers and agencies. Some companies hire different agencies for different projects to have less risk and see which one performs better. Also, there are freelancers and agencies with different business models, such as retainer: it is like outsourcing design services and all the related headaches to a team of professionals who provide constant UX support for your company.