The business value of design is on the rise in the customer-centric age. Regardless of market share or industry, user experience (UX) design is becoming a major competitive differentiator, as customers are more likely to switch brands or leave purchases unfinished if they don’t enjoy an online or in-app experience.
To enact the UX best practices from the project’s onset, find a reliable design agency that will give you a hand using the five tips below. We suggest you act on them in order, as following this algorithm will weed out unreliable UX design agencies ill-equipped to handle your project. Of course, you can introduce more interim steps and checks to ensure the UX design agency for startups of your choice meets your requirements to a T.
Settle on a Team Size
Hiring a one-person UI/UX design team represented by a freelance designer is the cheapest option, therefore, the most sought after by startups. However, it’s also the riskiest one, as the designer becomes the project’s bottleneck, especially when juggling multiple clients and responsibilities. Even the most diligent designers can catch a cold, go for a career pivot, or change employers. Regardless of the force-majeure, you will be left with no UX support and will have to go through the search and onboarding process all over again.
Working with a development and design agency is a safer option. You get a range of expertise, and the vendor takes full responsibility for unforeseen circumstances to keep the UX design on track and within budget. Though this approach requires thorough research and calls for increased investment, it is more likely to produce the desired results.
Analyze the Portfolio
Start with the UX design agency’s website and Dribbble or Behance profiles. After browsing through past designs, consider three questions:
- How much experience does the company possess? Pay attention to the number of completed and delivered projects, not just the concepts that never saw the light of the day. Keep an eye out for the projects within your niche or target audience and compare them to the designs you’ve seen throughout the competition.
- How much variety is there in the agency’s designs? Some companies stick with the same layouts and offer nothing new or innovative regardless of the industry or project type. That’s not the partner you want on your side if you want your project to stand out post-launch.
- How good is their UX design? Check out the projects in your niche and consider the ease of use, navigation, and calls to action. If you’re looking to design a website, make sure the agency’s past designs are mobile-friendly and follow the SEO best practices.
Some companies avoid posting their full portfolio online. Still, you can reach out to those on your shortlist to request examples of past projects within your market niche. This will help you kill two birds with one stone by reviewing the portfolio and analyzing the communication approach.
Consider your preferred communication mode (email, instant messaging, video calls) and use it to conduct preliminary discussions and interviews. You need to evaluate how good the team is at understanding your needs, formulating proposals, and addressing your feedback. The latter is especially important, as you might need to introduce changes or request corrections once the project is underway.
Ask the design team about the projects they are most proud of and offer mild criticism. Analyze the way the team reacts to your comments. If they are open to suggestions and ready to agree that things could have gone better, you’re in luck. If the designers become overly defensive and unwilling to listen to your comments, however justified, they are unlikely to heed your feedback throughout your partnership.
Evaluate the Proposal
The content of the proposal you get is the obvious factor to consider. You don’t want to cooperate with a company that isn’t interested enough to personalize the offer. Instead of copying your brief and pasting a price tag, a high-end UX design agency will offer a list of preliminary solutions and approaches tailored to your niche and project. Even if they don’t go into detail, the basic suggestions are usually enough to learn how interested the agency is in becoming your design partner.
The less obvious thing to study in a proposal is the layout and presentation. Do not trust a company that doesn’t bother designing proper file layouts for business communication. If they cannot develop a quality in-house solution, they are unlikely to treat your project any better.
Study the Processes
Research should be the design agency’s priority, regardless of the project or niche. Experienced UX designers will have a million questions about the target audience, user personas, their needs, and requirements. If you cannot provide the answers to all these questions, the agency should be able to conduct market research in your stead.
Avoid companies that jump straight into building wireframes and designing mockups. They will likely rely on recycled past projects and well-worn designs that are far removed from your customers’ needs. Ideally, the design team should be up-to-date with current UX research and trends instead of relying on gut feeling and knowing what’s best for users.
The project management approach is also crucial. The UX agency should provide you with a communication framework, an updated schedule, and access to collaboration tools in use. You should also discuss the form of design delivery, qualitative and quantitative deliverables, project scope, timeline, budget, and more.
Finding the right UX design agency to work on your startup project is an intense, time-consuming task. However, if you follow our tips and treat your search seriously, you might come up with a long-term design partner that will stay by your side for years to come. After all, finding the right team is one of the most reliable ways to keep your startup from failing, like the unlucky 9 out of 10 do.