How to choose a UX Design agency

3 Jun 2020

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Journal / JPG / Dymitr Romanowski - avatar
Dymitr Romanowski
Product Designer, Head of Design

You made the decision to employ a UX Design agency. I will avoid using the names of any of the companies, because I don’t want this article to be considered biased, but I will share what I know about UX companies from the inside. You can then decide what to do with this knowledge and how to use it.

Perhaps you are designing a completely new digital product, or maybe your task is to redesign an existing application. It turns out that someone who professionally designs the application interface is needed.

We know that choosing a UX agency isn’t easy. There are several hundred companies in Poland and several thousand in Europe that say they know UX. How do you choose the right UX agency from all these choices?

 

First approach. You know the market of UX agencies and want to filter out those who are unable to adapt to your needs

Specify design requirements and restrictions. I would start by setting a budget and an ideal project completion schedule. This will effectively filter out UX agencies that:

  1. cannot provide availability at the time you need the UX team;
  2. can't work with the budget you have at the time you need them.

If you already know the market and have a good grasp of the rates being charged, then by setting the budget and schedule, you’re not wasting valuable time collecting offers, presentations, and meetings with UX companies that will not be able to start the project with your budget and timescale. This approach will benefit both you and your suppliers.

There remains the question of design requirements. Let this list of requirements serve as a checklist in your Excel table, to guide you and ensure you choose a good UX agency. I will come back to this checklist in a moment, but for now let's determine what to do if you do not know the UX market well and you want to evaluate the work of the UX team for your IT project.

Second approach. You want to get to know the UX agency market and price your work

UX in Poland is a relatively new field. In the context of digital products, UX has not yet become a default requirement, and the only university training UX designers is SWPS. Companies have problems with defining the duties and place of the UX specialist in their organizational structure. One of the reasons why it isn’t surprising you may have a problem making your choice and determining the role and responsibilities of UX.

What should you pay attention to when choosing a contractor using the first or second approach?

Checklist when choosing a UX Design agency

Do they know WCAG and SEO

The result of a good digital product is not just the usability and design. A web application, website, or online store will succeed as a result of combining three competences - usability, accessibility and SEO.

Why there should be usefulness in explaining the competence of an agency is unnecessary. But what does accessibility and SEO have to do with it? It turns out to be directly linked.

The accessibility of a website in Poland, better known as the WCAG 2.1 standard, introduces rules into the design of the interface and website that make it readable for the visually impaired, hearing impaired people, and those with mobility limitations. This is 10% of users. Is the website accessible to a disabled person, legible and understandable also for a non-disabled person? Yes of course. Will the website created without WCAG knowledge be legible to people with disabilities? There’s a high probability it won’t. WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) contains not only recommendations to improve the usability of the site for people with disabilities, but also affects how the structure of the site is built, which can directly affect the visibility of the website in search engines. So it’s tempting to say that by using WCAG recommendations on your site, you also care about the SEO of your site (for example, using alternative texts for images).

SEO as a set of requirements posed by the Google search engine, however, imposes the principles of readable site map, information structure and architecture. As a result, a logical user path is created that leads them straight to the goal, i.e. conversion. We need such services - converting ones.

In other words, UX is required to know not only the design and nice design principles, but the WCAG and SEO standards.

Ask which projects have been designed taking into account the requirements of a couple of relevant areas. Which of the agency's employees has certificates confirming knowledge of at least one of the issues.
 

Does the UX team have a front-end in-house developer?

The least you can expect from a UX agency is to have a UX Designer and UI Designer. Watch out for any project that comes out of hand of an UI Designer without front-end developer's review. It's about an experienced programmer being responsible for checking the graphic design (UI) and coding the user interface. 

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You can save up to 15% on your web development budget.

You may ask if it’s possible for a UI Designer to make mistakes? Even if he doesn't make mistakes, he may propose solutions that are difficult for a programmer to code. As a result, coding the design will take a ridiculously long time for the programmers, which will have to be paid for.

What increases the chances of a good UI from the programmer's point of view? In the absence of a front-end UX developer and the UI Designer's knowledge of HTML and CSS at an advanced level, or at least an intermediate one. A UI Designer does not need to know JavaScript or the React or Angular frameworks. And an agency's talk about the fact the UI Designer learns back-end language is largely pointless and doesn’t matter for the interface design process.

What factors increase the chance of keeping the costs of UI implementation by front-end developers down? Designing for a specific framework - Material Design (MD), Bootstrap, Bulma etc.

So it's worth asking if the front-end developer is internal to the agency or not. You can easily pay more for such a UX Design agency, because you will save twice as much money and time when coding.
 

UX researcher in the IT project team

UX is first and foremost a study of the users' perspective and understanding of a business problem. Only later designing wireframes and UI mockups, i.e. interface design.

You need to ask two questions - does the agency team have a researcher? If not, what research portfolio does the UX Designer have?Above all, you need a qualitative researcher with experience in UX audits, usability tests, in-depth qualitative interviews, user routine testing, and while not as essential, they should also have experience in ethnographic research.

You will probably say you already know everything or have a list of software requirements. The vast majority of customers in Poland skip the user survey stage for budget and time reasons. This is how most MVP digital products manufactured in Poland are created. However, once you’ve received a positive market response to your product, you return to research and optimize your product, because you get feedback from users, team members, or you see first hand that your product is not perfect and it’s worth improving.

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7 out of 10 projects risk failing due to a lack of product testing on users.

It may surprise you, but in 2008 researchers Forrester Research and Neochange found that 70% of IT projects fail because of a lack of acceptance from users. Only 16% of users appreciate the functional aspect of the software. For most customers, functionality is not a distinguishing feature of your digital product. It’s something that is considered the norm. The distinguishing features are the emotions and user experience about the product it uses.

The presence of a researcher or UX Designer with research experience in the team will be a valuable contribution to the design of your product. It's worth listening to this man. He will bring you considerable savings or protect you from failure.
 

UX writing

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The clear interface reduces the number of requests for help from users, thanks to which you save on support costs.

A UX writer is not only a content writer or a person of texts. This is a specialist that has experience supported by research about what texts and call-to-actions stimulate the user to act and with what effect. This is the designer of textual triggers, a poet of behavioral economics. They can formulate a message to help the user understand the interface, lower bounce rates and reduce support costs.

UX writing can be a UX Designer or UX researcher competence, but it doesn't have to be. UX writing is a separate service because, unlike copywriting, it provides the customer with confidence that the proposed texts will bring measurable benefits to the product. Proposals should be supported by research.

The question to ask is whether the agency has a UX writing service, and if so, how will it present the result of its work? As texts or as texts with benchmarks, including results and conclusions from research? If the latter, you will get a valuable service for which it’s worth paying extra. If it's the first, you'll get copywriting.
 

UX / UI Design agency portfolio

Now you know what’s beyond the budget criteria for evaluating an agency, you are able to evaluate its portfolio. While previously you were guided by a subjective assessment - known clients, presentation of the portfolio - now you are able to ask the agency for specific facts:

  • What was the duration of the project?
  • What requirements did the client have?
  • Which of the presented projects required the agency to be familiar with SEO design principles?
  • Which project required the agency to be familiar with WCAG guidelines, i.e. the interface accessibility standard for people with disabilities?
  • Was the submitted project verified by the front-end agency developer?
  • If yes, what changes have been made to the project as a result of the front-end developer review?
  • What research has been carried out for UX and web design?
  • How many tests or interviews with users have been carried out for the purposes of the project?
  • Was the UX writing or copywriting service provided?
  • What part of the project had a special impact on the quality of the results delivered?

 

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The analysis of key success factors is a method used to analyze the resources and skills of the analyzed enterprise. It's great for making decisions based on criteria of varying weight.

Assign a weight to each question on a scale of 1 to 3 or 1 to 5 according to the method of assessing key success factors and compare the agency's answers.
 

For larger UX Design projects

If your project is large, you need to evaluate the UX agency's ability to increase its resources.

Industry recruitment portals: pracuj.pl, bulldogjob.pl and a dozen others.

Team design tools: Figma, Sketch.

Ask the recruiter about the recruitment possibilities and the HR infrastructure. Ask for addresses of profiles on recruitment portals, links to the Career subpages of the UX website.

Check if the UX agency has an operational infrastructure that will allow project management as the team develops. It's about the ability to work remotely, project management software, and software for designing wireframes and UI mockups in a team.

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Finding a UX Design agency that suits you can be difficult. More often than not you will be dealing with someone who just wants to "close" a new customer.

Of course, I work in UX Design myself, but who else is better to write about choosing an agency in this field? SEO specialist, SEM agency? My conclusions come from my own experience, conversations with clients, the UX project implementation process and observation of the market I operate in.

I hope I helped you.

By the way, if you are here, check if our agency meets the criteria described above, and if it’s a good fit, just get in touch to see if we can cooperate? Send an inquiry and find out for yourself.
 

Journal / JPG / Dymitr Romanowski - avatar
Dymitr Romanowski
Product Designer, Head of Design
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