At some point in your business career, you will have to decide between hiring an in-house designer or working with a UX design agency. While there’s no right answer, it helps to understand the differences between both scenarios so you can make the best choice.
As a quick disclaimer, you are reading the blog of a UX design agency. So I’m going to try to be as objective as possible based on my experience and what I would like to have known then.
Let’s explore the five main factors that you should consider deciding between hiring in-house vs. an external UX design agency based on the amount of risk that you assume by going either way.
The main factors to consider when deciding between hiring in-house vs. a UX agency are:
- Specific expertise
- Amount of experience
- Degree of commitment
- Ramp-up time
UX design agencies can be very effective at solving specific problems because they are used to addressing the same issues you have for their other clients.
If you need to solve a specific problem quickly, you’ll hardly find a more ROI than what a UX design agency offers you.
On the flip-side, an in-house designer might be better for a long-term objective. They benefit from the deep connection they have with your company and have the time to explore and experiment before committing to a course of action.
This one depends mostly on the type of project. Specific and short-term, go with a UX design agency. But if you have a long-term goal that’s not very well defined yet, the in-house UX designer will better suit your needs.
Thanks to remote work democratization, hiring managers have access to a truly global talent marketplace. This opens a world of possibilities (no pun intended) for optimizing your needs in terms of cost, quality, and skillset.
Depending on your needs and how adequate your recruiting resources are, you can find great talent at any budget. That flexibility makes the answer to this category more nuanced.
UX design agencies can be pricey. But they deliver results fast. What’s more, agencies will advise what strategy to follow with your product, which can save you a lot of time and money in trial and error.
Like specific expertise, it’s a matter of what resources you have and how fast you need results. If you have more money than time, go with the UX design agency. If you have more time than money, hire in-house.
UX design agencies tend to have diverse teams with a range of skillsets that they combine depending on the project.
Getting access to a broad set of specialists can be prohibitively expensive for your company and, in many ways, impractical. Many problems only require a specific type of expertise for a limited time that doesn’t justify hiring full-time.
With a UX design agency, you gain access to fractional expertise that matches your project needs in terms of knowledge and duration. What’s more, you don’t have to worry about making the wrong decision when hiring for a specific skill outside your field. The agency already did that work for you.
Here I want to talk about the type of engagement that you get with either choice.
When you hire in-house, you are committing to paying a monthly salary indefinitely to someone who counts on it to support their family. Few things are more difficult in a professional setting than letting a great employee go because of budgetary reasons.
This is a situation we saw far too many companies suffer during the covid crisis in 2020. Many companies had to let go of some of their best in-house UX designers to survive.
In contrast, putting a pause on your engagement with an external UX design agency is far less dramatic and not nearly as emotionally taxing as letting go of an employee.
You can always bring back the UX design agency once your company gets back on its feet, but that great in-house UX designer will undoubtedly already be working somewhere else, and you won’t be able to get them back.
Depending on the position, most recent hires won’t be fully productive until after a few months. They need time to get acquainted with the team, familiarize themselves with your design system, and get up to speed with company policies.
As a manager, when you hire full-time in-house, you will feel the burden of having to “fill up” their time. Coming up with tasks to give to your new hire can take up a lot of your time and peace of mind. Ideally, you would want to hire a very proactive person that manages to stay busy, but unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, and you end up with very talented people who need more hand-holding.
An external UX design agency doesn’t have to carry the baggage of learning your company ways. Since they work as a separate entity, they hit the ground running and start being productive from day one with their own set of processes.
UX design agencies also need a lot less supervision from a manager. They know what to do. They might be the ones helping you implement a new design process or best practice.
Depending on your specific case, there are situations in which it just makes more sense to work in a UX design agency instead of hiring a full-time, in-house UX designer.
To summarize, it all boils down to urgency, type or combination of skillsets, and budget. UX design agencies are faster and offer a broader set of skills. In-house UX designers are slower to start and riskier overall. My recommendation is that you spend some time pondering these variables before making your decision.
If you are considering working with a UX design agency, get in touch with our team for a free consultation. We’ll be happy to help you decide what’s best according to your specific needs.