Is your new UX project getting you worried? Here’s how you can pick the right design partner.
Design is AS important for the success of your business, as the content and functionality. Unfortunately, Design is often an afterthought!
Every $1 invested in UX results in a return of $100
A good UX design will help you keep your customers happy, as well as bring success to your business. If users like using your website or product, they are more likely to come back and use it again. And this will lead to a sale. Without a good user experience, your business will suffer.
There might come many situations when YOU would look for a design company to partner with. Maybe you're launching a new business, or you think you need a brand refresh. You could be planning a strategic marketing campaign, or you probably are a design agency and want to partner with a UX design firm to help offload some extra work that might be pouring in.
Whatever your motive might be, you need some expert help.
But with so many companies competing in the market, choosing the right agency becomes a challenge. And you know you want to pick the most incredible partner from the best of them.
The question is - HOW are you going to take that decision?
Let’s look at a couple of criteria that you might think of when start creating the assessment criteria.
Would you consider LOCATION as one of the criteria?
Due to COVID-19, people are working remotely and almost everyone is open to picking agencies around the world. With teams scattered across the globe, people are managing overlaps in time zones very well. So in the current situation, the location might not be one of the assessment criteria for you.
The next highly sought after criteria are MONEY.
Is it going to be Cost or Budget that influences your decision? In most cases, you are NOT looking to save money when it comes to finding a partner who can play a huge role in making your business work and customers convert!
Money is important but that surely shouldn’t be the decision parameter. You need to be looking for a “reasonable” engagement and not the “cheapest”. You will understand what the reasonable cost is in your given situation when you speak to multiple agencies.
The golden rule of choosing any vendor or partner is -
“All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to those people they know, like and trust.”
You need to look beyond the conventional or orthodox criteria and emphasize on identifying credible Design partners. The agencies you trust, who can act as a partner, and most importantly who understand your business goals and pain points.
Now, the difficulty lies in figuring out WHO you can trust. Every UX Design firm will have a strong sales process and they will be putting their best people, the best mock-ups, and the chosen designs upfront. They will all make very similar claims about being creative, engaging and having the most flawless communication and design processes. It’s hard to tell who is overplaying, and who's not.
Most companies are used to interviewing potential partners – asking them to deliver a presentation and written proposal. This is a conventional practice when interviewing a partner for technology, or even a Marketing agency. But this process breaks down when it comes to UX Design.
Let’s discuss some things YOU can do to make a worthwhile selection.
Define the business goals you want to achieve with this partnership
Let’s take a step back and think, WHY do you need help from a UX Design partner? If your answer is “because we want to add a visual wow” then we're not considering the root of the problem. Why do you need that visual wow? What do you think it will bring? should be the question.
People often believe that a website redesign or visual refresh is the business goal when in fact the real business goals are better user adoption, customer acquisition, improved support for sales and marketing, etc. The more clarity you have internally on your real business goals and the reason for bringing in a UX Design partner, the easier it is to settle on the type of partner you're looking for and to determine the selection criteria.
What is going to be your evaluation criteria?
Once you have defined the business goals you are looking to achieve from the partnership, it gets easier to list the evaluation criteria for your team internally. These criteria will be subjective to your specific business goals.
You should have your evaluation criteria ready before you go out looking for Design partners. This helps to amplify the differences among vendors and will help you narrow down the list of Design partners on those specific criteria that are important to your business.
- For example, if your company wants to launch a new app in the market and the business goal is to acquire new customers.
- In this case, the key factors you would be looking for could be
- Find similar success stories in their work they have previously done and their outcomes
- Similar industries they have worked with
User Experience Research Capabilities
A good UX Design vendor should be asking you upfront: “What are your business and product goals? How do you think UX Design can help? How will you select your partner?”
Many creative agencies excel in the visual/aesthetic part of UX Design. While the design aesthetic is a key aspect of a product, it is only a small part of the overall design solution.
For example, your company is looking to increase the number of registrations on your website. The insights on what will engage and drive users to register will come from techniques like paper prototyping, user research or contextual inquiry, and many other possible UX research methodologies. When deciding on a UX Design partner, we need to look for firms that include some form of user experience research in their approach.
It’s no longer enough to choose a design partner solely based on their technical expertise and ability to deliver the project at hand. Since your Design partner will be serving as an extension of your team, cultural compatibility shouldn’t be overlooked.
When the goals and aspirations are highly aligned, the potential for seamless integration increases. This is what you look for when hiring a new employee, and the same diligence and thoughtful approach should be spent when choosing a new Design partner for your company.
The best way to find out whether there is a good cultural fit between the companies is to ask them if they are willing to meet for a design workshop. Most UX Design engagements start with a creative workshop that involves a discussion on business goals and requirements as well as some creative thinking. Find out if they are open to arranging a half-day or full-day workshop to give you real insights into what working together will be like and if your respective cultures ‘fit’.
The best UX firms will embrace this opportunity, and use it to evaluate whether they think you are a cultural fit for them too!
You will be able to get a glimpse of their processes, design approach and methodologies. Good UX companies should be able to accurately describe design processes. You will know if they can reason and have a story backed-up with data behind the design decisions.
In addition to the immersion workshop, don’t be afraid to ask for at least a few customer references. If a vendor hesitates, that should raise a red flag.
Impartial references tend to be great sources of insight on how the firm really works, how they deal with conflict and unexpected challenges like time constraints, creative differences, etc.
Then make sure you call those references and ask questions such as:
- Was the Design agency punctual?
- How would you rate the quality of their services?
- If something went wrong, did they make it right?
- Would you work with them again?
Ability to provide Design Consulting
The design agency should be your business partner and not just another outsourced vendor. You need people who have enough knowledge and experience to spot potential UX blockers and identify further optimization opportunities.
It is important to have Designers on board who have the expertise to recommend operational services and professional advice when it comes to improving a design. This will create that clear difference where you will know when you have met an industry thought leader.
One of the signs of an outstanding UX agency lies in its ability to develop a UX that can unlock the potential of your idea and help you gain substantial competitive advantage.
How strongly do they emphasize business outcomes?
Look for business value in their case studies - lookout for how their projects managed to bring in value for the business. After all, there’s no point in a pretty website if it doesn’t help to draw in customers.
A UX team with varied skills
The value proposition of most design agencies revolves solely on their excellent UX design capabilities, but some agencies can offer a much wider variety of skills.
Experienced Design agencies provide more than just UI/UX design services. They also include UX strategy and planning, UX writing, workflow/functional design, workshops, branding, user research, and content strategy services.
When you are already working with a design agency, they are familiar with your brand and totally understand your business objectives. At any point in your engagement, your business might demand design expertise, correlated or not. You wouldn't want to repeat the entire process of discovery with another vendor to fulfil the extra demands in your product. A UX agency that offers varied design services will help you save time, effort and cost, by meeting your requests with their in-house team of experts.
Community Contribution is a tool for you to gauge passion and stay up-to-date with relevant technology and trends. My contributions to the community, you are assured that the people you are going to work with are not only excellent at their skills but are also passionate about it.
To summarise, here’s the mantra to pick a right design partner for you - explained in three stages:
IDENTIFY - CULTIVATE - ACTIVATE
The first stage is to IDENTIFY. To identify the right Design vendor you may ask questions like:
- How long have they been in the industry? Ask why
- Why should you partner with them and not consider other agencies?
- What makes their business stand out compared to its competitors?
- Who are their clients?
Such questions will help you filter down to the Design partners who have the 'potential' to take your business to new heights.
At this point, you should have a list of potential vendors and you’d want to start cultivating the relationship with the selected agencies.
The answers you should be looking for in this stage —
- Does your vendor understand your industry?
- Does your vendor understand you, your business and your goals? Even if your vendor works in your industry, it's more important that your vendor understands you.
- Does your vendor know who your customers are? A good vendor not only cares about you but also cares about your customers.
- Does your vendor listen to you? There are some vendors out there who think they know it all. They lecture more than listen. These are not vendors you want to work with. You need someone who listens to you so they understand you.
- Is your vendor reasonably priced compared to the competitors? The key here is "reasonably priced" and not "cheapest"! After interviewing several vendors, you will have a good idea of what is reasonable.
- Is your vendor responsive? During the cultivation process, you should be corresponding with your vendor. From this experience, you know how responsive they are. Hint: If they are not responsive during the sales process, they will not be responsive after you hire them.
Now, how to cultivate? Here are some activities that will help you cultivate your relationship with the identified design vendors:
- Connect with the leadership on LinkedIn
- Engage with their leadership
- Invite them to your webinars and events, and attend their webinars/conferences
- If you like some of their recent work or project launch, set up a time to discuss their work and process
- Follow their top performer’s Dribbble account
- Invite them for guest blogs, write for them or they can write for you, i.e. if it is relevant
- Follow their social media accounts, stay up-to-date about the problems they are solving for their clients
- Add them to your mailing list, keep them informed about your brand and business growth
Make sure they are already learning about your brand and consumers.
Every interaction you have had while cultivating your relationship, you have taken something from each other, learnt and picked up something from one another, there has been a transaction of ideas.
Now, it’s just like pushing a button - when you have a design ask. By now, they have learnt about your company, your consumers AND are ready to bridge that gap and address your business goals and troubles, as they are truly prepared for it.
Choosing the right UX design partner can be overwhelming for most of us, especially those who aren’t familiar with the design process. But making the effort to translate your business goals and define the assessment criteria, could help you achieve profitable outcomes. Though such successful outcomes are not earned by just hiring a vendor - but it surely needs to start with a conscious engagement. Choose a partner whose skills align with your desired success, and you are certain to follow returns.