From young startups to well-established businesses, every one involved in building digital products these days gets the importance of hiring design resources to create (within a set of constrains) valuable experiences that fulfil both user and business needs.
UX design is one of the most in-demand disciplines and is considered a key to successful product strategy. In an increasingly competitive market, good design is not a “nice to have” anymore.
During our years working in UX, we’ve seen many companies – particularly those with small, remote-distributed teams, tight budgets and ambitious deadlines, struggle to find the right fit for their design needs. No doubt finding experienced, valuable AND affordable design can be challenging, but not impossible.
Entrepreneurs, startups and businesses needing design resources for their products usually end up investing in one of the following options:
A full-stack UX, Jack-of-all-trades designer
Two or more complementary UX roles
A partnership with a design studio or agency
An internal design team
When budget is constrained, hiring the right design help is crucial to give you most value for money without compromising quality of outcome. It’s key to understand the set of risks and downfalls that come with these hiring approaches before making a decision.
Option #1: Hiring a full-stack UX, Jack-of-all-trades designer
We constantly see recruiters and companies on LinkedIn hunting for a rock-and-roll, UX design ninja to be part of their agile team and embed their design outcome into sprint production.
Candidates must be able to conduct research and deliver insights, strategise, conceptualise solutions, model the IA, execute pixel-perfect designs, implement engaging micro-interactions and deliver developer-ready wireframes… at the same time they prototype (in both low and high fidelity) and conduct usability tests on their intended solutions with target users.
Risks & downfalls
You can’t expect good, fast and cheap design at the same time from a sole designer
One person can’t do it all, and do it right. Even if you hire an experienced, rock-star UXer, they can’t generate on their own enough polarity and critical thinking to come close to “more, better” design. Working individually makes harder to push limits and build confidence about designs
If they follow a user-centric approach when designing, they will slow down production as they have to research, create concepts, implement designs, recruit users, test, learn and iterate on solutions without assistance. Agile teams can’t afford weeks of refinement with developers on the bench waiting to execute designs. Missing deadlines and creating bottle necks is a big risk to consider
If they’re fast at the job, chances are they are cutting corners and lacking user feedback loops in their process, exposing them to multiple blind spots
One sole designer would struggle to facilitate usability testing on their own designs in an effective, honest way
Option #2: Hiring two or more complementary UX specialists
Some businesses opt for investing in two or more independent UX roles to complement skill sets (such as hiring one researcher, one information architect and one UI designer for a project). This option should improve quality of design outcome and speed up production, but it comes at a higher cost.
In our professional experience, we’ve found this approach only works efficiently if specialists sit next to each other and work closely. We’ve seen companies making serious efforts to invest in good, in-depth user research, only to go to waste by handing over the documented learnings to a designer who will struggle to make sense of insights without context, or what’s worse, ignore or under-utilised them.
Risks & downfalls
Companies with tight budgets can’t necessary afford investing in multiple design roles
It’s harder to transfer knowledge when designers are not directly involved in research
It requires more client involvement to manage their UX talent
It requires time among specialists to define and adjust their workflows
It requires extra business processes in place to coordinate design collaboration
Documentation meant to be hand-over requires more detail and time than a “show, don’t tell” approach
Option #3: Hiring a design studio or agency
This option comes at a lower risk than the previous one, as the studio provides not only the technical skills required, but also their own processes and team workflows. Working with a design agency helps defining the scope of the project, puts a plan in place and time-box the design outcome. Using an external team also means the project is always someone’s priority, not yours, but you pay the extra cost for it. You need to cover costs for account managers and project management.
Risks & downfalls
Good design studios and agencies tend to be expensive
You have to define up front the scope of the work and the deliverables you expect, making it less flexible and leaving less margin to pivot or change requirements as work gets done
You have to invest on workflows and communication channels between your business and the company you’ve outsourced the design
They usually involve extra costs on suppliers to recruit and manage research participants and to book lab-testing facilities
Low-cost agencies that promises cheap and fast results usually don’t follow a rigorous approach to user-centred design. They tend to cut corners when it comes to UX research and user testing and are more inclined to deliver upon business requirements, even if it’s at the expense of users
Option #4: Building an internal team
This option is good if you are committed to invest in valuable, ongoing design talent for the long run. Establishing your in-house team gives you the opportunity to step back and let your UX experts focus on ways to design valuable products that meet your business goals and that your users will love.
Risks & downfalls
It’s not cheap: You’re hiring employees and you’ll have to provide ongoing salaries and perks, such as paid holidays, sick leaves and health insurance
It involves a longer-term commitment with the talent you hire
It doesn’t reward efficiency in the same way, as payments are salary-based, not focus so much on outcome
As we’ve seen with these four approaches, there’s no one answer that fit all needs. When it comes to hiring design help, we want to voucher for an alternative way that can add more value, be less risky, and be more cost-effective than the others: Hiring a design pair, or in other words, getting two designers that work as one for your project. (Spoiler alert: We are part of a design pair).