What did i learn switching from a company to a design agency as UX Designer?

My former job was Interaction Designer for Stylight, an ecommerce aggregator based in Munich, Germany. Stylight is a cool company with almost 200 employee at that time and with a team of 15 designers (UX, IX, illustrators, graphic and so on). Working there means working in an agile environment, where the team is in charge of the product and where everyone in the team has the same possibility to say something about what they’re designing. Starting January 2017 i decided to move to a design agency, just because i never worked in an agency before and i was curious to challenge myself with this. I decided to move back to Switzerland and I joined Ander Group, an interesting agency in Lugano with 10 designers, working mainly in the digital design field. I decided to write this because i had so many questions when i started and i hope i can help somebody else doing the same switch.

Time matter

Working for a company means you are designing for yourself, you can have all the pressure you want but there’s no client waiting for the stuff you are doing. For sure dealing with an internal deadline is different than dealing with an external client. Usually you can easily talk with the team you are designing for and telling them you need 3 days more for the wireframe they were waiting for, you can’t do this with a client.

Time = money

Time is money, everybody says that but u never really face this till u are in a design agency. If you sold a project for a certain amount of money you know that you have a certain amount of days you can work on it. As designers we know we could work on a project forever, is never finished and can be always better. In an agency you really have to challenge yourself to get the best out of it in a given time. If you pass the deadline (in the case you are super lucky and the client agree) you are losing money.

Agile is not so easy in an agency

In Stylight i was working really agile and i have to admit this, I fucking love it. I think working agile in a dev team is the best thing you can do, everything goes smooth, everybody have clear goals and more important everybody knows what to expect every two weeks. If you can’t wait 2 weeks the problem is not agile, is something else.

Right after my start in Anger Group i tried to apply everything i knew about agile in the agency, well, is not exactly the same. Working at multiple project per time for different clients and with different deadlines really messes up everything. If you want to apply agile in an agency you need to be really structured and plan your workflow in a perfect way.

Deal with the client

In a company you have no client, or at least you have no external client usually. You can have internal client but is something different. Dealing with the client is an important side of the job in an agency. How you deal with it will let your job being smooth and clean or a hell. I stumbled upon a blog once, hell of a client, and everything is true. Except that the client act how you let them act. As designers we need to reach the client and to create a workflow with them that won’t let them change everything 2 days before the deadline. The story about not being in charge of how the client will react to our job is just bullshit. Make the client being part of your design process, make them feel active and be clear about what you will provide them and when and the client will be happy.

Happy client = happy designer
Happy designer != happy client

1+1 is not 2

Well, I already knew this from Stylight but here is even more clear. The real power of an agency is not the singles designers, is the fact that they will work together to achieve one single goal. An agency is more than a bunch of freelancer sharing a desk. If you settle up your agency with designers that doesn’t talk to each other the client won’t see the value in your agency.

Up and down

In a company your work is always stable. You always have the same amount of stuff to do. Sure u can can have some period of the year with more work (a fair, a show, a release…) but usually you have the same stuff to do from Monday till Friday. In an agency is not like that, you cannot put your client in a queue and let them wait. There will be times with a lot of stuff to do and times with nothing (well, hopefully not nothing) to do. Just plan some side projects in order to have something to work on when you’ll have the down time.

Wider vs deeper

I spent the last 2 years of my life designing basically one single customer journey. The way u can go deeper in a company you’ll never face it in an agency. You learn a lot in a company about your users, if you are lucky to have a lot of users (I had 15 millions per month) you can get a lot of insights that you will use again later in your career. In an agency you can go wider than deeper. You can switch project every 3/6 months and start again, it’s not better or worse it’s just a different approach. The only advice I can give is to not just let go the project u do. Just not ship a website and forget about it. Take care of it and propose to the client a review of the KPIs and of the goals after 6 months in order to optimize it and you’ll have the perfect mix between working for a company and an agency.

So far this is what I got from working in an agency, it’s just 6 months so I guess I’ll have new thoughts in a few.