Top 6 UX design agencies in New Zealand

Last update: May 2020

I have been working in the software industry for more than 20 years and I am not surprised when colleagues are confused when they are looking for a good design agency in New Zealand. Design has changed a lot over the past decade.

I have never found a decent list of design agencies in New Zealand, so I gave it a thought and decided to put one together myself. I started gathering intel on agencies that I have worked with in the past or that I’ve followed through the years, and here is what I could come up with.

In my experience, one of the most important things is that the agency fits the project.

The short version of the list of UX-UI design agencies:

  1. Creative Navy
  2. Neon Hive
  3. Mantis Digital
  4. Nodero
  5. Rocketship
  6. Sandfield

Where are the agencies in my list based?

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

I have selected agencies that have experience working in New Zealand, but not all of them have a permanent office in the country. All of these companies have experience designing digital products for the market in New Zealand and some are very successful on an international level.

Background to my list

As a freelancer I advise companies on how to optimize their projects. While working with many teams, both internally and with service providers, I have probably seen over 200 pitches.

During this time I learned a lot, saw good and bad results. Of course I need to have an overview of who can offer me what, whom I can rely on for specific expertise. This list is based on this experience, as well as contributions from other colleagues and information that can otherwise be found in general.

This list is certainly not complete or objective. Nobody has the key and whoever claims this will probably get a small bonus. The purpose of this list of UX design agencies in New Zealand is to make the search a little easier.

It is up to the reader to contact the agencies, get to know them properly, and decide whether they fit the project.

1) Creative Navy (🇳🇿New Zealand , 🇪🇺Europe)

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Creative Navy is the strongest agency in the field of enterprise apps and HMI worldwide. In Europe, the agency has been in first place for user experience designers since 2017 based on customer reviews.

What makes Creative Navy special is the robust design methodology and the feeling for complex and difficult projects. The team integrates psychology and cognitive sciences into the course of the projects.

Creative Navy is also one of the very few agencies worldwide that has experience with embedded systems or native software (automotive industry, navigation, etc.)

The agency is medium-sized and the main office is in the UK, but they have good international expertise, including in New Zealand.

💡Customers: Bosch, Vodafone, Rocket Internet, Socar (Switzerland), and other General Motors, Ford, OECD, Philips.

⚖️Conclusion: top agency for demanding projects.

📦Size: Medium

2) Neon Hive (🇳🇿New Zealand)

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With a result-driven, strategy-led approach, their creative team hones in on your brand vision and business goals in order to guide the overall look and feel of your website and creative.

As a digital agency that specializes in website design and development, they build leading digital experiences for passionate businesses in New Zealand and all around the world.

What makes Neon Hive special is that they also trust themselves in positioning and brand design. This is very important, especially for digital products aimed at consumers.

💡Customers: Summerset, Ray White, All Fast Solutions, Magills, Nick Harvey Online, Bax & Berg.

⚖️Conclusion: good for digital brands.

📦Size: Small.

3) Mantis Digital (🇳🇿New Zealand)

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Mantis is an enthusiastic design agency based in Auckland, New Zealand, which was founded in 2012.

They strategically partner with businesses to create intelligent digital solutions that boost their bottom lines.

Mantis has a great experience in web design and digital strategy in general. This is a good fit for startups in need of someone who is very diverse and who can contribute to their business strategy.

The agency has also done marketing and art projects. They have experience with micro-communities and general apps aimed at consumers.

💡Customers: The Tindall Foundation, What the fat, Tom and Luke, Novii, Pure Advantage.

⚖️Conclusion: Great choice for startups and small businesses.

📦Size: Medium.

4) Nodero (🇳🇿New Zealand)

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This particular digital agency specializes in digital strategy, web development but also does some good work for companies in the need of UX design. They excel at managing digital projects — working with technical and non-technical clients.

Their brand strategy is tantalizing, as they focus a good amount of their time on creating a corporate identity that will help their clients thrive in the current market.

Great experience working with non-profits, the government, or companies who provide services for the education industry or healthcare industry.

💡Customers: Massey University, Midcentral District Health Board, Toyota NZ, Palmerston North City Council.

⚖️Conclusion: Recommended for products in the healthcare and education industry.

📦Size: Medium.

5) Rocketshp (🇳🇿New Zealand)

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Like many agencies, Rocketshp leverages talent and processes to deliver superior results. They have a simple formula for creating superior value: tailored strategies, quality of execution, and continuous improvement.

Rocketshp gives small businesses access to every critical function: experienced strategy, breakthrough creative design, project management, and specialization on all major design channels.

They bring the important discipline of measurement, analysis, and continuous improvement to everything they do, as they are experts at reading data and transforming it into insights that drive business results.

💡Customers: AskNicely, Dynamo6, Ponoko, Seamless, Paysauce, Ziflow, Servilles, Figured.

⚖️Conclusion: Recommended for startups.

📦Size: Medium.

6) Sandfield (🇳🇿New Zealand)

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Sandfield is mostly known for software development, but they make good contributions to different products with their UX/UI designs.

Their service lines include product design, web development, mobile app development, and UX/UI design.

Sandfield can look back on a proud history of more than 30 years. They create custom-tailored systems that are robust, flexible, and cost-effective.

💡Clients: Foodstuffs, Lassoo, ParkMate, Green Acres Go, Allied Concrete, Monson.

⚖️Conclusion: Better suited for writing code than designing digital products.

📦Size: Big.

What does UX Design bring to me?

UX Design specifically helps:

  • Optimize conversion rates, not only in e-commerce but also upgrades from free accounts to premium, etc.
  • Reduction of errors (e.g. with tools)
  • Better design sells software
  • Features are used more
  • Collect more data
  • Integrate new ideas or new features
  • Extension of the software to new devices
  • Reduce training costs

When setting your goals on your design project, you should keep in mind these ideas. Even if they can’t be measured, they help you get a good overview of what to expect. My list is made up of some of the best UX-UI agencies and they all work goal-oriented.

What is a suitable UX/UI design budget?

Most of the time I am asked for advice if a design project becomes more expensive than the company hoped for. This shows how important it is to plan the right budget and that it is not so easy. On the one hand, you want to have enough time and money to create a decent product, on the other hand, you don’t want to waste resources — and that’s just as important for startups as it is for large companies.

In any case, you should remember that a UX design project is Research & Development. It’s not just execution.

Therefore, you should think about project phases so that each phase brings a little more certainty and clarity.

What I for the most part do is that I take a brief period, in the beginning, to create a straightforward idea for the product. Sometimes I do it alone, sometimes I bring external help on board. The purpose of this phase is to create sketches, to evaluate thoughts and, most importantly, to determine what should and what shouldn’t be done.

This usually takes a week, maybe two. Or if I get a UX agency involved, it will cost me around $ 8000.

With this initial concept, you can already develop a good budget idea, perhaps with a certainty of 80%. Dividing the project into design sprints is now much easier. I can also establish which modules are essential, where you may want to use 2 or 3 design sprints; or the less significant modules which can possibly be driven into a solitary sprint.

You can see how the topic of the budget becomes more specific. Of course, I see that about 20% of the resources (time, money) are free to have a little more attention available on some issues.

Usually, design agencies will split the cost equally between UX and UI, but from my experience those numbers end up becoming 70–30 with UX taking the bigger cut.

With the average rate for UX Design in New Zealand being around $ 1500 per day this is how I structure the costs.

Over time, I’ve discovered a few things that may sound a little weird but:

*)Even if the service provider integrates contingency into the budget, it is a good idea to put something aside yourself;

*)There should be a good relationship with the agency so that you can really talk openly about money because that way you can reconcile the costs;

*)It is essential to understand that there is something experimental about product design in the digital domain, and in the end, you are paying for professional help to cope with the complexity of the project not just a couple of pictures;

*)Problems with the budget arise due to uncertainties — so one should work consciously to convert uncertainty into clarity — ideally at the beginning of the design project;

*)A good product manager will always take into consideration what a design sprint brings to the table in terms of added value and will guide the team in a direction that really makes the product better.

How do I determine if a design agency suits me?

The fact that the company is listed as one of the best UX agencies does not make it an immediate good fit. Their profile and expertise must match the needs of your project. The list make you job of finding the perfect fit easier, but when conducting an interview with a UX design agency you should clarify the following aspects:

Does the company understand my product? — Every product has its quirks and its place in the market. The design should help the product cement its place. Therefore, you should make this a point of emphasis in your conversation with the design agency.

Do the designers understand my users? — Designers have to understand users, otherwise they cannot make their lives easier. Designers learn about user research through user research, but you should think about how far designers can show empathy.

Do you have the same vision on what the product should be? — That may sound a little American, but until a product is finished, it has to be built. The question arises whether the design agency understands where it should go or not.

Does the design company have experience with similar projects? — There may be industry expertise, complexity, or technology. The fact is, if someone has already built something similar, or has dealt with certain modules, that’s certainly not a bad thing.

Will the partnership work ?— Things like transparency, interaction, customer desires, etc. must be compatible. Not even the finest UX agency will be able to help if partnership is not meant to be.

Does their know-how match the project demands ? — Whether you it’s technical or not, you need to make sure the design agency you pick has the necessary skills to deliver your project.

What does a good design brief look like?

The briefing gives an overview of what should be achieved, what to do with it, what restrictions exist, etc.

Therefore the design briefing should address the following subjects:

Goals — what’s the plan ? What role does design play on the whole. This is how the organization understands the context and why it is addressed at all.

Overview of the products — if there are several products on offer, it should be made clear what is handled and what is not.

How the product works — a short explanation does not harm, including modules, functions, and features. Even the best agencies need a little help.

Project status — Any ideas or sketches should be integrated into the briefings. Is there any user feedback? Is there a design that has already been tried?

What was not done — if something specific is desired, it must be clearly mentioned so that the design agency can comment on it?\.

What is not wanted — if certain activities are not needed, it must be clear.

Logistics — Certain details must be taken into account like start date, restrictions, or what technologies are needed.

Summary — if the briefing gets long, it doesn’t hurt to underline what is really important to you.

Skills to look for in a UX design agency

Agencies are a mixture of skills and this mixture brings added value.

It is difficult for a company that is not design-focused to employ a good and diverse design team.

Here are the key skills you should expect from one of the best design agencies:

User Experience Design (UX) — this is of course the core competence and here you should also inquire about the experience the agency has with UX Design. UX designers create layouts, sketches, and concepts about how the software works without having to deal with colors or graphics.

User Research — There are a great number of different methods of user research. The first thing you need to do is understand the users acknowledge their needs.

Product development — this particular skill creates product concepts, i.e. which features should exist in the app, what the features do, and what not.

UI design or visual design — refers to the aesthetics of the product, details such as colors, graphics, and how the wireframes ultimately look in the end product. This is important because the identity of the product comes about here. In the top design agencies, however, UI Design is completely separate from UX Design.

Interaction design — this is probably the latest skill in the field of digital products. It is about conceiving the transitions and the movement of visual elements. Many apps are becoming more and more immersive and hence, it is necessary to have an interface designer.

Design Ops — Similar to Dev Ops, this is about how the design process works, how the graphic elements are maintained, the cooperation in a team, etc. As a customer, you don’t interact directly with Design Ops, unless you have a design team and you have to do it yourself to get integrated.

Project management — of course the project manager takes care of the administrative aspects, but it should be pointed out that this role is important for the success of a project, especially if it contains only 1–2 design sprints.

What types of design projects are there?

If you are looking for the best design agency you have to think about what kind of project you have. That seems obvious, but sometimes you forget that there are other types of UX design.

The first difference is made by technology:

Native Mobile (iOS, Android) — simply mobile apps that work directly on the smartphone and where a desktop variant is not important. Mobile has certain types of UX designs that fit the screen.

Mobile web and desktop web — although Mweb is linked to native smartphone apps, the same code usually has to work on a larger screen. Therefore, the user experience has to be created differently here.

Design for embedded systems — Few user experience design agencies have experience with such projects. This kind of apps may be opened as a function in a browser, but are used in many other contexts and their requirements are unique. Native Mac or Windows — this is the classic software that works directly on a laptop or desktop, not in a browser.

Cross-Platform — a mixture of all these options.

Digital products also differ in how they are used:

Sales — it’s about user experience where the user should end up making a purchase, which means that it’s not just about user-friendliness, but also flair. E-commerce is an example, but the same is true for services.

Consumer apps — apps for everyone, people who have no training, and where the apps are mostly used for entertainment.

Enterprise Apps — Apps that are used professionally and where the user has certain knowledge that is brought to bear by the user experience.

How important is the size of the agency?

*)A small agency does not automatically mean insufficient skills to deliver a project. You do however need a minimum of 7–8 people on a team to meet current demands. Bigger is not better, and by no means, smaller is worse. It might just mean that they are specialized in a particular trait or technology.

*)Large agencies with more than 50 designers have an image of reliability, which is partly true, but you can never know what you will get because you only get the top designers rarely or only for a short time. That’s why I think that these agencies are better suited to simple projects.

Is the location of the agency important?

In terms of culture, location is pretty relevant. You want a service provider who knows the current market and can understand the consumers.

I have had the chance to work with agencies from all over the world. Some were good, some were great, and some were learning experiences. The digital transformation has made its mark on society as we know it, giving the world access to all kinds of information. But from my experience I can definitely say the cultural differences are still there.

What can I expect during the tender?

After the agencies have looked at the design briefing, it probably makes sense to get to know each other better in a short conversation. Exchange questions. This often helps define how the design process will go and will give you the chance to make your expectations known from early on.

Sometimes case studies are presented or a presentation is given about how the agency wants to work on the project, i.e. Strategy, collaboration, etc.

The fact is, conversations help you get a better feeling about whether the collaboration would work, especially if you have a lot of questions.

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Written by

Experienced IT project manager and IT specialist. I support digital projects in all phases: from conception to development and design.

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