Top 5 Web Design Agencies in the World — February 2020
A list of the top web design companies. Find the best web design agency for your website project. Featuring web designers from San Francisco and New York.
Last Updated: February 18, 2020
In 2020, a well-designed website is a must-have for any serious business or brand. Whether you’re a Fortune 100 enterprise, an early-stage tech startup, or a local coffee shop, your website is the face of your company. And you need to work with the best web design agency to build it.
With tens of thousands of agencies and freelancers, skilled web designers and firms are still in high demand. So what are the world’s best web design companies? But how do you find the right one to create your web presence?
We’ve put together this list of the world’s top website design firms to help you with your research. You should expect world-class results and service when you hire any of the top website design agencies listed here. They will collaborate with you to create an excellent website for your brand with an impeccable user experience that converts site visitors into loyal customers.
You won’t find any firms here who claim they can do anything at $5–10 an hour. The best web design companies employ only top talent and are usually located in big tech hubs like San Francisco and NYC. It means they won’t be cheap, but if you’re looking for quality, this selection is right for you.
The World’s Top 5 Web Design Agencies — 2020 Ratings:
UI/UX, Branding, Web Design Agency — clay.global
Clay is a San Francisco-based web design agency focused on user experience, branding, and communications. They team up with the marketing departments of Fortune 100 companies and startups to design and build award-winning websites. You should watch their showreel and read an interview with their founders for Dribbble.
Location: San Francisco, CA
Key clients: Slack, Facebook, Google, Credit Karma, Coinbase, Cisco
Team Size: 32 employees
2. Hello Monday
Digital Experience & Branding Agency — hellomonday.com
Hello Monday is an award-winning design agency that creates immersive digital experiences, brand identities, and campaigns for a wide range of startups and leading brands. With 3 offices across the US and Denmark, they serve a global clientele. Hello Monday is one the most awarded agencies in the industry with over 100 FWA awards, 12 Webby’s, and 6 Cannes Lions.
Location: New York, Copenhagen, Aarhus
Key clients: YouTube, ESPN, National Geographic, Google, MoMA
Team Size: 106 employees
3. Work & Co
Digital Product Agency — work.co
Work & Co is a top digital product agency that designs and builds websites, apps, and everything in between for the world’s most respected brands. Each project at Work & Co is directly overseen by one of their 19 partners to ensure they deliver the best digital products and services. Their process features an active collaboration with the client through iterative design, prototyping, and testing.
Location: New York, Portland, São Paulo
Key clients: Apple, Chase, Virgin America, IKEA, Aesop, Nike, Facebook
Team Size: 309 employees
Creative Digital Experience Agency — activetheory.net
Active Theory is a digital design and development agency that creates meticulously crafted websites, apps, installations, VR & AR experiences mainly for the entertainment and movie production industry. They are a go-to agency if you’re looking to build an innovative or highly interactive web experience that can live in 3D or VR.
Location: Los Angeles, Amsterdam
Key clients: Rick and Morty, Magic Leap, Blue Shield, Google, Coachella
Team Size: 19 employees
Brand and User Experience Agency — heydays.no
Heydays is a boutique brand and user experience design agency from Norway. They help launch and maintain new products and companies through brand strategy, identity development, and digital product design. Heydays mainly work with early-stage companies to build a foundation for their brand.
Key clients: Oslo City Bikes, Kolonial, Huddly, Flokk, Pebble
Team Size: 14 employees
Why is good web design so important for your business in 2020?
The majority of people go to a brand’s website to get to know the company or find out about the products and services it offers. Today’s consumers have high expectations when it comes to a company website. It’s got to be user-friendly, extremely informative, visually appealing, fun, and memorable. People expect your website to work equally perfect across mobile, tablet, and desktop in all major browsers. In the era of Internet direct-to-consumer startups, a company’s website has become the main and only sales channel as well as the primary brand expression touchpoint.
A good website makes a positive and lasting first impression of your company. It’s also a money-making machine that provides unbeatable user experience and creates loyal customers. That’s why you need to work with the best web design companies to develop your site.
How to choose the best web design company
Finding a web design agency that can be a good fit for your project is a time-consuming task full of risks and unknowns. Before selecting a web design partner, you’ll spend hours researching online. Once you’ve identified a shortlist of potential design companies, you should do the following:
- Get to know the company via its website and social media. Go to their website and see if you like its aesthetics and usability. How do they talk about themselves? Is the message clear or convoluted? Who are their clients, and what work did they do for them? When was their website last updated? And a lot of intangible things like that. Remember, their website is a reflection of who they are and the results they deliver. So you shouldn’t expect high-quality work from a web design company with a buggy site that’s difficult to navigate and was never updated. Be sure to check out their social media accounts too. If they have a decent number of Twitter followers and post frequently, this means they’re active and have a good reputation among their peers. You should peruse their Instagram feed for a sneak peek of their life. It’s all about people and emotional connection, after all.
- Review their web design portfolio. The number one thing you should dive into after a general review of the agency’s website is dive deeper into their web design portfolio. If you’re considering to hire them for a web design job, see what they’ve done for others. In many cases, an agency would post a detailed case study about the project, but you should look beyond that. Go to the live website and see what it looks like. Is it user-friendly and mobile-optimized, does it perform well, etc.? You’re paying not for beautiful images but the working site.
- Define your budget. You should set aside a budget and find an agency that can deliver the best possible web design for the money. If you’re limited in how much you can spend, aim for smaller boutique firms that provide excellent quality work at a reasonable cost. Don’t be a cheapskate. Most web designers are bad salespeople, and they will agree to your terms, which could then result in an overall lack of interest in your project. You should pay well, and they will treat you as their best client.
- Hire a local web designer or agency. Before you turn to offshore firms to reduce your costs, make sure to chat with your local web design companies. Most of the time, they will be a better cultural fit even if you pay a premium for their services. Plus, you’ll be able to regularly meet with them in person to review designs eliminating all issues that may arise from remote collaboration.
- Check their reviews online and ask for client references. Regardless of how professional the agency’s website looks and how impressive their work is, you should do your due diligence. First, check their reviews online in places like Google Maps or professional review sites like Clutch. Before you decide to hire them, make sure to speak with 2–3 of their recent clients about their experience with that particular agency. You can ask the agency representative if they can give you those references. That’s considered usual practice in the web design industry.
FAQ: Finding a web design company
Common questions asked by people looking to hire a web design company.
Q: How much does a website cost in 2019?
A: There’s a lot of articles on this topic already, but the numbers vary and depend a lot, mainly on two factors — the project’s complexity/size and agency location/reputation. Let’s dive deeper to provide a few real-life examples:
- Offshore web design agencies (India, Eastern Europe, or Latin America) charge $10–70/hour depending on how skillful and reputable a firm is. An average hourly rate is around $40/hour if you want good quality and consistent communication. A total budget for a simple 3–5-page website would be in the $15–20k range. If your web project is more complex, has more pages, or requires specialized technical skills, you’ll need $45–60k.
- The US and Western Europe-based agencies charge $150–300/hour with San Francisco, LA, and NYC firms being close to the upper limit of this range. With these rates applied, even a simple website would cost a whopping $100–150k. And that number can easily exceed $1M if we’re talking about a complete design and development of a corporate website for an established company.
Q: How much do San Francisco Bay Area-based agencies charge for web design?
A: There are many articles online about the cost of a website estimating around $5k for a site built by a freelancer and $25–40k when you hire a web design agency. While this might be true for offshore locations like India or Eastern Europe, the US and especially the San Francisco Bay area-based agencies will charge a lot more.
The cost of living in San Francisco is one of the highest in the world. Plus, all local design firms compete with the world’s top companies for the same web designers, who can make up to $300–400k per year depending on their experience.
When a San Francisco startup gets slapped with a $300–500k price tag for a corporate website after reading online that it should cost around $40k, there’s some severe expectation mismatch. However, it still makes a lot of sense to work with a San Francisco based agency, because they understand the industry and local nuances like no one else can.
Q: How long will it take to create my website?
A: A quick answer, as usual, it depends. Let’s take a standard website for a SaaS web startup as an example. Usually, it has a few pages like the homepage, product page, about page, careers, contacts, and a couple more simple pages.
A web design agency will start with 2 weeks of discovery and research to understand your goals and requirements, analyze the competition, and gather design references. Then, your web designers will work on wireframes to establish core layouts and visual design concepts to determine the look and feel of a future website. That’s another 4–6 weeks.
Once the concept has been established, they will proceed with designing all graphics, animations, photos/videos as well as creating responsive designs for each page. For our hypothetical website, this design production process might take about 8 weeks. Web development can often run in parallel with design production and take 6–10 weeks, depending on the technical requirements.
To summarize, a “simple” custom website with 5–7 pages could take 16–18 weeks from start to finish.
Be aware of the charlatans who promise the impossible (We’ll do it in 2 weeks for $10k). Most likely, they’re just using a cheap template they’ve already sold to hundreds of unsuspecting clients.
Q: What is the web design process?
A: You can quickly tell how competent a web design company is just by looking at their process. The best agencies work as one team with the client and are very transparent about everything they do. Here are some typical steps of the web design process you should expect from an agency:
- Discovery. Any established design firm will start with a series of workshops with the client to transfer knowledge, understand their goals, define the target audience, audit your current website, and gather all needed project requirements. Often, their user researcher will interview your customers to uncover their needs and motivations.
- Research. This phase usually involves analysis of competitor websites and general industry design trends. A web design firm will create a comprehensive report covering best practices and their recommendations, along with some design inspiration mood boards.
- Wireframing and UX Design. A good web designer in 2019 is, first and foremost, a talented UX designer. Modern sites are more about user experience than visual design. That said, you should expect your web design company to create a site map and customer journey map to define how the user will navigate. Then, they will create wireframes for each page to determine key layouts and content organization. Some agencies will validate these wireframes on real users to get their initial feedback early on before going too far in the design process.
- Visual Design Concept. While the previous phase is all about user experience and interactions, the visual design concept is purely aesthetics. Here, a design agency will explore a few directions for the look and feel of your website based on their research and your brand identity. You can also run it by your customers to see what resonates with them the most.
- Design Production. Once the wireframes and visual design concepts are finalized, your web designer will move forward with design production. They will create final responsive design mockups, illustrations, animations, and any other assets needed to start development.
- Content Creation and Copywriting. Good content is essential for your website’s success as a good design. To get the best results from your collaboration with an agency, you’ll need to have at least a high-level idea of what you want your website to convey. Then, you’ll work with the agency’s copywriters to polish your message and produce the final copy. You should do it before you begin designing a web page.
- Development. First of all, web developers will convert all designs into HTML/CSS/JS code. Sometimes, you may want to add new content or manage existing pages without the developer’s help, so you’ll need to implement a CMS. We won’t go into detail on the web development process since our article is about design. In all cases, your web design company will stay around continuously reviewing the work-in-progress results from your developers to ensure what they implement is consistent with the designs they created.
Q: Where are the best web design agencies located?
A: Many times, the best web design agency is the one that’s close to you. Working with local design firms eliminates many inconveniences of remote work, and you don’t need to worry about cultural differences and language barrier issues. However, there are a few cities with a high concentration of the world’s top web design companies:
- San Francisco. Most web design firms here cater to tech companies ranging from startups to industry leaders. San Francisco-based agencies are the experts when it comes to building a website for a startup or app. They know how to masterfully merge the brand and user experience to create a world-class website.
- New York City. Many fashion brands and financial services businesses call the Big Apple their home. It’s no surprise that NYC has a lot of traditional ad agencies who also design websites and run campaigns for those clients.
- Los Angeles. Everything here revolves around the movie production and music industries. Most LA-based web design companies specialize in interactive web experiences with a significant emphasis on 3D, video, and special effects. They mainly design sites for movies or music artists.
- London. Many traditional businesses reside in the UK capital, including finance, fashion, and consulting firms. London is world-famous for its brand identity agencies, but these firms design high-quality websites too.
Q: Where can I find more web design companies online?
A: Since web design is the most fertile area of digital design, you will find many communities and awards that recognize web designers and agencies. You should check out Behance and Dribbble, where you can find anyone from freelance designers to top agencies.
Leading web design firms usually submit their work to different web design awards to get recognized by their industry peers. The most respected awards are Awwwards, Webby Awards, The FWA, CSSDA, among others.
The best web design agencies add value to your business
A genuinely world-class web design company gives you more than a well-designed website that amazes your customers, sells your products, and positions you as a leader in your field. They become an extension of your team, assisting you with every aspect of running your business online. From maintaining and updating the website to helping with SEO and conversion optimization, they have your back every step of the way.
From a relationship standpoint, any reputable agency will sign an SLA (service level agreement) that will hold them accountable for any bugs and glitches. You will pay a flat monthly retainer for such support plus any overages if you’d like to design new pages or add new features.
Thanks for reading!
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Looking for a UI/UX design agency? Check out my list of Top 5 UX agencies: