Agency UX Part 1 of 3

User experience design at a client services agency is unlike any other design environment. The pace of work and exposure to new ideas is exhilarating. The variety of design problems to solve, products to market, and people to connect through digital experiences is a constant flow, and always changing. As a bonus, you get to see how different marketing services are run, how companies are structured, and product offerings are catalogued; valuable exposure to situations that will apply to future projects and clients.

In this post I will outline my point of view on the first of three agency UX pillars: Service.


Agency business is all about service. A transaction: client need and agency delivery. Delivering on what clients need gets you kudos and more work. Sometimes that differs from what they ask for. Figuring it all out with teams and clients requires openness to new ideas, trust, and partnership.

Present options

You probably think that solving problems and making recommendations is your job. It’s not, at least not always. Sometimes, your job is to frame up options using differing points of view to help coworkers and clients come to the same conclusions you did.

Let’s say you’re in an information architecture role, and you’re showing a client the proposed content organization and meganav for their product site. You say, “If the navigation vocabulary is locked in, then this organization works well and supports current customers.” Heads nod. You’ve given them what they asked for.

You continue, “On the other hand, if we were to frame up the navigation with new terminology, the groupings might change slightly, but would offer more access to customers who are new or new to the industry. Like this.”

Big reveal. People go “Hm”. You’ve shown them what they need. You’ve created room for a discussion, and a good one, too, I bet. If they ask for your preference, have one. Be confident, but flexible.

The decisions are all up to the client in the end. But when you frame up options you show both expertise and flexibility, which helps everyone (including you) open up to new ideas.

Show your work

Let’s continue with the scenario above. While framing up these options, don’t forget to show or explain the thinking you did to get there. Tell them about the small steps you took as you were getting started and explain your approach. Show them the wall of post-its it took to find a place for everything. Walk them through your activities and some of the ways you got stuck. They’ll see what it took to get to the recommendation and they’ll know that you didn’t just plop something down and call it done. This establishes trust.


If a client is open to it, tell them the lessons you’ve learned and the failures (rare, of course!) that you’ve experienced on projects. Give them the why behind the approaches you take and the methods you use. Give it away with excitement during your conversations. Follow up with some recommended books or blogs if they ask you. They’ll remember your openness and willingness to share your expertise outside of the project.


To get opportunities to do good work, you have to first work hard and deliver good service. You will not always get your way, or get the 100% “right thing” according to you, but you will open minds, establish trust, and become a partner.

Parts II and III: Solve and Creativity will follow in separate posts.

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