To hire an in-house UX team or an external design team? That’s the question.
The pace of innovation and competition in the market requires the organizations to inculcate an agile approach towards the design and development of products. The changes in business structure require teams to form quickly and adjust repeatedly. New technologies and changing industry trends have enabled co-working environments, remote working, and hiring external talent.
Let’s take the example of IBM Design, they benefit from design thinking activities and team interaction in-person but they often work with colleagues remotely to move projects forward and keep UX design creativity fresh.
According to Toptal’s State of the Workforce Survey, 91% of the global organizations use external talent to address their skill gaps and to mitigate the top risks identified by leaders for their organizations.
Development of a blended workforce is seen across all industries and it is set to increase over the next three years. Smaller organizations have led the shift towards external talent.
With the prevalence of experience economy where the customer decides how they want to participate in any digital experience, the need for user experience design is at its peak. Companies need skilled professionals with key competencies that can implement design innovation to create a stronger connection with customers.
The experience and expertise of the UX team have a direct impact on creating a value-driven experience of the digital product. Finding such a pool of talent and can be cumbersome and expensive. Companies with varied design needs have realized this and started hiring external partners to fulfill their design needs.
Flexibility, Access to Expertise, Speed, Cost Saving and Innovation are the key drivers of hiring external design teams.
Advantages of Hiring External Design Team
The Creative Workplace Survey by The Creative Group and AIGA states that 37% of creative teams will rely heavily on freelancers in the next 3 years, due to the cost of acquiring and retaining full-time talent.
The top reasons for hiring freelancers:
To help with heavy workloads (46%)
To access skills that don’t exist internally (23%)
To gain cost efficiencies (8%)
It may seem lucrative to hire full-time designers for the UX design needs in your company but when compared to the costs of hiring an external UX agency, it is relatively expensive to hire and maintain full-time employees. The cost involved in building an in-house team not only includes salary and added benefits but also includes keeping them well-trained and well-engaged. Retaining designers is a challenge of its own considering their need to thrive on a variety of work.
The rates of an external team or an agency vary from 30 USD to 200 USD per hour depending on the location and experience of the designer. The designers from countries like the USA, UK, and Australia cost higher than the designers in countries like India, Israel, and Malaysia because of the difference in manpower availability and labor costs.
It is notable that the recent rise of startups in India has given rise to skill-based hiring. UX research and design ecosystem is growing at a fast pace in India. This has induced a rise in the maturity of UX skills and proficient designers who offer great work at a lower cost.
The average salary of a full-time UX designer working at a product company in India is INR 15.6 LPA which is 3 times less than the salary of designers working in the USA. Depending on the project requirements, often the cost of hiring one full-stack designer in the USA is equivalent to the cost of hiring an external UX team from countries like India.
Access to Expertise
UX Design is a broad term that encompasses a range of skills like UX research, information architecture and user flow mapping, prototyping, interaction design, UX writing, and content strategy.
Usually, the extended design team comprises of UX lead, researcher, UX designer, UI Designer, and UX writer. They have experience of working with various clients from different locations and projects from different industry verticals. Such a versatile team can bring strategic guidance and diverse insights to the table which can largely impact the final design of the product.
An experienced external design team incorporates the industry standards as well as their learning and insights into the projects to accelerate growth through design innovation.
Feedback from the external agencies is constructive and unbiased. A client-driven or user-driven company is guaranteed to get value by hiring an external agency because of their fresh perspective for complex challenges.
Evolving UX Industry
The technology and as a result the UX design trends are constantly evolving. The digital UX frameworks are changing faster — conversational interfaces and voice UX is disrupting the user experience domain. Keeping up with such UX design trends is a huge challenge and a full-time job in itself.
If you’re a design agency, it is practical to hire people and designers who bring versatility and innovation to design by keeping up with the challenges and changing trends of the industry.
UX design is a necessary pillar to any business and it cannot be neglected. Hiring and managing an in-house design team is time-consuming and expensive. Dedicated teams have skilled workers and professionals who are quick in on-boarding with the project and can produce spectacular product designs at a comparatively lower cost. Therefore, working with dedicated teams is highly beneficial to startups and software development companies with limited cash flow and limited awareness about design decisions.
Get Greater Control
Efficient external design teams ensure more transparency and have clarity in paperwork. They are willing to sign a Non-Disclosure agreement and carry out other formalities as required by the client.
Once the agreement is signed, the external team adheres to the scope of work outlined in the contract. A good agency usually has a UX manager or UX lead to ensure smooth communication and efficient project management by diving the project into milestones and getting a proper feedback.
The organizations can also ensure accurate and timely reporting and control over the quality of work and deadlines of the project by hiring an agency that uses various collaborative and communication tools like InVision or Slack.
Best practices for outsourcing successfully
Companies adopting external talent face hurdles of quality, culture, and communication. Some of the best practices can be incorporated to minimize the risks associated with these hurdles and to maximize the output.
Mitigate cultural difference gaps by understanding the external team
The same category of words, phrases, symbols, colors, gestures, etc. symbolize different meanings to people in other countries with different cultural backgrounds.
Before starting any project, it is better to spend time to understand both the team’s culture and approach towards the project. It is also a good idea to give preference to extended teams that have similar business values, embrace a similar working culture, and can communicate effectively in a common language.
Communication is the key to efficient project management
When you are hiring an external team, communication, and time zone issues might arise. The external team is located somewhere across the globe so all the meetings happen remotely.
No doubt with new technologies, the world has become a global village. Various tools and platforms are available for effective communication and collaboration. This is one of the reasons why companies have started hiring external teams from remote locations.
The client must be able to communicate the project requirements to the external team with abundant clarity and detail. This will provide clarity on how to approach and implement the project.
Preparing a collaborative environment for a project takes minimum time and effort — Weekly calls, regular planning sessions, and access to interactive communication channels. Sharing a workspace in Slack, feedback for prototypes on InVision, and a project management board on Jira or Trello can do the trick.
Bring clarity on the engagement models to avoid confusion and improve relation
The clarity on choosing the perfect engagement model is the key factor in determining the relationship between the client and the external team. The client must clarify their project requirements and figure out how they want to incur expenses for the same.
Choosing a wrong engagement model can lead to friction between the client and the external team, dissatisfaction with the final product, and often a loss in profits.
It is beneficial to opt for an engagement model that best fits the design needs of the organization. If an organization is hiring an external team for the first time, they may want to opt for a fixed price model to test a small scale project with definitive requirements. Once clear with the purpose and the time frame of the project the organizations can opt for Time and Material based (hourly) or a Monthly Retainer based model.
Organizations can also get the flexibility to scale the team up or down according to the need of the project. A predetermined engagement model brings transparency to the project time frame and billing cycles.
To get greater quality of work, hire a well-positioned external team
Quality of work is the number one concern identified by the organizations adopting external talent. Access to the best external teams that are experienced, highly responsive, and accountable is not easy to find.
To get good quality work, the first step for the organization is to understand their project requirements and then find an agency well-positioned to provide those services. For example, if an organization needs interface design services, it makes sense to hire a niche external UX/UI design agency that understands and acknowledges your requirements otherwise the project outcomes are bound to be disappointing.
A well-positioned agency will be focused on one or more specific industries or practices, are familiar with the latest technology trends, speak the domain language, and can deliver a project in speed.
The question to hire an in-house team or an external partner for the design needs is common to all organizations. There are a few factors considered in making that decision:
Is it okay to hire an external partner from the beginning of product journey?
Should the organization wait till the later stage of product cycle to hire an external team to solve product challenges and achieve growth goals?
Organizations and startups with an in-house design team might not have full-service capabilities or experience to solve design challenges. When there is a heavy workload or when the scope of the project is large, these organizations usually hire an external design agency.
Slack collaborated with Metalabs to design their digital products and launch the brand in the market. Google outsourced its annual Santa Tracker design to Ueno Agency. It is all about allocating resources efficiently to achieve maximum results.
If your organization has the resources, and the capacity to manage the team and maintain a consistent flow of work, they can definitely hire an in-house design team but if your organization is small scale with limited resources or with a core focus on product development, it may be beneficial to hire an external team to solve the design challenges.
Ultimately, whether you’re in the early stage startup validating an idea or working on a large scale design overhaul of an existing product, hiring an external UX team can help any organization to avoid making critical and costly mistakes. This decision totally depends on the concrete considerations any organization makes to help them with their design needs.