Design team

10 Deep-Digging Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Design Agency


min to read

16 Nov



Table of contents

Finding and hiring an agency to design your product is a pretty important step on the way to success. Designers will turn your idea into reality and create the look and feel of it for users. But how do you know who are the right guys for the job?

Of course, you want the designers to be professional and have great design skills. But other than that there are other pretty important things to know. You need to pay attention to organizational structure, the culture of collaboration, and discipline in the team. And if you aim for a long-term and effective collaboration, you got to think about vision alignment and cultural match, too. 

So, what questions do you ask a design agency to identify all these nuances?

Eleken was founded in 2015 and since then we have designed a number of successful SaaS products and worked with clients from around the world. Based on the experience we collected over the years we came up with a list of questions that will help you identify if the partner is the right fit.

Questions to ask before hiring a design agency

Start with the block of the basic questions, but pay attention to details as well as to a general tone of the conversation. 

1. Can we take a look at your portfolio together?

Most probably you have already seen the agency’s portfolio on their website. This question, however, will help you learn more about the experience and expertise of the design company you are considering. Chances are not all their projects are exposed on their website and there might be something you are looking for in their archives.

The diverse portfolio reflects experience in different fields. If you are going to build a fintech or healthcare platform it’s beneficial for designers to have some experience in this field. Pay attention to the comments of your interlocutor. The solid and confident knowledge of the company’s portfolio reveals a serious and responsible partner.

Red flags:

* No portfolio.
This is an absolute no-go. Even designers without any work experience build their portfolios. To protect yourself from scammers, don’t start the work with someone who cannot showcase any design projects.

* Poor portfolio. By poor portfolio we mean sloppy and poorly organized examples of the agency’s work. This reveals the agency’s attitude to work that you’d want to avoid. There can also be just bad design. Save yourself some time and resources and stay away from amateurs.

* The portfolio does not match your vision, style, or taste. The matter of taste is subjective, of course, but if the agency works in one particular style and it’s not your cup of team, feel free to move on and find someone who designs products that you actually like. 

2. What is the organizational structure of the design agency?

This one might seem less important, but knowing how the design agency works helps you match your expectations with what they offer. For example, there are agencies that connect you with freelancers to hire. This might be better when you need a quick design task, no strings attached. 

However, when you need UI/UX design services to build a web platform or a mobile app for your product it’s best to rely on agencies that have experienced teams. At Eleken, we have a team of in-house designers that go through our training program, share our knowledge base, and receive constant mentorship and feedback from our design team lead.

Red flags: In-house designer vs agency choice depends on your needs. However, an unclear organizational model of the agency or a fully freelance-based model can be a red flag if you are looking for a reliable and experienced partner for product design.

3. How do we start working together?

Ask this question to uncover the work processes of the design agency. How quickly can they start working on your project? Do they require a design brief? Different agencies have different capacities; for instance, at Eleken we have a big team and can get onto your project quickly. We also do not require much input from you, work without a brief, and are good to go after the kick-off call. 

Red flags: When the design agency makes you wait to asnwer the question, requires a detailed design brief, or doesn’t provide you with a clear understanding of how the cooperation is going to look like - it’s definitely not someone to cooperate with.  

4. Tell me about your team.

This belongs to the culture block of questions. And when it comes to culture fit, you should trust your gut. Seriously, when talking about the workplace culture, it’s best to feel it, not rationalize. You can ask casual or tricky questions, or even make a joke. Your goal here is not to hear the correct answer from your potential partner, but rather to see their reaction. Is the team you are interviewing friendly and relaxed? Does your sense of humor match? Pay attention to these details during your first call.

To find out if the agency is the one you’re looking for, you can ask what was their last mess up or what clients they like working with. Pay attention to their communication style and see if you match there. 

Red flags: You feel that the communication style or accepted behaviors do not match your company’s culture. During the first call, a design agency representative acted unprofessional? They make inappropriate jokes or, on the contrary, they seemed cold and closed? These are the signs that they are not the best cultural fit. 

5. What about the time difference?

The time difference is one of the biggest concerns for companies that consider hiring design agencies overseas. From our experience, it was never an issue. We adjust our schedules to our client's time zone and our work hours can extend from 8 am to 8 pm EEST. Look for agencies that are flexible and ready to find overlaps.

The time difference is something to discuss before starting to work with an agency located in another country, but it should not be a red flag itself. Pay attention if the company had clients from your time zone before, and ask how this worked out.

Red flags: If the design agency does not have experience working with clients from different time zones, it can lead to some unnecessary friction. The other sign that should get you concerned is when the design agency is too strict with the client and is not willing to adjust to the client’s timeline.

6. What about the price?

The question that many consider the most important is the price. We recommend looking not just at how cheap or expensive the design services are, but more at the price/quality ratio and additional things the agency can offer you.

Choose the design partner according to your budget and don’t hesitate to ask what’s included in this price and how the price changes when you, for instance, need an extra designer for your project. 

The popular myth is that more affordable services are an indicator of poor quality. In fact, the price depends on many factors and is often related to the location of the company, not just their professional level. So, look at the portfolio and interview the agency thoroughly.

Red flags: When you don’t understand what is included in the price, how the price changes if the circumstances changed. A shady price policy is definitely a red flag.

7. What are your cancellation policies?

To avoid confusion in case things don’t go as planned, we recommend asking about cancellation policies right away. Some companies are more flexible than others in this matter. For example, when partnering with Eleken, you can terminate the contract at any time with prior notice.

Red flags: The cancellation policy of the agency is very firm, you can only sign a long-term contract without the possibility to terminate it.

8. What is your design process?

This question will not only tell you if designers are professional, but will also give a peek at how open they are to collaborating and sharing information. 

The design process of real UX professionals should consist of UX research, prototyping stage, several iterations of the final design, UX testing, and close collaboration with developers, product managers, stakeholders, and beta users throughout all stages of product development.   

Red flags: Stay away from design agencies that are not able to explain their design process, skip UX research, or don’t know how to test their design decisions. 

9. How do you collaborate with developers?

How a design agency collaborates with developers is one of the most important factors of successful design implementation. When something goes wrong there, you lose time and money. Forward-thinking here will help you hire a design agency that will become a strategic partner. So don’t hesitate to ask the guys you interview how they collaborate with developers.

To be more specific, ask about their process. If the product design agency you interview tells you they create design and hand it off to developers, be very careful, as it can be a red flag. The thing is that good UX/UI design is created in close designer-developer collaboration at every stage of the process. The earlier your designers start talking to the development team, the better for your product. 

Red flags: You realized that collaboration with developers in the agency you interview is limited to just the handoff of the finalized design.

10. How can you help my business?

This question to design agencies also has the potential to distinguish real professionals from amateurs. It is for those who are seeking the best design agencies with the potential to improve your business. Design can and should serve business goals. So look for people who understand the business part. They know how design impacts metrics and will help you achieve your goals with great UX and UI design. 

Red flags: Filter out agencies that murmur something indistinct when you ask about the business. If they don’t see the correlation between design and business goals they probably aren’t the best candidate for you.

To sum up

10 deep-digging questions o ask before hiring a design agency

When you decide to outsource design work,  it’s better to ask more questions during your interview than later regret hiring designers that are a bad fit. Check out the reviews on Clutch and their portfolio beforehand. You can also contact their former clients on LinkedIn to ask for feedback.

Our product design agency hires experienced and talented designers, and our clients love working with us. If you are looking for a serious design partner, book a call and ask anything you want to know about working with Eleken. Let’s design great products together!

Mariia Kasym

Writer at Eleken