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SaaS business

App Design Cost: What to Expect From UI/UX Design Vendors

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21 Jan

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2022

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When developing a new product, you have two main questions to answer: how much does it cost to hire an app developer and how much does it cost to design an app? The short but unsatisfying answer is: it depends. The average cost can span from $3000 to $30,000 and higher. But it’s probably not the answer you came for. 

Eleken is a team of SaaS product designers, so it’s our main duty to develop outstanding UI/UX design for projects of different sizes and shapes for companies from different domains. It is impossible to give a specific answer how much does app design cost without taking into account the key factors that influence the numbers. So, in this article we will shed light on the intricacies behind this wide-ranging price spectrum.

Factors affecting SaaS app design cost

When we want to buy a car, we can easily learn its exact price just by looking at a price tag. But we rarely think about how much it costs to design and produce that car. The situation with app development costs is quite similar: clients have some budget allocation and expect to receive an app prototype within this amount, but they don’t know how many design iterations and tests the project would go through before designers come up with a suitable solution.

Illustration with a ready car on the left and car assembling process on the right

Complexity of the app and design process

Not all projects are the same, and there is no one-size-fits-all design process. Still, design is definitely much more than “drawing” in Figma. It consists of many steps and depends on many variables that are difficult to foresee.

When determining the cost to design an app, complexity plays a significant role, as it directly translates into the working hours and number of iterations. App complexity refers to the level of intricacy involved in developing the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) elements of the application. 

Generally, there are three complexity levels when it comes to designing an app

  1. Simple apps are characterized by their limited scope, typically consisting of three screens or fewer, and lacking animations and interactive design elements. Examples of simple apps include calculators and alarms, which serve basic functions without requiring extensive UI/UX features.
  2. Average complexity apps encompass a broader range of features and interactivity. These apps employ multiple interactive elements, animations, and consist of several screens. They are typically designed separately for Android and iOS platforms, adhering to platform-specific guidelines such as human interface design and Google Material design principles.
  3. High complexity apps heavily rely on mobile app design to fulfill their purpose. These apps are usually cross-platform and often incorporate numerous animations and transitions to guide users seamlessly across multiple screens, with the ultimate goal of converting them into regular users. 

Depending on the project, the number of steps needed to complete the scope of work may differ, so the number of hours that the designer will spend doing your project differs as well. And that’s one more thing that makes the cost to design an application vary. 

Below is the list of the most common steps of the product design process that may influence the project’s price: 

List of common app design process steps: research, UX design, UI design, branding

In some cases your design team will have to undergo all the above-mentioned stages, in others they can omit some. But in summary, the complexity of an app and the process that your team has to undergo to come up with a user-friendly design solution affects the general product design cost.

Cost depending on the location of a team

In addition to app complexity, the location of the design team is another crucial factor that affects app design costs. Different regions and countries have distinct market rates and cost of living, resulting in variations in hourly rates and overall project costs. To hire a UI/UX designer from the US or Western Europe, for example, you will generally have to pay more than for teams located in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America due to taxes and higher cost of living. By considering the location of the development team, businesses can assess their budget constraints and explore opportunities to collaborate with skilled professionals in locations that provide competitive pricing while maintaining a high level of expertise. 

Take a look at how UI/UX designer salary varies from country to country.

Table of UI/UX designer salary depending on the country

Custom design vs UI kits

When it comes to app UI design cost, the approach taken in creating the visual elements can significantly impact the overall cost. Two common approaches to discuss here are custom design and utilizing UI libraries and kits.

Custom design involves creating high-quality unique visual elements specific to the app's branding and requirements. This approach offers a high level of flexibility and allows for a personalized user experience. However, it often requires more time, effort, and expertise from the design team, which can increase the mobile app design cost. Custom design is commonly employed when businesses aim to differentiate their app and create a distinctive visual identity.

UI libraries and kits, on the other hand, provide pre-made UI components, templates, and design elements that can be easily integrated into an app. These libraries and kits offer a wide range of options and styles, saving time and effort in designing from scratch. They can lower mobile app UI design cost, especially for simpler apps with standard UI requirements. However, they may not provide the same level of uniqueness and customization as custom design.

Example of UI Kit
Source: InVision

The choice between custom design and UI libraries/kits depends on factors like budget, timeline, app complexity, and desired level of uniqueness. Custom design is preferable for apps that require a distinctive look and feel, while UI libraries and kits can be suitable for projects with tighter budgets or shorter development cycles. Understanding the trade-offs and discussing the options with the design team can help businesses make an informed decision that aligns with their goals and resources.

The type of design team

The form of collaboration and how much the team charges for UI/UX design services will also affect the overall app designers cost. There are several popular forms of collaboration, including hiring in-house designers, partnering with freelancers, or working with design agencies.

In-house designers 

Hiring in-house designers is a common option, especially for businesses with ongoing projects or the need for regular product design updates. With this approach, you pay a flat rate and onboard a new team member who can contribute to your projects for an extended period. But hiring in-house designers comes with additional costs. One-time expenses include providing necessary equipment such as computers and tablets. Additionally, you would need to cover costs like insurance and sick leaves for the designer. There may also be unexpected expenses if overtime or outsourcing becomes necessary due to a larger workload. And of course don't forget about taxes and benefits. Mandatory payments will vary depending on the country, but in general, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, benefits account for 29.6% of the average cost per private industry employee. 

Freelancers

Working with freelancers involves paying an hourly rate, which varies depending on their qualifications and experience. While freelancers may not charge less than their full-time counterparts, you can save money on benefits and equipment costs. But it is important to be cautious when hiring freelance designers, particularly if you lack experience in managing them. Inexperienced freelancers can pose risks to your project, potentially leading to the need for redesigning and rebuilding your product if something goes wrong. 

Design agencies

Design agencies typically charge based on the scope of the project, making it difficult to estimate cost of mobile app design without requesting a personalized quota. While the cost may be higher compared to other options, working with an agency can save time on searching, hiring, onboarding, and project management when compared to hiring in-house designers. It provides access to a skilled team of designers with diverse expertise.

Keep in mind that location may play a vital role here, and a local US agency will undoubtedly cost you far more than outsourcing to an overseas partner. 

Project-based fee is not the only way to cooperate with a design agency. At Eleken we tailored a pricing model that works the best for the industry. 

How we charge at Eleken

Eleken specializes in designing SaaS products solely and works on a time-based retainer pricing model. This means you pay a fixed fee for a set amount of time and receive UI/UX designers working on your project remotely and on full-time basis. That’s why the application design cost depends on the amount of time needed to perform a scope of work. 

To better understand our principle of work, think of Eleken as a software-as-a-service product. 

  • We are a subscription-based service. You can buy a monthly subscription and have access to product designer/s working exclusively on your project from Monday to Friday, 8 hours per day during the whole month.   
  • We have a free-trial period. You can use our “product” for three days free of charge to feel all the advantages of this collaboration and decide if Eleken satisfies their needs. 
  • You clients can prolong, cancel, upgrade or downgrade your subscription. Similar to SaaS services, the trial period can help you decide whether to buy a full monthly subscription or not. As well, if needed, you can add more designers or ramp the team down.
  • It’s up to you how to manage our designers. Here we can again compare Eleken with a SaaS product. For example, when two different people subscribe to Netflix, one of them watches just one movie during the whole month, and another watches TV series every day. But they both pay the same price for a subscription. Similarly, when you hire a UI/UX designer at Eleken, it’s up to you what they will do during the subscription term.

Now, let’s see what influences the project duration by analyzing what design processes are included in app design at different stages of product development (based on our experience).

How long it takes Eleken to design an app

And again, we start with a statement that was already mentioned (not once): All projects are different, all products are different, and a time spent working on them influences app UX/UI design cost. The steps to design an MVP, and the steps needed to redesign app are not the same, therefore they can’t be done in the same time period.

The second point is that we don’t estimate a specific deliverable (wireframe, moodboard, user flow, and so on) but the process you need to undergo to create a suitable design solution.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at two projects we’ve worked on and see how long it took us to design them. 

Ricochet360

Ricochet360 came to us for a product redesign. It’s a cloud phone system and CRM platform. Since CRM platforms are usually bulky, complex, have a lot of functions, and integrations, our task was to simplify the product design-wise, making it intuitive and easy to use for sales teams. Not a one-week task, right? 

It took our designer two months to complete the scope of work. Here are the steps of Ricochet’s design process:

  1. Visual concept validation. We created several variants of one screen with different typography, colors, and buttons, and our client chose the one that served us as a direction for further designs.
  2. Design audit. We analyzed the existing product to identify the flaws of the current design and develop a plan on how to fix them.
  3. Screen restructuring. During the third phase, common for redesign projects, we disassembled old screens on basic elements to understand what steps users take to complete tasks, and what elements we can add to make it easier for them to achieve the desired results.  
  4. Designing new screens. Based on visual concepts approved with our client at the beginning of the redesign process, our designer created final mock-ups.

Key points that influenced our work speed were effective communication and the fact that Ricochet360’s team came to us prepared: they defined objectives, had a clear product vision, knew what they wanted to refine in their product.

Screenshot of Ricochet app
Screenshot of Ricochet app redesign

Ricochet360 “Add a new lead” page redesign

This way, the cost of Ricochet360 app redesign was equal to the sum of two monthly subscriptions.

Gamaya

Gamaya app screenshot

Now Gamaya, a data analysis platform, is our regular customer that keeps returning for additional design services. But when they came to us for the first time for a product redesign, Gamaya didn’t have a clear understanding of what exactly they needed: a complete UI/UX overhaul or just refreshing the visual part. For that reason, we turned to the design thinking method:

  1. Empathize. We conducted research to better understand the product, the user, and the market.
  2. Define. Based on the research, we analyzed the current Gamaya’s product to understand what needs to be refreshed and refined.
  3. Ideate. We brainstormed various solutions to highlight opportunities for innovation and understand what Gamaya’s team expects to get as the result.
  4. Prototype, test, and implement. We used the UI component library to reduce the software development time and adapted our design to this library. As well, we thought out a convenient UI for a mobile app.

It took us almost a month to ideate and create a concept to find the right direction for further design solutions. That’s why our first collaboration with Gamaya was equal to the sum of the monthly subscription. 

Now you see, that two projects with the same task (to redesign) can have two completely different design processes and can’t last the same amount of time. Thus, the time needed to perform the scope of work depends on:

  1. Type of project
  2. The level of preparation of our client

Finally, it’s important to mention that the way our agency works doesn’t suit every design project, but it perfectly fits the clients we serve.

5 ways to reduce your budget

Dealing with UI/UX design for more than six years already helped us understand how business owners can reduce the cost to design a mobile app. Here is some advice.

  1. Define the scope of work before hiring designers. Don’t neglect the discovery phase. When you understand what you want to achieve with the design, have a rough plan of actions, and a vision of a future product you will save time (and consequently, money) needed to design an app. Otherwise, a design team will have to spend time developing and offering you a variety of concepts to choose the right direction, before they can start actual work.
  2. Prepare all the content and visuals beforehand. Designers are not content creators, you have to take care of copy, texts for inputs, images, videos, and the like. 
  3. Be involved in the design process. Communicating and providing feedback on time helps designers work faster and more effectively. If your team has to wait several days for each approval, the whole process will take twice as long as it could be. Share your opinion about each aspect of the project as soon as possible.
  4. Hire professional product designers. The more experienced and involved a designer is, the less you're going to pay, as it takes less time for experienced designers to cope with design challenges.
  5. Hire Eleken. Eleken is a team of experienced SaaS product designers. We don’t charge for PMs, QAs, or account managers. As we are a remote team, you don’t have to pay for office rent, work equipment, additional compensation – we care about all these overhead costs. You only pay for the actual design. 

To sum up

The cost of app design is influenced by a multitude of factors that are often difficult to determine upfront. Variables such as app complexity, the location of the development team, the type of design approach, and the chosen form of collaboration all contribute to the final cost. Additionally, factors such as project scope, timeline, and specific requirements can further impact pricing. 

Due to the inherent complexity and unique nature of each app project, it is challenging to accurately predict the cost from the beginning. However, by understanding these key factors and working closely with experienced professionals, you can navigate the app design process while making informed decisions that align with their goals and budgetary constraints.

Need help with designing your SaaS application? Contact us.

Kateryna Mayka

Writer at Eleken