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Design team

updated on:

27 Mar

,

2024

Making the Right Choice: In-House Designer vs Agency Through Real-Life Scenarios

13

min to read

Kateryna Mayka

Writer at Eleken

Kateryna Mayka

Writer at Eleken

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The dilemma of in-house designer vs agency is truly eternal. Years pass by, yet companies still wonder what is the better option for them – and by “better” they often mean the price-quality ratio. 

But the harsh truth is that there’s no one answer to this question. In the end, it all depends on your company’s budget, business needs, and the ultimate goal that you want to achieve by hiring new designers. So how do you make that choice, after all?

To help you with that, Eleken prepared some of the real-world scenarios that usually lead to design agency vs in-house choice. And for each scenario we suggested what would be the best option, so keep reading to learn more!

Scenario 1: you’re a fast-growing startup that requires a rapidly expanding UI/UX team to support your product development

While rapid growth might sound like good news for many startups, it also means that now you have to expand your in-house design team to keep working at the same pace.

New in-house employees will be able to become a part of the company’s culture and vision, and the communication will be as seamless as possible. If you know that the growth will continue, expanding your team with in-house workers is a great choice. 

At the same time, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding new people takes time, so you might not get the desired development speed. This also means that your company will need to allocate some extra resources on hiring and training new staff, which would affect your budget, too.

So, what is the alternative? Turning to an agency like Eleken for a team extension!  Eleken has a diverse pool of design talents and is able to quickly match you with a designer familiar with your industry. You can hire a designer (or designers) for 2 months and then decide if you want to continue working with a team of such size. It’s much less risky!

Scenario 2: your company wants to enhance the user experience and modernize the existing products by redesigning UI/UX

Even successful solutions eventually require redesign, mostly for two reasons:

  1. The product is great, but doesn’t meet the current user needs.
  2. The product has some UI/UX issues that need to be fixed.

In-house designers are well familiar with the product as they’ve been working on it for a while already. Furthermore, being a part of your staff they can seamlessly collaborate with the development team, discussing what can potentially be added and what could be technically difficult. 

On the other hand, no one said the design agency team can’t do the same. At Eleken, for example, our designers don’t work on their own. When our designer  joins your team, they instantly start communicating with your team, learning from their experience and gaining new insights. What’s more, our designers have the support of design managers – senior-level professionals, who guide them during their work process. This allows us to offer a broader range of design concepts and creative ideas to our clients.

This scenario happened with HealthStream, who came to Eleken to redesign their reporting tool. It hasn’t been renewed for about 15 years, and, naturally, didn’t meet the needs of modern users. 

HealthStream redesign: before and after

While they tried to solve this problem with a new product, it still didn’t work. That’s why they turned to Eleken for help. Our designers worked together with their in-house staff to improve the product’s look and feel: the client’s manager ran the testing and helped us align the designs with the client’s vision. In the end, a good redesign based on the thorough user research did its job, leaving the client satisfied.

HealthStream client review

Scenario 3: your company needs specialized design expertise for a specific project or industry

We believe that a good designer can figure out the essence of your product, even if they weren’t familiar with the market before. Still, if a designer already has experience with a project similar to yours, that’s even better, especially if we are talking about very niche things, for example, solutions that work with geospatial data. 

If your project or industry is a rare bird, building an in-house team of designers is indeed a good idea. Even if they don’t have domain-specific knowledge yet, you’ll be able to nurture them as time goes. Still, their onboarding and training takes a lot of time, so you should opt for this strategy only when you believe that it’s worth the time and effort.

On the other hand, design agencies like Eleken have the right talent with experience in specific industries. Some of our clients (Astraea, for instance), were pleasantly surprised to discover that we work with their rare niche: geospatial data.

Our designers helped redesign Astraea, simplifying its interface, and implementing new features (such as Monitoring). Here’s what Astraea’s VP Product, Jamie Conklin, says about our collaboration in the Clutch review:

It is unusual to find a designer who has experience building applications with geospatial data - especially imagery data. We found that in Eleken. The value proposition is very high with Eleken — their rates are fair and their team is excellent.
Astraea redesign by Eleken

So even if you need help with something very unique, we can support you.

Scenario 4: your company must balance design quality and cost-effectiveness within the budget constraints

Unless you are Leo DiCaprio’s character from “The Wolf of Wall Street”, you probably cannot afford to spend money like that:

This means that you need to think hard about how many in-house designers you need on your team and for how long. You also need to remember that the total cost of hiring an employee doesn’t equal their earnings. In fact, in the US it’s typically 1.25 to 1.4 times the salary. Looking for the right professional, negotiating with them, guiding them through the onboarding process adds to the total cost. 

What’s more, they also require time — and as we know, time is money. Depending on the position and experience level, it might take 2 months or more before a newly hired employee actually starts working on your project.

Does it mean that you should avoid hiring in-house designers at any cost? No. But you have to think ahead when planning to expand your team. If you need some extra design support now, but might not need it a few months later, hiring a design agency would be a smarter decision.

Working with Eleken can help you save costs in the following ways: 

  • You get a free trial. Our designer will work for you for 3 days at no cost, so you can see if they are a match for your project. 
  • When you decide to collaborate, you pay a fixed monthly rate. Eleken offers a subscription-based pricing model. You pay a fixed amount each month and get a full-time UI/UX designer working on your product. As we are a SaaS-oriented design agency, we ourselves work using the SaaS model.
  • You can easily scale your team up and down when necessary. If at some point you need a bigger team to cover all your design needs, just let us know and we’ll expand the number of designers.

Last but not least, collaboration with Eleken allows you to get high-quality services for less money than the US agencies usually charge. Just take a look at what our clients are saying!

Eleken's Clutch review
Source

Scenario 5: your company has a critical project with a tight deadline that requires immediate attention

No matter how good your company might be in terms of project management, deadlines can still happen, and naturally, have to be resolved at any cost. But if your existing team is already swamped with tasks, it might be difficult for them to take on extra work. 

In this case you might need not only to expand your team, but do it as quickly as possible. So traditional in-house hiring (that could sometimes last for months) is not your best bet here. 

With Eleken, you can get a skilled designer much quicker. We not only hire the best ones with extensive experience, great portfolios, and strong social skills, but also train them internally before they start working with clients. And if certain tasks turn out to be quite difficult, our specialists can consult with colleagues, get their works reviewed by peers, and brainstorm new ideas to help you deliver the project within even the tightest deadlines.

Hiring Eleken designers for your project. Pros and cons

Eleken isn’t your ordinary design agency — we are a pragmatic design agency that works only with SaaS businesses. When you turn to us for design support, you get a thorough understanding of your product, industry, and your audience combined with clear communication, affordable prices and zero micromanagement.

Obviously, we won’t be a perfect fit for everyone, so to make a better decision, here’s a list of our advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • No overheads. You save the resources as you don’t have to pay sick leaves, vacation leaves, taxes for each employee. We care about it for you.
  • No difficulties with the hiring process. We hire UI/UX designers with the expertise that match your project requirements. Each designer is trained to get familiar with our workflow and has the support of design managers during each project. So, no worries about finding and teaching personnel on your own.
  • Speak directly with the designer without any intermediaries. We believe that there is no need for managers as you are the one who makes decisions and the designer is the one who performs the scope of work. No misunderstandings or “Chinese whispers”, you will be able to communicate directly with your designer.
  • A whole design team’s experience to help you. If a challenging task arises, our specialists can consult with colleagues, get their works reviewed by peers, and brainstorm new ideas. Thanks to that, they can handle any emerging challenges quicker. 
  • Free trial. To make an informed decision whether you want to cooperate with us, we provide a three-days free trial.
  • Change the number of designers when needed. When you need a bigger team to cover all your design needs, just let us know and we’ll expand the number of designers.

Disadvantages

  • Not suitable for short-term projects. We can’t design just a landing page or some icons.
  • SaaS companies only. We work solely with SaaS projects.
  • Don’t work without any communication. If you don’t have time for daily communication and exchanging feedback and want everything done solely by our team, we are not a fit.

But if you find yourself in any of the situations listed below, we can help you:

  • You are a SaaS company with or without a product on the market.
  • You are looking for a design partner to create the best design solution together based on research, communication, and discussions.
  • You want to work with professionals that have a deep understanding of your business needs.
  • You are looking for a long-term commitment.

Of course, all of the above are just words. To prove that we deliver our promises, take a look at our case studies.

In-house vs agency. What will work better in your case?

In the long run, your decision about hiring a web design agency vs in-house employees will likely depend on your time and budget, so it is extremely important to keep the pros and cons of both options in mind. Focus on your long-term goals and let them determine the direction in which you are heading.

Summing up, let us note that there is no universal answer to the “in-house vs agency" debate. But when you ‘re looking for a designer for your app, and believe that a design agency is worth considering, Eleken is at your service.

If you want to know more about the way we work – drop us a line and we will schedule a call to answer all your questions. 


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