In-House Designer vs Agency: Advantages, Disadvantages, and Recommendations

Kateryna Mayka

If you are reading this article, you are now probably in search for a good specialist (or a team of specialists) to create a design solution that will meet both your business goals and your customer’s expectations. And the main thing that keeps tearing you apart is an eternal dilemma of in-house designer vs agency.

On the one hand, it is very convenient to have constant access to your designer and control all their actions whenever you need it, on the other hand, the ability to quickly hire an experienced professional in your field without the need to educate and retain them can save time and resources.

The good thing is that if this question worries you then you understand the importance of UI/UX design for the success of your product and just need to choose a suitable option.

But first of all, before discussing the pros and cons of all the above variants we want you to understand that there is no such option that can fit all kinds of projects and companies. In this blog post, we will provide you with information that will help you better understand the main models of cooperation with designers so that you can choose the one that works best for you. 

Hiring in-house

In-house specialists are people who belong to the company's staff. This type of cooperation, like any other, has its own peculiarities and we will talk about them below.

Advantages

  • Financial transparency. In case you hire a designer in-house you know exactly how much you will have to spend regularly. In contrast, when hiring an external agency designer, companies are usually concerned about the level of financial transparency.
  • Control. Controlling all the activities of an internal team (and hence the strategy and costs of design activities) is easier than the work of an external agency.
  • Involvement. In-house employees are more involved in all processes, they have a better understanding of the product, values, company culture, and brand philosophy than external designers.
  • Work performance. External agency staff usually work on several projects, and they spread their time among several clients. On the other hand, staff members devote all their efforts to one project, therefore, productivity in in-house teams is higher. In addition, in-house designers work side by side with other team members and can always personally discuss problems or ideas and it speeds up the product design process.

Disadvantages

The list of benefits above looks inspiring, but in fact, when hiring an in-house designer, a business faces some difficulties, too:

  • Difficulties for HR. All personnel issues related to recruiting and retaining employees, maintaining motivation, talent management fall on the company's HR department (if you are a small startup with no HR, get ready to include the above things in your responsibilities). In the case of cooperation with the agency, this problem remains on the side of the contractor.
  • Limitations within the project. Employers of design studios have valuable experience because they deal with various businesses and projects, and see how different industries and technologies work. The internal staff works with one type of project only, as a result, they can lack innovative ideas and ultimately lose interest in work.
  • Turnover. The flip side of this type of cooperation is that working on the same project can lead to professional burnout for employees and as a result, they leave. Of course, it takes time and money to find a new suitable candidate, teach and retain them. In case an employee decides to leave, you have to go through the whole process of hiring once again.

What is important to consider if you choose in-house?

  • Think over a career map: what career growth you can offer an in-house team or an individual employee
  • Set a trial period and collect feedback about your designer from managers (other employees)
  • Schedule a meeting once a week to stay focused on your priorities
  • Make sure you have enough design tasks to provide an employee with a full-time workload 

In what cases in-house is a good choice

  • You are oriented on the long-term cooperation and rapid growth of your company and want your employees to be a part of your evolving brand
  • You have many design tasks so that a designer stays involved full-time
  • You clearly understand the importance and value of design as an integral part of the product development 
  • You want to have complete control over each designer’s activity 

Hiring an agency

The agency can offer a wide range of expertise compared to a specialist on staff. It’s because an external team has wider experience of working on different projects. Although outsource specialists don’t work with you in the same office, they will definitely get in touch at a scheduled time to report the current state of the project. 

Sounds great, right? Let’s see other benefits of the outsourcing agency.

Advantages

  • Strict selection of personnel. Agencies have a wide range of experts you need for your project: UX designers, UI designers, researchers, managers, and other experts. They learn from each other's experience and share fresh knowledge, adding more value to your product, adopting experience from other projects and areas.   
  • Stable work on the project, regardless of vacation/sick leave. You don’t have to worry that your project won’t meet the deadlines because your designer decided to leave the company, got ill, or went on vacation. In such cases, the agency will provide you with a new specialist.
  • Management on the side of the agency. The same as you don’t have to care about the hiring process, you don’t need to spend effort managing the outsource team.

Disadvantages

As stated above, some people think that the main disadvantage of working with an agency is the price, as you have to pay for each and every additional hour and it’s very difficult to transparently control the cost. 

But, in case you work on a short-term project, this model of cooperation can be more beneficial than an in-house design team. With long-term cooperation, the agency may provide bonuses, advice that can significantly help in the development of the project. Still, let’s have a look at other major difficulties you may face when working with an agency.

  • Not as deep involvement in the project as in the work of an in-house specialist. Employees from the agency perform the needed scope of work and present you a deliverable at the agreed time, but they don’t have deep involvement in the company’s long-term goals, values, or product vision. 
  • Manager’s hours. When working with a UX design agency, usually you communicate not directly with the designer, but with the project manager who serves as an intermediary between your team and the outsourcing designers. Firstly, the price you pay is higher due to the fact that there is one more employee. Secondly, such mediation can cause misunderstandings between your requirements and the way designers deliver them.
  • No additional (not-project-related) tasks. In case you want outsourcing designers to help you with something that the design process does not include, they probably won't do it for free.
  • Lack of opportunity to nurture specialists. Working with an agency doesn’t allow you to teach the specialist the way you want it. 

What is important to consider if you hire a design agency?

  • Hire for hourly rates or short, straightforward milestones. In case it is possible, do a small piece of work first (some kind of a trial period) to check if you feel comfortable working together.
  • Before starting working, request a resume and case studies of the team as it is extremely important to get acquainted with the portfolio.
  • Arrange meetings/Skype calls with the team at least once a month in order to understand the situation and give your feedback
  • Get involved in the project, participate in the discussion of the result, expand the budget, be interested in the processes and results. 
  • Work on backlogs. It helps to clearly see the upcoming tasks for the future sprint, not to lose tasks, and prioritize goals correctly.

In what cases the agency is a good choice

  • Your in-house design team can’t cope with the workload and needs some additional help.
  • You need some specific design expertise that your designers don’t have enough skills to perform.
  • You need to start a massive design campaign in a limited timeframe.
  • You want someone with a fresh look to examine your product.

Hiring Eleken

In most cases, it is difficult to find an alternative to in-house designers and design studios. But what if I told you there is a third option? Something that won’t take all your budget but will give a result of a thorough understanding of your product, industry, and your audience? It’s Eleken - a pragmatic design agency team for SaaS.

Hiring Eleken means that you have all the benefits of an in-house designer, but with great experience and working remotely. We have taken all the best features from both internal and external teams. 

Eleken uses the time-based retainer pricing model which means that the customer pays a fixed amount of money monthly (similar to subscription) and receives a designer/s who work for them full-time.

Of course, as with all the options that we’ve discussed in this article, Eleken can’t suit everyone and also has its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • No overheads. You save the budget as you don’t have to pay sick leaves, vacation leaves, taxes for each employee. We care about it instead of you.
  • No difficulties with the hiring process. We hire designers with design experience, great portfolios, and social skills that allow them to work productively in a team. A new designer has to go through the monthly training before they can start working on a project. So, no worries about finding and teaching personnel as well.
  • 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 communicate directly with your designer.
  • A whole team to help you. If a difficult task arises, our specialists can consult with colleagues, get their works reviewed by peers, and brainstorm new ideas, which means that they can cope with the task faster.
  • Free trial. To make an informed decision whether you want to cooperate with us, we provide a one-week free trial.
  • Change the number of designers when/if 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.
  • Can’t help you if you have tight deadlines. Working in a rush is not about Eleken. We prefer creating well-thought-out design solutions.
  • For SaaS companies only. Eleken focuses on creating a design for software-as-a-service products.
  • Can’t do everything without you. If you don’t have time for daily communication and exchanging feedback and want a designer who will make each decision independently, it’s not our case.

In what cases Eleken is a good choice

  • 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 someone with a deep understanding of your business needs.
  • You want to cooperate with us long-term as you understand the importance of design for your business.

Of course, all of the above are just words. To prove that we choose deeds, not words, take a look at our case studies.

What will work better in your particular situation?

In the long run, your decision will likely depend on time and budget (as is usually the case), but it is extremely important to weigh the pros and cons of all options to ensure that your business is set for long-term success, whatever your goals are. 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 unequivocal answer to the question "Agency or in-house". This choice requires taking into account many points. At least, a lot depends on the type of project, your budget, deadlines, and so forth. It is equally important to understand whether the company will be able to provide a full-time employee with a stable full-time workload. When choosing a model of cooperation or looking for a designer for your app, it is worth starting from your situation and considering all the pros and cons.

In case you feel that Eleken is the right option for your project and want to know more about the way we work - drop us a line and we will schedule a call to answer all your questions. 

Read more about SaaS design