Product Design Outsourcing: When Is This a Good Idea?
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It’s been more than two decades since outsourcing became a big thing in the global world. Basically, digital product industries were born to the world that was already used to outsourcing. Now the pendulum has tilted a few times from one side to another, and it’s time to look at the situation critically and find the right balance between outsourcing everything and keeping all the processes in-house.
As a UI/UX design agency, we constantly have to talk to people who want to outsource product design. Does it mean that for our benefit, we just have to convince the doubting ones to outsource? Not really, as many products don’t really need an external product designer, and we won’t be doing a good job trying to work with them.
Outsourcing solves serious hiring problems and creates new opportunities for both sides: your team and the product designer. It’s not only about cutting costs, as many people mistakenly think. Approaching outsourcing wisely means considering both advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Wide talent pool
When you decide to outsource design work, you can choose professionals and agencies from all over the world. They don’t need to stay in the office all day, have work permits, or live nearby, like in-house team members. As a result, you can find bright minds, who wouldn't have joined your team if you hired only locally.
Finding an external designer also has a valuable effect of “outsider’s view”, when a newcomer can see it better than people who have been working with the product for a while and thus can’t see it without biases.
Hiring is often a costly and lengthy process. Screening through hundreds of candidates, interviewing them, writing and giving test tasks, onboarding… You may have to go through all of this a thousand times before you get your dream product design team. Outsourcing is a shortcut that lets you focus on the product rather than on all the administration and overhead.
Cost saving is another common reason for outsourcing. Even if the hourly rate of a remote designer is higher than that of the in-house designer, all the added costs such as hiring, social security, office expenses are what tip the balance.
Outsourcing product design team means you can easily scale or change the direction whenever there is a need. What if you decide to add a new feature that goes beyond your design team's expertise and capacities? Or build a minimum viable product (MVP) and test it fast before taking a decision to invest in it seriously? In a rapidly changing digital world, flexibility is the key to success.
Outsourcing means making your company’s internal information available to people you barely know using devices that you don’t have control over and maybe even living in a country where the state does not have certain cyber safety regulations. This is a serious concern, and that’s why many companies never consider outsourcing.
The first solution might be sharing less. It makes perfect sense, but when we work with our clients, we know that our product design really benefits from sharing more data, even the things that may seem unnecessary. However, we always sign the NDA before we start the trial, so that we keep our clients and our company safe.
Not knowing the customers
When working on the product for a long time, you get to know your customers very well (we hope you do). An outsourcing company is likely to know nothing about them. It complicates empathizing, which is one of the essential elements of product design. What is more, when remote product designers live in a different country, their culture and experience might be so different that they may not consider things that would be obvious for you.
For example, when you are used to 50 Mbps internet speed, you know that a page loading more than 2 seconds will annoy people and lead to high bounce rates. At the same time, people who are used to a different internet speed, may not realize this problem. This is just a typical case, and there are many more stories of globalization causing misunderstandings.
Communication (disconnected from the team)
The “out” part of “outsourcing” points at the outside-of-the-team position of the product designer, whilst they are performing one of the core functions. When the designer is not a part of group team gatherings, office coffee gossip, and random Slack chats, they may miss some things about the product that are not written, but are somehow crucial in establishing a fruitful communication within the team.
Communication issues are common for many remote teams, but even more common for outsourcing. Establishing the system of communication, handing out the materials, keeping the documentation in order occupies the time that managers hoped to save with the help of outsourcing. In this matter, we have some tips on designing with remote teams that you might find useful.
When outsourcing is a good idea
While being aware of the abovementioned factors, the main consideration for you should be the situation of your product, team dynamics, capacity, and the product roadmap. Here are some of the most common scenarios that our clients find themselves in when coming to us:
- MVP at the initial stage
This situation relates mostly to startups that have a clear product idea and a group of developers, but need someone to put it all together into a usable and visually pleasing form. At this stage, many startups would hire an in-house designer. The latter option would work great when they know how much design work and for how long they need in the future. However, in many cases the amount of work is not clear yet. What is more, the founders may not have the necessary experience to find the right product designer.
2. Redesign project
This is where the “outsider’s eye” is arguably the most valuable benefit of outsourcing. You may have an awesome designer working on your product steadily for years, but at some point, your product might need a redesign, and that’s when a fresh pair of eyes is crucial. From our experience with products such as TextMagic, we can assure you that in-house designer + outsourced product designers make a perfect combination for a redesign project.
3. Short-term projects
New features, tests, updates… Sometimes you realize you’ve got enough work for three full-time designers, but in three months' time, the workload will be much lower. That’s the right scenario for outsourcing when flexibility is the most important thing.
When you should not outsource design
We are far from saying that outsourcing is a magic pill for all the product design issues. There are certain cases when this strategy won’t work best and you should think of other options.
When things are not 100% clear for you
Sometimes you don’t have a clear picture of where you are going and how to get there. And it’s totally fine not to have a roadmap and plans for the next 5 years. Accept it and take some time to discuss and find the right way. Finding a good product designer may help to get you there, but it may also just waste the time of both parties and result in mutual confusion. When the objectives are not 100% defined, opt for consultancy, audit, or just a piece of advice rather than looking for outsourcing product design.
When consistency of a long-term project is at risk
When you start outsourcing product design when the product is in the active development phase, you may end up with a product, different parts of which are inconsistent and lack common ground. And a design system doesn’t always help with that. If you want to have product design outsourced in the long-run, find an in-house designer who would coordinate the work of freelancers or agencies.
Knowing all of the outsourcing challenges, we did our best to create a collaboration system that smoothes the rough edges out and lets a product designer be a part of the in-house team rather than a remote alien. We call it team extension: a model when our designer (or few of them) joins your team to work on the product.
Our product designers don’t talk only through managers (we don’t even have an account manager on our side). They collaborate with developers as well as with product owners. Product designers become part of the client’s team — all this without any hiring fuss – and stay with you as long as needed: a month, a year, or more. We go through all the product design processes with you, from research to design, and build the product together.
Still doubting whether you need to outsource product design? Contact us and find out how you can extend your team.