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Types of Design Agencies and How to Choose One

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We're Eleken, a pragmatic UI/UX design company. We design, fix and scale SaaS products. Throughout our journey, we managed to develop quite a unique work model that helps us stand out among other design agencies on the market and attract our specific target audience.  

Still, this our story, and design is a broad word in all its senses. This fact gave birth to numerous types of design agencies. So, when people look for a design partner, they often get confused with a long list of similar-sounding companies with different specializations. And it becomes a real challenge for them to choose the one suitable for their specific needs. We feel this problem when people ask us to make work that we actually don’t deliver. 

So, to keep your nerve and help you find the right design partner, in this article, we will analyze eight categories of design agencies so that you can understand the difference between them and make an informed decision about which one to work with.

Short overviews of major design agencies

When there is no time and other resources for building your own design team and hiring in-house is not an option, we usually start searching for some help in different design agencies.

Here are brief explanations of the most popular types.

Eleken, pragmatic UI/UX design agency for SaaS

Eleken, pragmatic UI/UX design agency for SaaS

As we started this article by introducing ourselves, we can’t help ourselves but conclude the thought and tell you a bit more about how we work.

Eleken is not a typical design agency. We help our clients eliminate unnecessary expenses and hire professional UI/UX designers experienced in design for SaaS, as part of your product team. That is, hiring Eleken is like hiring experienced in-house designers that work remotely. 

We use a subscription-based pricing model, meaning our clients pay a fixed sum every month and get a full-time designer dedicated to their project only. You can find more detailed information in our article about the Eleken Pricing Model.

Our services

Here are the main services we offer:

  • SaaS design from scratch (creating an MVP: UX research, wireframing, user testing, visual design, prototyping)
  • Redesign (UX audit, competitor analysis, UX redesign, visual language)
  • Product extension (discovering the existing product with its business logic, and UI patterns, designing new features, creating design system)
  • Additional services (as a part of the main project we can help you with website design/redesign, landing page design, pitch deck design, presentations, and the like)

Team composition

There are the following roles in our team:

  • UI/UX designers - responsible for user experience, visual design, UX research, and everything needed to create high-quality design solutions while taking into account business objectives
  • Design leads - supervise and mentor designers providing them with support and advice on how to cope with UI/UX challenges they may encounter during work on projects
  • Account manager - serves as the contact person for clients that want to leave feedback/apply some changes related to their cooperation with Eleken

As you can see, our team structure is quite straightforward. We don’t have project managers, as we believe that speaking directly to the designer helps to get rid of misunderstandings and saves your budget. One more advantage of having such a transparent team composition is that we start working on the project almost instantly. It usually takes a few days (or even a few hours) from the project request to the moment our designers start to work. 

Types of clients we serve

We serve SaaS businesses of different sizes and industries that

  • Don’t have a design team, but are looking to launch/revamp/expand their SaaS product
  • Lack employees and are looking for additional UI/UX designer/s to join their product team

But of course, we aren’t a universal agency that can help with any kind of design request. First of all, Eleken works with SaaS companies only. As well, because of the specifics of our pricing model, it’s more cost-effective to hire us for long-term projects. On the other hand, we don’t build brand strategies, don’t create content, or develop applications. 

So, there are certain areas of design that we specialize in, as well as areas that we do not cover. Therefore, let’s explore other types of design companies that are ready to meet the specific needs of customers that we don’t serve.

UI/UX design agency

UI/UX design
Image credit: UX Collective

Next we’ll discuss a UI/UX design agency, as the one most similar to Eleken in terms of a work model and services provided. 

A UI/UX design agency helps businesses create products/services that are usable, intuitive, accessible, and visually appealing. They ensure that the UI and UX of your product are coherent and optimized for the needs of its target audience.

Their services

As for the services you can receive at a UI/UX design agency, they are almost the same as at Eleken, which is the design of digital interfaces and experiences for web and mobile apps. This includes 

  • User research (conducting interviews, surveys, and usability tests)
  • Information architecture (developing a site map and user flow)
  • Interaction design (defining the behavior and functionality of the product, including its navigation, interactions, and animations).
  • Visual design (creating a visual style)
  • User testing (conducting usability tests with real users)

Besides, a typical UI/UX design agency often provides services of website design (websites, landing pages, coming soon pages). As we already mentioned, at Eleken we do this only as a part of the main project, not a separate one.

Still, keep in mind that UI/UX companies frequently work on custom projects that’s why some of them don’t provide enough transparency in their billing and project management processes, which can lead to misunderstandings and makes it difficult for clients to comprehend how much they will be charged and what services are included (and that’s the reason for us coming up with a monthly retainer fee).

Team composition

A typical UI/UX design team looks as follows:

  • UX designer - makes sure users will be able to easily interact with the product by conducting user research, defining user personas, and based on this information creating a prototype
  • UI designer - thinks out the user interface so that users easily interact with the product and quickly find the required information
  • ​​User researcher - responsible for conducting user research to inform the design decisions and identify user needs
  • Project manager - communicates with the client and the team, delegates the tasks among team members

Here’s one more thing that differs a common UI/UX agency from Eleken: they have a project manager in their team. As we stated, we believe that having a middle person between designers and the client may lead to miscommunication of project requirements or a lack of transparency about project progress. 

In general, the team composition in a UI/UX design agency can vary depending on the size and type of agency but they all have experts to ensure a seamless user experience of your product. 

Types of clients they serve

A UI/UX agency works with both small startups and well-established enterprises from different industries who need help with designing and structuring marketing websites, mobile user interfaces, and in certain cases, B2B software.

So, if you need to improve the UX of your products or services, identify pain points in the user journey, or get strategic advice on how to optimize the overall user experience the UI/UX design agency is a good choice.

Product design agency

UX studio

A product design agency may refer to two different things: industrial product design and digital product design.

  • An industrial product design agency specializes in the engineering and manufacturing of physical products from start to finish.
  • A digital product design agency helps brands create consistent and successful products, taking into account both user needs and business objectives. They work closely with clients throughout the whole product design process from ideation to testing, prototyping, and development.

Below we will talk about digital product design agencies as they also have much in common with our work model.

Their services

A product design agency may provide a range of services, including

  • Developing a product strategy (a value proposition map, product objectives and business goals, a marketing and positioning plan, and so on)
  • Conducting UX research (customer interviews, surveys, prototype testing, field research)
  • Creating visual designs (wireframes, UI/UX design, prototypes, usability testing)
  • Supporting during the development process (advice on code implementation, selecting frameworks, third-party API integrations)

In general, their services are quite similar to those of UI/UX design agencies, but with a bigger focus on strategic tasks and client’s business needs. As well, like Eleken, they often work with software-as-a-service businesses. But unlike us, who can easily develop an individual approach to each new project, product design companies often have strictly defined design processes, which makes them inflexible.

Team composition

The team composition of a digital product design agency typically includes

  • Project manager - communicates with the client and the team, delegates the tasks among team members, ensures everyone is moving in the right direction
  • Product designer - responsible for intuitive user experience while taking into account business goals and objectives
  • Product manager - bridges the gap between the business and the product design team, does business analysis, discovers business problems, and so on
  • UX researcher - studies target users and translate gathered data into valuable information for the design team
  • Developer - provides consultations during the UX design stage to ensure that the designed solutions are feasible.

Types of clients they serve

Digital product design agencies work with small startups and well-established enterprises. Consider this type of company if you want to verify the feasibility of new products offering, need guidance on pre-launch strategies, require assistance in scaling more rapidly than your rivals, or simply need help with creating usable products that are in line with business objectives.

Software development agency

Image credit: digitaltransformationagency1

A software development agency is generally hired to solve business problems related to the front-end and back-end development of custom software applications, external apps, or SaaS products. The agency's primary goal is to create and maintain software solutions that meet the specific needs of their clients. They often specialize in certain technologies, programming languages, or industries, and provide a range of services, including software development, software testing, project management, consulting, and technical support.

Their services

Software development agencies specialize in

  • Software development (web apps, mobile apps for Android and iOS, SaaS apps, multi-tenant systems)
  • Digital transformation (business analysis, digitalization)
  • Software testing and QA (manual testing, testing automation, test strategy)
  • UI/UX design (digital interfaces and experiences for web and mobile apps)
  • Continuous Deployment and Continuous Integration (CD/CI) (automate repetitive processes such as deployments, code quality checks)

Though such agencies do assist in creating UI/UX design, providing a full stack of services in app development, if you have a specific design request like improving user engagement and satisfaction, or making the app easy to use, it’s better to choose one of the agencies we’ve discussed earlier in this article.

Team composition

Major team members of a software development company are the following:

  • Project manager - communicates with the client and the development team, delegates the tasks among team members, ensures everyone is moving in the right direction
  • Business analyst - researches the market and formulates business goals, ensures the alignment of business model and technology
  • Front-end and back-end developers - code the user interface and functionality of the product  
  • UI/UX designer - designs the look and feel of the product, ensures the intuitive interaction with the product
  • QA - tests the product to make sure it functions well and meets all the requirements 

Types of clients they serve

Obviously, software development companies serve businesses of various scales and industries who need to develop, deploy, and maintain software products.

Still, as we’re talking about design, here’s the thing: if you want a one-stop-shop for all your app development needs, including design, development, and maintenance, a development agency is your go to. They can handle all aspects of the app development process, ensuring a consistent approach to your project.

But when you already have a development team, plan to handle development in-house, or have a specific design-related request, hiring Eleken, a UI/UX or product design agency can be a better choice.

Digital agency

Image credit: i3diligence

A digital agency offers diverse digital solutions to promote their client’s product or services online and assist in achieving their marketing objectives and expanding their business. Typically, these agencies specialize in a particular area of digital marketing and advertising. Working with multiple clients, they take time to comprehend their individual business goals and offer personalized recommendations and services.

Their services

The main goal of a digital agency is to help businesses to establish an online presence and reach their target audience through various digital channels. That’s why most digital agencies offer their clients

  • Website design and development (creating an easy-to-use and pleasant website that generates more leads)
  • Content creation (images, videos, articles, and so on)
  • Search Engine Optimization (link-building, making sure the content is getting noticed through organic searches) 
  • Email marketing (reaching more people and generating leads through email)
  • Social media marketing (increasing traffic on social media, building trust with the audience)

Team composition

The team at the digital agency may consist of the following people:

  • Digital marketing manager - builds marketing strategies, implements and manages marketing campaigns
  • Account manager - communicates with the client and the team, delegates the tasks among team members, ensures everyone is moving in the right direction
  • Content manager - develops, distributes, and evaluates content marketing strategy
  • Copywriter - writes the content required by the team
  • Social media specialist - creates and manages a social media strategy
  • SEO specialist - analyses, changes, and tests a website to rank it higher in search results on main search engines. 
  • Graphic designer - creates visual content for websites, ads, social media content, blog, and so on.
  • Web developer - programs the website and guarantees impeccable functionality on all devices

Types of clients they serve

A digital agency can be a suitable option if you need comprehensive digital services, such as search engine optimization (SEO) or social media marketing. 

Unlike Eleken, which can complete marketing design tasks as an additional service, and UI/UX design agencies that focus on creating engaging, intuitive, and user-friendly interfaces, digital agencies specialize in design from a marketing and advertising perspective.

Creative agency

Creative design agency

A creative agency offers a wide range of services that lies between advertising, consulting, design, and digital solutions. The main goal of a creative agency is to help businesses achieve their marketing and branding objectives through creative and effective campaigns, usually using traditional methods like print ads, PR, TV ads, and so on. 

Their services

Some of the services offered by a creative agency may include

  • Building strategies (brand, content, marketing, social media, advertising)
  • Advertising (creating and implementing a marketing campaign)
  • Design (logo, promo materials, landing pages, websites)

Team composition

Essential roles within a creative agency’s team include

  • Creative director - plans and monitors ad campaigns, shapes brand standards, guides and supervises other creative team members (designers, copywriters)
  • Account manager - communicates with the client and the agency’s team
  • Brand strategist - based on client’s goals, needs, type of industry, and target audience establishes brand standards, ensures brand message consistency across different channels
  • Content strategist - plans, creates, edits, and publishes relevant content based on business goals, market, and user research
  • Graphic designer - designs the creatives that reflect the brand and are needed to support the ad/blog/website/similar.
  • Web developer - creates a website
  • Copywriter - writes convincing copies for the agency’s needs

Types of clients they serve

Creative agencies typically serve businesses that need to run brand campaigns, attract clients to the website, and other ad and marketing needs. Some of them may focus on clients from a specific industry, while others may be more universal.

Branding agency

Image credit: jillmatrix

A branding agency specializes in creating and launching, as well as revamping brands. The role of a branding agency is to create, plan and manage branding strategies for clients to help them increase and reach the target audience, maintain brand consistency, and generally expand the brand.

Their services 

  • Creating brand strategies (company’s/brand’s naming, target audience definition, conducting market research, value proposition definition)
  • Designing brand identity (logo, packaging, identity system, brand architecture, and portfolio)
  • Running creative ad campaigns that spread the brand message

Team composition

Branding agencies’ teams usually consists of:

  • Account manager - an intermediate between the client and the agency
  • Brand strategist - researches the market and the target audience to correctly develop the brand’s message, elements, and tone 
  • Creative director and/or the designer - responsible for creating branding and advertising materials for the client (logo, packaging, campaign inputs), and ensuring that all the ‘artworks’ correctly communicate the brand message and values
  • Copywriter - composes content for campaigns/visuals and ensures it reflects the brand
  • Graphic designer - creates visual concepts for brand’s needs
  • Photographer/videographer - creates visual content for the brand (some agencies have external photographers/videographers)

Types of clients they serve

Branding agencies may serve different types of businesses, non-profit organizations, or even government agencies that want to create or revamp their overall brand identity.

P.S. At Eleken we can help you when you already have a new brand identity but need to revamp your product’s UX while keeping it consistent with the new image.

Marketing agency

Marketing agency

We often have leads that ask us for marketing services (not only design related). But as we already said, we do marketing design tasks only as a part of a main product design project. That’s why the last type of agency we want to discuss here is a marketing agency. 

It provides full-funnel marketing services that bring together a great variety of different specializations, including branding and graphic design, content, copywriting, search engine optimization, and more.

Their services

Here are some services that marketing agencies provide:

  • Marketing and brand strategies (defining business goals, conducting market/user research and based on this information create a plan of actions called to grow, promote and sell brand/product/service)
  • SEO (moving the content up the ranking to drive an additional organic traffic) 
  • Content creation (creating videos, photos, posters, infographics, copies, and suchlike for all marketing needs)
  • Email marketing (promoting business using email)
  • Special events (organizing events aimed at promoting the company’s brand)
  • Media buys (advertising at a popular media company (TV station, magazine, website, blog, newspaper)) 
  • Marketing automation (automating routine repetitive tasks with the help of special software)
  • PR (maintaining the positive image of a company)
  • Design (creating branding materials, website design, graphic design for social media, and more)

P.S. It’s not even the full list of services that a marketing agency may offer, for that reason they sometimes may lack strict-focus expertise. 

Team composition

As marketing agencies provide a wide number of services, their team may consist of various different professionals, here are only some of them:

  • Marketing director - develops general marketing plan, approves marketing campaigns, measures ROI of different promotional channels
  • Content manager - plans, creates, edits, and publishes relevant content based on business goals, market, and user research
  • Creative manager - plans and manages ad campaigns, shapes brand standards, guides and supervises other creative team members (designers, copywriters)
  • Project manager - communicates with the client and the team, delegates the tasks among team members, ensures everyone is moving in the right direction
  • Digital marketing manager - builds marketing strategies, implements and manages marketing campaigns
  • Copywriter - writes the content required by the team
  • Social media manager - creates and manages a social media strategy
  • Front-end developer - creates the layout for websites and web applications
  • Graphic designer - creates visual content for websites, ads, social media content, blog, and so on.
  • Web developer - programs the website and guarantees impeccable functionality on all devices
  • Brand strategist - based on client’s goals, needs, type of industry, and target audience establishes brand standards, ensures brand message consistency across different channels
  • Email specialist - builds email lists, writes emails, generates leads through written communication
  • SEO specialist - analyses, changes, and tests a website to rank it higher in search results on main search engines

Types of clients they serve

Marketing agencies help those who want to launch a new or grow an existing product or service successfully, targeting the right audience and channels. If a client needs help with specific areas of marketing, such as social media, content marketing, or SEO, a marketing agency can provide the specialized expertise to execute successful campaigns.

Key design services and types of design companies that provide them

Though we’ve just analyzed 8 types of different design agencies, it still may be challenging to choose the one that satisfies your specific needs, as their services often overlap with each other, or they have a specific focus. For your convenience, here are short statements that describe what agency type may help you with your request.

  • If you need to design from scratch or redesign a SaaS product taking into account both your business objectives and user needs, and want to start the project as soon as possible, choose Eleken
  • If you need to create or revamp web/mobile apps, and websites with intuitive user experience and pleasing user interface hire a UI/UX design agency
  • If you want to be sure that you’re launching a viable product, with strong UI/UX design that aligns with your business goals, choose a product design agency
  • If you need to design and develop a web/mobile app in one place, choose a software development company
  • If you need to design, develop, and optimize a website or landing page, choose a digital agency
  • If you’re looking to rebrand, or advertise your product using the combination of traditional and digital methods, choose a creative agency
  • If you want to revamp the image of your brand, including logo design, packaging, identity system, hire a branding agency
  • If you need someone to take care of your full marketing design needs, including creating branding materials, website design, graphic design for social media, and maintaining the positive company image, contact a marketing agency.

Now that you know what type of agency you need, it’s time to learn how to find the right designers and then manage your design team.

Kateryna Mayka

Author

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