Why You Should Outsource Design Work to Optimize Your SaaS Business
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Outsource design work is a well-accepted phenomenon in digital product development today. Still, those who still need to gain experience in hiring external professionals can worry about many things, from the quality of the work to management issues to the potential benefits of collaboration for their specific business needs.
Eleken has been delivering outsourced UI/UX design services since 2015. Today, we have a long list of satisfied clients, an impressive portfolio, and our design is used in more than 50 applications worldwide. We know firsthand that such a cooperation model with designers can be effective if you approach the process of finding outsource designers comprehensively and consciously.
Once you understand this, you will realize that there are many benefits of outsourcing design: you can take a fresh look at your business, reduce costs, save time, and more. In this article, we will share the arguments for delegating tasks to an outsourced designer and share some successful stories, both from ourselves and SaaS companies.
But first, a quick definition.
What is design outsourcing?
Design outsourcing is the practice of hiring design agencies or freelancers to handle design-related tasks or projects that would otherwise be performed in-house. Outsourcing design work can be beneficial for companies that don't have the resources or expertise to handle certain design tasks or want to reduce costs. It can also provide access to specialized design skills and technologies that are not available in-house.
The practice can cover a wide range of design-related outsourcing services. One can outsource graphic design, web design, product design, UX/UI design, and more. The process typically involves defining the scope of the project, selecting a suitable design agency or a freelance designer, establishing timelines and milestones, and managing the project to ensure that it meets the desired quality and objectives.
Outsourcing design work can be done locally or internationally, and it can involve different types of contracts and payment models, such as fixed-price contracts, hourly rates, or retainer agreements. As with any outsourcing arrangement, it's essential to choose a reliable and trustworthy outsourcing partner and establish clear communication channels and expectations to ensure a successful outcome.
To outsource or not to outsource: main challenges when outsourcing a design team
You might be trying to tackle the question of whether to hire in-house designer vs agency, and there are pros and cons to both models. Even if you're leaning towards UI/UX or graphic design outsourcing, you might have quite a lot of reservations. Let's talk about some of the most common concerns that come with outsourcing.
Finding a reliable partner
This first challenge is the most difficult and the most important at the same time. In case you overcome it, all the other issues we will mention below will seem like nothing.
Many product owners don’t know how to find a designer for their app, software or service, what to start with, or where to search. And most importantly, how to make sure they’ve found a reliable design agency or a freelancer. If you're doing it for the first time, check out our article on how to hire UI/UX designers, as well as the guide on UX designer interview questions. Obviously, finding the right specialist takes some time and effort, but the devil is not so terrible as he is painted.
Management and communication
The next concern that most employers have is how to manage and communicate with the outsourced designers remotely. The fact that you can’t constantly control the design process of the outsourced designers leads to the fear that in the end, you won’t get the expected result, and it’s totally fine.
Still, you don't need to stand behind one's shoulder to micro-manage a specialist to get great design. At Eleken, we don't rely on project managers or other intermediaries. You get a direct line of communication with the specialist or specialists assigned to you, so you won't even notice the designers working on your project are not an extended part of your own team.
Another problem you might have when you hire a remote team is a risk of a data leak. Some owners worry that designers they hire may cooperate with their competitors and can hand over some data. No one wants to hire a UI/UX or graphic design service only to get robbed of one's ideas and intellectual property.
For that reason, make sure you know basic legislation details before starting to cooperate. Professional agencies and freelancers will be glad to sign an NDA. Do not neglect this opportunity.
The outsourced designer won’t understand your brand/industry/product
Very often, the products/services you want to design can be quite complex. And while the in-house team dives deeply into such projects, for an outsourced specialist who sees the product for the first time it can be difficult to understand how everything works.
However, there are reasons to outsource graphic design work, as well as UI/UX, which can outweigh these issues, if everything's done right. A good designer is good no matter what. Eleken's experience often proves that.
For example, our work on Highpoint entailed redesigning a very complex education management system. The designers created a visual style from scratch and made the design both universal and flexible to meet the requirements of different universities. The design also had to comply with governmental standards, which influenced many aspects of the software, including the interface colors. The product is quite complex, but the team added some fun touches to the design, such as illustrations. And, although as UX designers they are not often dealing with that, they designed the logo as well, approaching it no less rigorously than all the other changes.
How outsourcing design can help SaaS companies grow and flourish
Here are some of the key reasons to consider outsourcing your design work.
You get access to top experts
By outsourcing design work, SaaS companies can gain access to a team of experienced designers who have the knowledge and expertise required to create compelling designs. These designers have a deep understanding of the latest design trends, and can help SaaS companies create products that are not only visually appealing but also functional.
To prove this point, let's take a look at what Eleken's customers have to say about cooperation with us:
"Eleken's collaboration has also helped us to have a more organized workflow – seeing how the different pages would fit together, and what the user journey would be. Overall, I'm highly confident that they would be able to help with additional features as well. This is the advantage of working with an agency that has previous experience from dozens of clients."
Tanay Kothari, CEO, Software Company
"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."
Jamie Conklin, VP Product, Astraea, Inc.
You can focus on core tasks
Outsourcing design work allows SaaS companies to focus on their no-less important objectives. For instance, instead of spending valuable time and resources on design, they can focus on developing their products and services. This can help SaaS companies improve their overall efficiency and productivity.
"We have presented the new UX design created by Eleken next to the UX we threw together with no UX experience, and the overall feedback was terrific. Every advisor, investor, and the customer loved the new design. Since hiring Eleken, we have also been able to shift our focus on the development of DarkWave to other areas of high importance outside of the UX since Eleken has gained our trust in their timelines and high-quality work. Finally, the new UX has made our platform look very professional instead of one put together by offensive security experts."
Quentin Rhoads-Herrera, CEO, Vector0, Inc.
It's cost effective
How much does it cost to outsource design? The answer to that depends on many factors: form of cooperation, location, skill set of the designer you're hiring. If you're interested in specific numbers, check out our article fully dedicated to the costs of hiring a designer.
Still, in general, outsourced design services can save you not only time but also money. After all, when working with a design agency or a freelance designer, you won’t need to buy software, create a workplace for new in-house designers, and provide the new employees with computers and other equipment. Moreover, most outsource graphic designers are located in different countries with different hourly rates. Hiring an in-house design team can be expensive, especially for startups or small businesses. Outsourcing allows SaaS companies to save on overhead costs such as salaries, benefits, and office space.
At Eleken, our pricing model is similar to that of SaaS companies. You pay a monthly subscription fee and in return, you get a dedicated designer or a team of designers working full-time on your project. We take care of insurance, benefits, and equipment so you don't have to worry about any of that. Moreover, we don't charge any project management fees since we don't have any project managers. Basically, you get a designer working full-time and fully emerged into your project, but without the additional time losses and expenses that come with hiring an in-house designer. .
Product goes to market faster
83% of organizations that took part in the SHRM research stated they have had trouble recruiting suitable candidates recently. Not that inspiring statistics, especially for those who have some urgent design tasks…
Hiring new employees, as well as training them, is a time-consuming process. With an agency team designing outsourcing project, you get already trained and experienced specialists ready to dive into a design process straight away.
By outsourcing design work, SaaS companies can bring their products to market faster. Design agencies have the necessary resources to complete projects quickly and efficiently. This can help SaaS companies gain a competitive advantage by getting their products to market before their competitors.
See what Eleken's clients have to say:
"Since they don’t take multiple steps to achieve their goals, they deliver quickly. Thanks to their work, we’ve been able to improve and globalize the UI/UX of our product in a short period of time.  They have good communication with short response times."
Product Manager, Software Development Firm from Seoul, South Korea
Scalability becomes easier
Outsourcing design work provides SaaS companies with the flexibility to scale their design needs up or down depending on their business requirements. This is particularly important for SaaS companies that are in the early stages of development, as they may not need a full-time design team.
On the other hand, as your company scales, you may have more projects and, as a result, much more work to do. At some point, your internal team won’t have enough time, resources, or the needed skills to handle the growing workload. In such a case, designing a project with outsourcing specialists will allow you to produce more in a short time span and take on several ongoing projects. And, if the designers are qualified and experienced, they will feel like an extension of your own team. Our client’s feedback proves that:
"The workflow with the Eleken team is seamless. They work as an embedded member of our team."
Jamie Conklin, VP Product, Astraea, Inc.
High quality is guaranteed
Design agencies have quality assurance processes in place to make sure that the final product meets the client's expectations. This includes reviewing the design at every stage of the process and making any necessary changes. By outsourcing design work, SaaS companies can be confident that they will receive high-quality designs that meet their specifications.
"After some quick bug fixes and feature enhancements, the app worked perfectly and received great user feedback. Eleken's responsive communication, prompt turnarounds, and agile, organized methodology set them apart.  Their approach was responsive, agile, and iterative, which made our experience extremely pleasant."
Shahin Baharan, Growth Hacker, SB Growth
Cases of successful design outsourcing
Still not convinced it's possible to outsource efficiently? Let's take a look at some companies that managed to do it.
The first company that comes to mind that outsourced its design with huge success is Slack. The company hired a Canadian design team MetaLab to help with developing a successful product from the beta version. MetaLab provided the Slack team with valuable feedback, which helped them create a tool that reached 15,000 users in 2 weeks of its launch.
Hootsuite is another great example of a SaaS company that successfully outsourced its design work. The social media management platform outsourced its design work to a team of designers in the Philippines. The outsourcing allowed the company to scale quickly, improve the user experience and increase customer satisfaction. The company's CEO, Ryan Holmes, noted that outsourcing design work allowed them to focus on the company's core business while still improving the product.
Prift is a personal finance platform that provides tailored financial tips and hints to help individuals achieve their financial goals. Eleken helped to design a simple and minimalist MVP for Prift, prioritizing the "must-have" and "should-have" categories. They conducted benchmark research, wireframing, and A/B testing to create a working prototype with personalized financial advice as the primary feature. Prift came to Eleken after receiving a recommendation from another firm, and, according to Oliver Dix, Prift's co-founder, everything went smoothly and they were impressed with their responsiveness and ability to work independently when necessary.
With the right approach, outsourcing design services can be a valuable solution for SaaS companies looking to improve their products and stay ahead of the competition. By accessing the expertise of experienced designers, focusing on core competencies, saving costs, achieving faster time to market, scaling up or down, and ensuring quality assurance, SaaS companies can enhance their overall efficiency and productivity.
Of course, time and effort is required to find a reliable design agency or a freelancer. Some companies might have complicated workflows or unclear pricing. Some just have a way too wide range, so their expertise might not be suitable for your purposes. If you need a design agency focused on SaaS, don't look any further, drop us a line!
Hiring the Product Team. UI/UX Designer vs Front-end Developer
When you start building a team for developing your first MVP, you might easily get lost in all the job titles that you need (and don’t need) in your business. We're here to help you find out who is who.
As a team of UX professionals, we work on complex projects that require different kinds of talents, from UI developers to UX writers. Let's start with UI/UX designers and front-end developers, two positions that are often confused.
Front end vs UI/UX. What is the difference?
Both UI/UX designers and front-end developers work on the app development and are essential members of the product design team. Their final objective is to make the product functional and easy to use. Now, let’s see the differences.
UI/UX designers work on the visual side and user experience, which are tightly interconnected. They start with UX research, build wireframes, UX flow, prototypes, develop visual elements, and make sure that the design is consistent with the product brand while being human-centered at the same time. (If you are not sure what wireframes and UX flow are, check out our vocabulary of UI/UX terminology).
Front-end developers work on the functionality of the app: they translate all those pretty buttons and pictures in code, make sure that interface elements bring the user to the right page, and that the data obtained from user/app interaction is saved and ready to be processed (here is where the work of back end developer starts).
Here is another way of explaining this:
Imagine building a web app as making a suit. UI/UX designer is who makes the sketch, decides on the color, fabric, collar shape. The front-end developer decides on the best stitching technique, finds a way to make the collar stiff, and ensures that the fabric won’t change after the wash.
UI/UX designer also ensures that the suit is comfortable for the client and suits their style. At the same time, the work of a front-end developer also has a big impact on the overall client satisfaction.
Can a UI/UX designer build a website all alone?
Many people wonder if UI designers code. Well, yes and no. It depends on the technical specifications. If it's a simple portfolio website, or a restaurant page, then yes, developers' skills are not necessary. Also, make sure not to confuse UI designer with UI developer: the latter combines the skills of both UI designer and front-end developer and yes, they actually code.
With the spread of no-code web building tools like Wix and Webflow, everybody can make web pages. This very website is built with Webflow, and there was no professional developer involved. Nowadays many people without design skills, like photographers, scientists, bloggers make professional-looking websites without HTML knowledge (though of course, it would be useful for troubleshooting).
However, if the website is more complex, the front-end developers come into play.
Our designers work with SaaS, software-as-a-service apps: CRM systems, lifestyle apps, and so on. There is some serious programming work behind these minimalist dashboards, and therefore they require professional developers.
Both UI/UX designers and front-end developers work on building the best user experience, though of course, their fields of responsibilities are different. Here are some examples taken from real job descriptions:
- Take broad, conceptual ideas and translate them into high-quality UX design solutions through wireframes, process flow diagrams, storyboards, visual and graphic designs, site maps, and prototypes across an array of devices and platforms
- Develop user stories and brainstorm interface strategy to improve our platform
- Conceptualize and conduct user research, interviews, and surveys. Gather and analyze data to understand user needs
- Own end-to-end technical deliverables from feature creation through the CI/CD process and through production release
- Test and troubleshoot across multiple browsers, platforms, and devices
- Prepare front-end templates to provide progressive enhancement for modern browsers and graceful degradation for older browsers
UI/UX designers share some responsibilities with product designers and UX researchers. If you want to learn more about that, check out our article about the difference between product designers and UX designers.
Skills, methods, and tools
The visual appearance of the user interface is created in graphic software, such as Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD. Proficiency in one of these programs is a must for every designer. Knowledge of Adobe Creative Cloud programs, such as Illustrator and Photoshop is also useful. For creating wireframes and prototypes, designers use Axure, UXPin, Invision, and similar. Add here animation tools and we’ve got a basic skill set of a UI designer.
Visual communication skills and aesthetic vision is needed to make the user interface look attractive. Apart from that, designers have to be aware of current trends in UI/UX to make the design look modern (or timeless).
Apart from working with graphic software, prototypes, and developers, UI/UX designers have to spend a bunch of their time communicating with users, learning their behavior, empathizing, and analyzing how they interact with the product and how this interaction can be improved. User research is one of the most crucial parts of their work. To have an idea of how complex it can be, see our lists of UX research methods and tools.
Some knowledge of psychology would be very helpful to work with users, however, it is not listed as a necessary requirement in most job descriptions.
For front-end developers, it is more important to possess technical skills rather than understanding the psychology of users (though it can be a great plus for a front-end developer).
Soft skills that are crucial for front-end developers are foremost related to communication. It might seem very vague and obvious, but front-end developers have to communicate with other team members more than their other colleagues: they need to talk to back-end devs, product managers, testers, UI/UX designers, and even to users, in some cases. A stereotypical antisocial programmer wouldn’t be good at the front-end.
Apart from communication and teamwork skills, front-end developers need to be good at problem-solving: sometimes fixing the bugs might take more of their time than coding.
Background and education
Front-end developers need a solid education in programming. If they aim to be front-end developers from the beginning, they can focus on the main skills and tools needed for this profession. Still, knowing the specifics of back-end work would make the team communication much smoother.
Many UI/UX designers come into the profession from graphic design, though often there are people with very different backgrounds who learn UI/UX design as a postgraduate or at online courses.
There are lots of graduate courses in universities for both UI/UX design and front-end development. However, as for many IT jobs, the degree is not the most important thing that you have to look at during the hiring process.
There are many good UI/UX designers and front-end developers coming from a range of different and sometimes unexpected educational backgrounds, both tech and humanities. Also, a degree in Human-Computer Interaction is a good start for both front-end developers and UI/UX designers.
UI/UX designers and front-end developers work closely in product teams. Efficient communication between them is crucial for the success of the final product. That is why “teamwork and communication skills” are present in most soft skills requirements of job openings.
Apart from just being a good listener and knowing how to communicate with humans, team members need to understand what each of them is doing. The skills, methods, and tools used by front-end developers and UI/UX designers are quite different. However, for successful collaboration, UI/UX designers need to have a foundational understanding of HTML, CSS, JS, and front-end devs have to understand the importance of UX research and how user testing is different from the testing that they do on their own.
At Eleken design agency, we have a team of UI/UX designers who work closely with developers from the clients’ team. In our hiring and training process, we pay close attention to the communication with developers and other team members, as well as understanding their work and finding the best ways of collaboration. Believe it: some of the worst mistakes happen when design and development teams are disconnected and only present the results of their work without exchanging information in the process.
To sum up. Whom do you need to hire?
To build a successful product, you definitely need both a front-end developer and a UI/UX designer. In most cases, it is rather UI/UX + front end than UI/UX vs front end.
If your budget allows only for a small team, consider hiring a full-stack developer who would perform both front-end and back-end tasks. However, full-stack devs cost more than front-end.
You can live without a front-end developer if you use white-label software, the pre-made solution available for branding. White-label software is one of the current trends in the SaaS industry (and not only there).
You can live without a UI/UX designer if you outsource that part of the work to a third-party agency. In this case, you’ll save time on the hiring process while getting the best talent to work on your product. If that is what you want — contact us and get a free trial of working with experienced UI/UX professionals and product designers.
Figma Developer Handoff: Collaborate Like Eleken Designers
Designers and developers without exaggeration are people who turn ideas into real products. And how these two main groups of creators collaborate determines the quality of the end product.
Until recently designers and developers were often frustrated with their communication and felt like they were on different planets. Important details were getting lost, specs had to be written manually, and the whole collaboration process seemed to hover in open space.
Nowadays many designers including the Eleken team create designs and hand them over to developers in Figma. In this article, we will show you how we create designs of SaaS products and collaborate with different development teams using Figma as our main tool.
But first, let us remind you how designer-developer handoff used to work when Figma wasn’t around.
A little bit of history
Not a long time ago designers’ collaboration with the development team boiled down to sending tons of emails with ready design files, additional materials, and notes.
In case changes were needed, teams were exchanging messages and files again. And keeping track of design changes was another challenge.
Every designer who did this remembers how frustrating that was. And to be honest, developers can also relate.
Later tools evolved for the good, and developers started using different solutions designed for handoff. With the help of these tools, developers could extract the information they needed to implement design like color codes, fonts, measurements of elements, and other specs.
This made collaboration easier for developers, but as for designers, there was still some hassle, as they needed to keep their tools synced with other tools. But then Figma appeared on the market and quickly won the hearts of designers and the rest of the product teams.
How does Figma change designer-developer collaboration?
Figma takes collaboration between the design and development teams to the next level. When you’re a proud inventor of the time machine and don’t know what Figma is, it is a cloud-based software for collaborative interface design. All files are stored in the cloud and you can work in Figma directly from your browser or through the desktop application.
Collaboration in Figma has lots of benefits:
One of many reasons why not just designers but people who manage design teams love this tool is because Figma makes collaboration super easy. You literally need to just share Figma with developers by sending a link or invite:
Now designers can show their work in progress to the rest of the team in real-time, as well as share the previous versions. You can also jump into a call right in Figma to quickly discuss the details or leave comments on specific elements of design:
Figma design handoff explained by Eleken team
At Eleken, we design complex SaaS products, and collaboration with developers is extremely important for our work. That’s why we collaborate throughout the whole design process, not just when the design is ready for handoff.
Our design process usually goes as follows:
- Our designer receives direction and requirements from the product manager.
- He/she makes the UX research if needed and drafts a couple of design concepts then approves one with PM.
- Eleken designer, the client’s product manager, and the developers discuss technical details of design implementation.
- Eleken designer works on finalized design and hands it over to developers in Figma.
- Then starts the development phase, during which the designer stays in touch with developers in case minor corrections are needed.
For every new feature or set of screens, our designer has a separate page in Figma. The designer goes through several iterations to get the concept as close to the client’s vision of the product as possible. Then some details are added for the final variant when needed, and the design gets approved.
Right in the Figma file, the designer leaves comments for developers about what to pay attention to. Figma has a lot of features that allow describing right inside the component how it works. For example, you can leave a note about the most significant changes (like on the left screen below), or build user flows between actual screen designs (screen on the right).
We also recommend creating a design system in Figma. It’s like a shared library for your team, which is also helpful for developers. They can see the general structure of your design, review documentation, or search for design elements they need.
For example, Material Design from Google or Microsoft Teams UI Kit are very adaptable design systems backed up by open source code that certainly benefits your handoff process.
We often design prototypes and share them with the development team so they can see how the products are expected to look and work. The prototype also helps us to demonstrate how the aminated elements of design should behave.
By the way, a smoother developer handoff in Figma helped us improve our design operations by taking off some operational load from designers’ heads.
Eleken designer Roman says:
I don’t need to think of how to handoff design to a developer, I simply share a link. Guys pick up the design for implementation right there. If the correction is minor guys leave a comment about it directly in Figma and it’s super convenient and time-efficient.
What I love the most is that I don’t need to write any additional documentation with specifications. Developers get everything they need automatically in Figma.’
And that’s exactly how the magic happens - developers jump into your Figma file and have everything they need there to start bringing your designs to life.
How do developers use Figma?
After a developer opens a design file, they go to the right sidebar and click to see the details about the design elements. They can choose CSS, iOS, or Android depending on the technology they work with.
Developers can export these assets from Figma. Information about color codes and measurements of particular design elements can be easily connected to the tools that engineers use.
For that purpose, Figma offers many handy integrations with other products so everyone can connect their favorite tools and customize their workflow.
Figma handoff secret helpers - plugins
Here are the top ten Figma developer handoff plugins that you can share with your development team to make the handoff process even easier.
- Zeplin. If the development team you work with asks you to hand off the design in Zeplin, no need to worry, you can do it in one click from Figma. The tool will extract the design frames and specs to the developer's favorite tool.
- Gitlab. You can also easily upload your design to Gitlab, one of the largest open source code repositories and collaborative software development platforms.
- Zero Height. Sync up your Figma components and styles with the Zero Height platform and automate creating design systems and documentation.
- Avocode to easily translate your design into code.
- AWS Amplify studio plugin serves the same purpose as Avocode.
- Storybook add-on also helps to display code related to the story.
- Jira and Confluence. If your team uses these Atlassian products for workflow management, you can use Jira and Confluence in Figma.
- Notion, Slack, and many other productivity and design collaboration tools are available as Figma plugins.
But in general, there are over twenty plugins in Figma which makes the solution a favorite tool not only for designers.
In a nutshell
You can follow our checklist to ensure seamless design to development handoff in Figma.
- Start your collaboration with the development team early. Collaborate with developers on all stages of your design to make sure you create a design that can be technically implemented.
- Keep your files organized, one feature per one file. Messy work files are a sign of disrespect, not creativity.
- Leave notes and comments about design elements in Figma files, communication defeats misunderstandings and brings designer’s and dev’s planets closer.
- Build interactive prototypes instead of a thousand words! A prototype helps communicate your design ideas to others.
- Create a design system and share it with developers. Design systems in Figma are highly responsive and aligned with code.
- When handing off design to development in Figma try to think from developer’s perspective and provide details that will help others implement your design exactly how you intended.
Figma is like a super space station where the product is built and designers and developers can collaborate easily. The tool has made the design handoff process as quick as never before and serves product teams as the most collaborative design tool.
Eleken designers mastered all benefits of work in Figma and now cooperate in peace with any development teams creating skyrocket products! Curious to take a look? Check out our portfolio.