How to Select the Best UX Design Firm – and Avoid the Wrong Ones

Macadamian Technologies | August 7, 2014 | 5 Min Read

Here are five ways to get around the traditional process and find the best UX Design firm that will bring your products user experience to new heights.

5 Steps to Choosing the Best UX Design Firm

Choosing the right User Experience (UX) Design firm is a big decision. According to Forrester Research (2013), improving customer experience can mean millions in revenue. Companies with high customer experience scores with products that are recognized for beautiful design and ease-of-use have more customers who purchase again, don’t switch to competitors, and recommend the company.

Most companies are used to interviewing potential partners – asking them to deliver a presentation and written proposal, and sometimes even responding to a formal request for proposal (RFP). This is standard practice when interviewing a software development partner, a hardware partner, or even a Marketing agency, but this process breaks down when it comes to UX Design.

The most difficult aspect of choosing a UX Design partner is figuring out who you can trust. Every UX Design firm will have a strong sales process that involves putting their best people, visuals, and designs up front. They all make very similar claims about being innovative and engaging. Some may be exaggerating – others may not. It’s hard to tell.

Companies who follow a traditional procurement process will have a difficult time and often end up selecting the wrong firm – the one with the best salesperson, or is a friend of a VP, or is simply the lowest common denominator (or vanilla) partner that no one can find a reason to vote out (not what you want in a creative field!). Partner interviews end up being an evaluation of the firms’ abilities to sell, not their ability to understand your users and design a solution that will ensure user adoption and market success. And, the presentation plus proposal RFP process provides little-to-no idea of whether the team cultures will mix – something that is extremely important in the design process.

Based on our experience, here are five ways to get around the traditional procurement process and find the best UX Design partner that will truly bring your company to new heights.

1. Define your goals and selection criteria

Why do you need help from a UX Design partner? If your answer is “because we need to add visual wow” or “because our product is so hard to use,” consider the root of the problem. Why do you need visual wow? What do you think it will bring?

Companies often pre-suppose that a workflow redesign or visual refresh is the goal when in fact the real business goals are better user adoption, increased market share, reduced helpdesk, and training costs, improved support for sales and marketing, meeting customer-specific UI change requests, etc. The more precisely you articulate your business goals and the reason for bringing in a UX Design partner, the easier it is to get alignment internally on the type of partner and to determine the selection criteria.

From these goals you can define vendor selection. What is most important to evaluate about the UX Design partner? Ensure that visual/creative and process/methodology elements are included.

A good UX Design vendor should be asking you up front: “What are your business and product goals? How do you think UX Design can help? How will you select your partner?”

2. User Experience Research

User experience is not just about pretty pictures. Your company is looking to drive user/market adoption. Therefore, insight on what will engage and drive users to adopt your app will come from techniques like paper prototyping, contextual inquiry, and usability testing. When selecting a UX Design partner, look for firms that include some form of user experience research in their approach.

There are many creative and digital marketing agencies that specialize in the purely visual/aesthetic part of UX Design. While the design aesthetic is a key aspect of an application, it is only a small part of the overall design solution – if driving market adoption is the primary objective.

3. Interview references

Don’t be afraid to ask for at least three customer references. Impartial references tend to be great sources of insight on how the firm really works and how they deal with conflict and unexpected challenges like budget constraints and creative differences. You can also spot “paid” or biased references a mile away.

4. Avoid the old “bait-and-switch” tactics

When meeting with potential firms, ensure that you meet the people who will work on your project from start to finish. All firms want to put their best foot forward and will use their top stars for the initial kick-off meetings. However, these folks get changed out with junior staff once the project is kicked off.

5. Ask Them Out On A First Date

The best way to find out whether there is a good cultural fit between the companies is to ask the top two contenders out on a first date. Most UX Design engagements start with a creative workshop that involves a discussion on business goals and requirements as well as creative whiteboarding. Find out if they are open to arranging a half-day or full day workshop to give you real insights into what working together will be like and if your respective cultures ‘fit’.

The best UX firms will embrace this opportunity, and use it to evaluate whether they think you are a cultural fit for them too!

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