How to Choose the Right UX Design Agency for Your Startup
Rob Turner

User experience (UX) is as essential to the success of your website as its content, yet UX design is still treated as an afterthought. The following stats show users take UX very seriously:

  • 88% of users are less likely to return to a website that offers a bad user experience.

  • Users are 5 times more likely to abandon a website if it isn’t optimized for mobile.

  • If a website takes 3 seconds to load, 40% of users will leave the site.

It’s no secret that user satisfaction plays a large part in your success. Users will begin judging you and your business from the moment they enter your website. Without UX design, you’ll have a hard time staying competitive with other companies that prioritize user experience.

Unless you have a dedicated UX design department, you’ll need to hire an agency. Getting high-quality results from a professional design studio will come at a cost, but the most reliable agencies will pay for themselves. Here’s how you can find an excellent agency for your startup.

How to Pick the Best UX Agency

Potential customers will first get acquainted with your products or services from the design of your website. UX design can affect your company's appearance and reputation, but quality design agencies can help you take your brand to the next level. All of the top user experience designers you should pick for your startup will rank positively in the following criteria.

Testimonials and Reviews

Start researching agencies by searching for UX design agencies in your area. An agency with a decent marketing budget will appear at the top of the search engine, followed by the company's reviews and testimonials. Browse Google Reviews and their business website for clues.

Any UX agency worth its salt will have a business profile on Awwwards, Clutch, and Goodfirms because they provide verified information on their users. Linkedin can be a good resource, but it’s easier to fake information on this website. If you choose to use Linkedin specifically, ask past and current employees or clients if they would work with or for the design agency again.

Let’s take a look at why you should browse the following websites before making a decision:

  • Awwwards: Hold competitions for professional UX designers. Awwwards showcases the best designers, portfolios of their work, and links to their social media accounts.

  • Clutch: A research organization that compiles lists of top companies and analyzes their reviews. You’ll find complete UX agency profiles, work experience, and reviews.

  • Goodfirms: A large resource for reviewing and researching software companies. On this website, you’ll be able to examine agencies and read client testimonials.

Study Portfolios and Experience

When your agency of choice passes the testimonial and review test, examine the company's portfolio and past experience. It’s likely the UX agency you’re researching produces great work, but it may not be to your tastes. At the same time, a beautifully designed project doesn’t equal a positive user experience for your clients, so you’ll need to consider more than just looks.

While looking at the design agency's portfolio, ask yourself the following questions.

Are their past projects live websites or concepts?

Online UX design portfolios should include live websites that you can explore and interact with. If a company still uses the agency's design, it probably shines in the UX department. However, if a portfolio consists of concept images, it’s unlikely user experience played a role in its design.

Does the agency have a theme or niche?

Some UX agencies will appeal to a specific crowd and only show examples in their portfolio that attract a niche. An agency may also design within a certain theme or art style. If you ask the UX agency to design something beyond their expertise, they probably won’t deliver the best results.

Are their designs high-quality?

An agency may hide the quality of their work by showing who they worked for and not what they created. Not only is this a massive red flag, but you also can’t form an opinion on the type of quality they offer. If the agency offers an interactive and transparent portfolio, that’s a good sign.

Do they mention their research methodology?

UX designers can’t offer the best user experience unless they research their clients' user base. In the end, you’re hiring an agency to improve your metrics, and a high user experience can accomplish this. Your chosen agency should be clear with how they achieve this goal.

Can you find their profile on Dribble or Behance?

Dribble and Behance are portfolio websites that appeal to designers. If an agency has a decent following and the design community loves their work, they’re probably the right company for your startup. Both websites can recommend other agencies that offer a similar product.

Examine the Company’s Website

A UX design company should have a user-friendly website that clearly labels its approach to work, company culture and values, and software tools. Everything you see can be applied to your finished product, so take the time to interact with their website. Ask yourself if you would want a website that runs like theirs and if you consider the site functional and appealing.

Look Up Their Social Media Pages

Social media can tell you a lot about how a company brands itself. Agencies understand the importance of social platforms and will want to present themselves in a positive light. Although you aren’t hiring a UX agency for a social profile overhaul, you still need to pay attention to how they use color and size to draw an audience. UX design can transfer effortlessly to social media.

Don’t just look at the company's visual appearance. Go through their posts and see how they communicate with their followers. Check how quickly they respond to feedback. Agencies that can’t take criticism on social media won’t listen to you if you’re unhappy or ask for changes.

Contact the Agency and Ask Questions

Start contacting agencies on your shortlist and talk about your project. Listen to the types of questions they ask you. It’s not always a bad sign if they forget to ask you about an important aspect of your project because they may not need that information currently. However, if they refuse to answer the following questions, they may not be truthful with their process.

  1. How frequently do you communicate with your clients?

  2. Where will my project be on your calendar? How many times per week will you work on my project? Will you take on new clients while you work on my project?

  3. Do you have a clear understanding of my goals and the project?

  4. Do you have an on-staff project manager? What’s their experience?

  5. How frequently can you update me on the project?

  6. Is there anything you need from me to help you complete the project?

  7. Do you have a quality assurance department?

  8. Does your UX agency have experience in user research, user testing, UX audits, usability studies, mockup design, prototype design, personas reports, sitemaps, experience maps, user flowers, user journeys, and final visual design?*

* Final visual design is typically handled by a graphic artist, which an agency may not have on the team. However, it’s in your best interest to find an agency that does.

Check the communication quality of your conversation. Most UX agencies should be just as excited about your project as you are, or at least mirror your enthusiasm somewhat.

Get Familiar With Workflow and the Design Process

User design has a sequence and logic to it that the agency should explain to you if asked. A UX agency should tell you what to expect, but some agencies will hide the process if they jump straight to the solution stage. Any agency that does this will provide low-quality services because they won’t have enough information to find the correct solution to your problems.

The best UX agencies will research your user persona first before the testing stage. Agencies need to know who your target audience is before they can address why they’re unhappy. After finding the problem, a UX designer will come up with a strategy, an objective, and possible features that could result in a more effective solution for the client and their users.

Don’t hire a UX agency that cuts corners, no matter how cost-effect they seem.

Inquire About Their Service Scope

While researching, you may have noticed that some design agencies also off UI design. User interface designers focus more on looks and style, while user experience designers pay attention to usability and function. Choose a design agency that offers both because they can help you with branding and growth strategies, content creation, and business development.

Compare Pricing Models and Efficiency

UX agencies will typically offer two pricing models: fixed-price per project or time and materials-focused pricing. Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for each example.

  • Fixed-Price: With a fixed pricing model, you’ll know exactly how much a project will cost when you sign the contract. You can set the technical requirements and deadline in advance. Fixed-price models work better for trial projects and most professionals.
  • Time and Materials: A time and materials pricing model offers flexibility because it allows you to supervise the entire process. You can’t set a deadline for the project, but this model offers you a better chance of receiving the best version of your product.

Always ask about the average time frame for projects on a times and material pricing model. A reliable agency will choose the best designers for a tight deadline, but you may receive an inexperienced or medium-level design for an open project. If you prefer to receive your project sooner than later, ask for their most experienced designer before signing the contract.

Prepare a Test Task

The best way to know if a UX agency is right for you is by offering a test task. Ask the agency to fix a small part of your website to see how quickly and expertly they perform at that task. After seeing the final results of your test task, make a decision on whether or not you’ll hire them.