Haaris Hasnain
Haaris Hasnain 5 April 2016

Selecting the right UX Design Partner

In this age of customer centricity, user experience has become an undoubted pillar of success for most online ventures. Companies are spending millions of dollars in getting the user experience right for their customers. Companies want to get in the head of the customer while deciding what is the right way of reaching and fulfilling the needs of the customer.

A number of user experience agencies claim to provide the absolute experience on the ground with concepts like "Design Thinking", "Lean UX" etc. With so much going on and each agency coming up with its own set of competencies it is hard for the CxOs to differentiate and evaluate between these design agencies.


Since user experience design and optimization is a never ending exercise in the dotcom world, it is important to follow a structured path of selecting a partner. In this post, I have tried to suggest a  methodology that can be adopted for evaluating the partners:

  1. Invite agencies for a discovery session: The purpose of a discovery session is to set the expectations right. It also leads to an insights about what is the level of understanding of user experience in the organization and its stakeholders. Discovery session should lay down a series of open ended questions, answers to which will provide clarity to agency on the vision, mission and measurable goals of the organization.
  2. Develop a framework for evaluation: Framework for evaluation provides a template to measure various qualitative and quantitative attributes brought forward by a UX design agency. The framework should cover aspects like ideation methodology, emphasis on research, creativity of thought, people and thought leadership competency, coverage or channels etc. Ideally, the framework should have assigned weightages to different areas in their order of importance.
  3. Evaluate the proposed approach: Approach of project planning & execution is the clear differentiator. Almost every agency will talk about being lean and agile but it needs to be evaluated as to how they bring those concepts on the ground and apply them in a balanced manner. An agency that scores well on all aspects of the defined template will clearly emerge as a leader of the pack. Also, important to see is the kind of research methodology an agency brings in. Great emphasis needs to paid on the type and mode of user research. Persona, customer journeys and information architecture should all flow from the user research. Usability testing should also be factored in for the evaluation purpose. Time, mode and target audience of usability testing is critical for the success of the whole process.
  4. Evaluate past credentials and people competency: Industry knowledge plays a significant role in designing the optimum user experience. Evaluation of past work should be done to see if there is significant exposure of the team in the target industry. Coverage of multiple cross-industry use cases also points to the depth of the practice. People who will work on the project should also be evaluated for the kind of expertise they bring on to the table.  
  5. Ask for a POC: A proof of concept will provide insights around if the UX agency has been able to understand the strategic imperatives of the organization. It will also provide a showcase of the thought process of the agency and their understanding of the organization's industry and its use cases.
  6. Evaluate the technical compatibility: It is one thing to have a fantastic drawing on the board and another to bring it to reality. Often, UX design agencies work in silos and suggest something which is not in coherence with development realities. Thus, what is suggested as the end goal should be vetted against the technical capabilities of the organization.
  7. Evaluate project execution plan and time-to-market: Project execution plan needs to have sufficient iterations in the each phase. It is also important to check if there is enough development support provided by the partner. UX Design is a never ending process and thus enough visibility should be there of the role UX design agency will play in different phases of the product life-cycle. Another imperative here is to factor in the time-to-market. In a fast changing digital world things become obsolete fast and therefore, digital agencies need to work in phases ensuring the right module/product is out in the market at the right time.
  8. Do a reference check: This is one area which is often neglected. After a thorough evaluation of aptitude, it is time to get insights about the attitude of the people you are going to work with. A testimonial from a past engagement provides information about the behavioural aspect of the design agency. 

Selecting a right UX design partner is an important stepping stone in the overall digital strategy of the organization. Thus, it makes every bit of sense to see whether there is a cultural and logical fit of the partner with the organization.

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