Hiring a User Experience Design Firm

Written by

Kelly Franznick

Several UX consultants from Blink discuss challenges and opportunities at a kickoff meeting

In July 2020, Blink will celebrate 20 years in business. So, we’ve worked with a massive range of clients. One thing we have learned is that projects are the most successful when everyone is on the same page about the expectations for the engagement.

If you’re considering working with a UX agency, the following questions can set you up for success.

Important questions to ask UX firms

1. Do you work on-site at our offices or do you work out of your offices?

You likely value close collaboration as much as innovative thinking from your UX partner. Therefore, you will need to understand the consulting firm’s preferred model of daily engagement to determine whether that meets your expectations. You can’t assume that the UX consultants will embed in your team. For example, at Blink, our preference is that our consultants work out of Blink offices to maintain our culture and provide them the best environment, though exceptions are made depending on the project. When potential clients evaluate us, we need to understand their location expectations and weigh whether we are a good fit for their needs.

Over the past several years, Blink has grown to five nationwide studios. To accommodate this growth, we have adopted new technologies to collaborate with our clients and support remote user research. Each of our conference rooms is equipped with HDTV and a high-quality microphone/speaker.

2. How do you prefer to communicate with your clients?

On any project, especially a collaborative one including UX research and design, you need to determine whether your communication expectations align with your UX consulting firm. For example, they may want daily syncs where you prefer to communicate less frequently. You may want to quickly reach them by IM. You may prefer face-to-face meetings for critical conversations. You need to know whether they share the same philosophy.

3. We’re across the country from you. How do you work with distributed teams?

When you don’t have the luxury of easily meeting face-to-face, find out if they travel to ensure critical meetings like kickoffs or workshops are conducted in person. Discuss the communication tools they use to keep remote team members in the loop. If your teams span continents, discuss how your company prefers to manage those time zone differences.

At Blink, we try to be tool agnostic. Our “in-house” tools include GSuite Office 365, Box, Zoom, and Slack but our UX consultants also rely on a client-specific stacks (Microsoft Teams, Amazon Chime, BlueJeans, or Google Hangouts) depending on the project they are supporting.

4. How will your designers work with our developers?

Your development team will ultimately need to consume the designs arising from the user-centered design (UCD) process. You need to understand how the developers will be included in the process. Ideally, the UX team invites developers to kickoffs, stakeholder interviews, and design reviews throughout the process so that developers’ ideas and technical constraints are incorporated.You also need to know how the designs will be handed off. Examples of deliverables are wireframes, a working prototype, CSS files, and/or code snippets. The more seamlessly that designers can work with developers means a greater likelihood designs will get into the finished product. In Agile development, designers often need to work a cycle or two ahead of the developers. Whether or not you use Agile, find out how the UX consulting firm will accommodate your process.

Whenever possible, we prefer to deliver our projects as front-end prototypes built with HTML/CSS/JS. Our UX engineers have a passion for good design and an obsession with accessible, performant, search-optimized code.

5. Can we be present in user research interviews?

If you’re eager to talk to representative users or customers (good for you!), but need a UX consulting firm to help, it’s important to clarify how the firm provides the client access to the research participants. You may be given access to the recordings or you may be invited to participate in interviews or field research.

At Blink we’ve learned that clients vary in their availability and levels of interest to observe live research sessions. So we provide recordings, transcripts, and highlight reels to help support our insights and recommendations.

While many of our clients participate in field studies—after the researcher lays ground rules—in our usability studies only the moderator is in the room with users and we stream the session to the clients. That may differ from other firms’ policies, but the important part is to discuss the role of the clients in user research sessions and exactly what deliverables you’ll receive as a part of the engagement.

6. How do you incorporate technical and business requirements into your designs?

A UX consulting firm will likely take a user-centered approach to your project. However, business requirements and the technical requirements should be incorporated into any design and development. Find out what points in their process incorporate these requirements. Discuss ways that the designs can be checked against these requirements, such as reviews with technical architects or product executives.

At Blink, we are very flexible in terms of how we receive those requirements but we prefer to receive them early and revisit them as often as necessary to ensure each project we complete achieves it goals.

7. Have you worked on projects like mine?

A lot of factors determine the complexity of a user-centered research and design project: domain, difficulty recruiting representative users, the extent of platforms to be designed for (e.g., mobile, desktop, voice UI), the number of stakeholders, etc. Ask the UX consulting firm to share its experience relevant to your project. While we believe the UCD research and design toolbox is suitable for a vast number of problem spaces, design constraints, form factors, product goals, or interaction methods, the valuable lessons learned from experience smooth the design process.

What questions do you have for us?

These questions are a good starting point to finding the right UX partner. If you are interested in learning more about Blink then check out our expansive portfolio of clients, or drop us a note at [email protected].

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