Let's have a shout out for the Agency Designer

Is it me or is the In house designer having their day?

With the rise of digital products and services what may previously have been one designer in a corner of a large business asked to do everything from Internal information posters to ‘the website’ and a sudden last minute ad. Has turned into the ‘best place to work’.

with design driven online businesses such as Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Paypal, Invision, Fitbit, and friends leading the way for large design teams with large budgets to constantly improve the user experience of their product online.

Agency Designer

Every article is about the problems they face, be that in growth, the epiphany they feel when agile starts to come together, the success of the ux process with pitfalls along the way, communication across teams, design reviews, optimum office layouts, remote collaboration, … and surprisingly very little about the design of the product itself. Now don’t get me wrong this is brilliant, and fascinating and gives a lot to ‘take away’ but the sheer volume of these articles in this brave new world, leads me to wonder, a) how they have time to write all these pieces and b) how much design they can actually get done in the week with all these other goings on and c) with all that empathy, quite frankly they must be exhausted. On the other hand, there is very little talk of the initial design and build at the start of the start-up, was this process too fraught to  mention any more?

In the meantime, the agency designer is working on multiple projects with multiple managers and clients each week. Let's compare this shiny new in house marvel with the lowly agency designer, remember us?

Agency designer

  • Each week we work on 5 maybe more different client projects
  • Our stand ups have to encompass each of these clients
  • Our work plans get jiggled around often splitting up blocks preventing any time to get our head into a new design
  • UXR is something we are expected to ‘know’, more often than not there is no budget for it - yes, really our clients are employing us to ‘know’ this sort of stuff!...crazy
  • Iteration is a luxury we just don’t get
  • Scrum and agile are great but really on a 4 or 6 week project?
  • Anyone for a logo or facebook ad today?
  • Imagine the slack groups we are party too
  • Clients change their mind - that’s an interesting one, with an in house product there is no client, just user

And a little more positive

  • External meetings, pitches, presentations, the buzz of winning business
  • Ownership of your work coming to fruition
  • Resourceful, flexible, creative, we still have to get great results even on a tight budget and tighter deadline, the pressure cooker effect can make for great results.
  • We are chameleons changing our style for each different client

I’ve got to say that last bit sounds like my star sign Scorpio on the back of a mug.. That I never liked!

And...things that don’t translate so well to a small agency

  • Personas can hinder more than help, without true customer exploration these are fictitious characters
  • User testing this is a no brainer, a few customers in a room with a nice lunch maybe a product or two to take home, happy to talk
  • Knowing an industry well can vastly help a client who cannot afford full UX
  • VR, AR, Chatbots, wow how we would love to, but some of our clients have only just bought into responsive, so these may be a few years off ye
  • Questionnaires -  well can’t beat talking, but If the quantity of data isn’t there

And still… we managed to output great work!

Pro’s of the job

  • There is no time to get bored, who’d want to work to a single pattern library day after day?
  • Our skill set gets broader not narrower
  • I think we probably cover a lot more actual visual and interaction design
  • We have the luxury of starting from scratch and building a brand/website
  • We get to know lots of great clients and industries

Don’t get me wrong I am an advocate of Communication, Discussion, Exploration and Collaboration but don’t you sometimes just want to knuckle down to some pure un-interrupted design.

I think the advent of the internet and from that digital products has opened up the design industry to a raft of non visual designers, which is fantastic - design in all its forms is so much more exciting than other jobs, and can help change the world - these evangelists have every right to talk about how great it is, how we learn, grow and develop. But I also want to hear about the visual designers what it is like for them how they are dealing with the growth of the internet, we still want to encourage young people to get inspired by all aspects of design not just the disciplines who shout loudest.

Just before we lose all great designers to the in house way, we should talk more about the ups and downs of agency work, the fulfilment, excitement, varied, never a dull moment, problem solving, creative (and not just in a visual way) eye opening, learning, collaborative, way in which our daily lives twist and turn. I know that these agency bees are incredibly busy juggling and managing expectations, finding new ways to get the best for clients on a shoestring, but if you have a moment, please do write and talk about your methods and processes and what makes you tick. YOU ARE AMAZING!

PS sorry about all the bullets, far too busy juggling projects to write in longhand ;)


I am a freelance UX Consultant, Website Designer, Logo Designer and Graphic Designer based in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Contact me for more information.