How to Find the Right Product Design Agency

Product Design
10 MIN
Date Published
March 9, 2021

What is a product designer?

Product designers are innovators and problem solvers. They assess customer pain points and create products that fill the needs other products cannot. Product development companies are staffed with product designers who solve problems and guide creation throughout the entire design process. A product design agency and a product designer are knowledgeable about user experience and focused on their audience, which makes their product design authentic, innovative, and necessary to users.

What are the most important skills for product designers?

Since a product designer and product design agency are so focused on user experience and innovation, they need to have a combination of both soft and hard skills. These will ensure the product designer and product development agency are both able to direct the entire design process, plan for end-user experience, and create the best product design possible.

1. Soft Skills:

Soft skills are imperative in product design. Soft skills are a combination of behaviours and personality traits, and include the following:

  • Communication: According to Designlab, 70% of mentors believe communication is the most important soft skill for a product designer to have. The very process of design requires constant communication between team members in order to build the best product, and sometimes communication needs to be carried out remotely. It is imperative that those in the field of product design and working in product development companies are master communicators and are skilled with listening to input from others, seeking feedback, and directing their teams.
  • Critical thinking: In order to create an effective product design and to transform ideas from intangible to tangible, product designers need to be critical thinkers. Critical thinking is instrumental in the design process, not just for planning the design itself or for expanding an idea into a real marketable item, but also to solve problems that arise during creation and to come up with an idea for a product that will solve an existing problem in the first place. Critical thinking also informs how well a product designer and product design agency communicates, enabling clearer and more effective communication.
  • Teamwork: Product design calls for collaboration by its very nature. It is absolutely imperative that a product designer is able to work well in a team setting and that teamwork is carried out through the entire design process in order to ensure the best product with the best user experience. Collaboration is required among team members and even across multiple teams during the design process. This means leadership, articulation, collaboration, and decision-making skills are all important soft skills for a product designer to possess and to implement into the design process to create an effective finished product and a powerful user experience.
  • Problem solving: Problem solving is a skill that a product designer needs to cultivate. Problem solving is essential to the entire innovative design process. Problem solving skills allow the product designer and product design agency to craft the best product possible, to solve customer needs and provide the best user experience, and to help direct the entire creation process by tackling problems head on, developing effective plans, and executing the solutions necessary to fix problems within the design process.
  • Receptiveness to feedback: A product designer must be open to receiving feedback. Quality of design is essential in order to ensure creation of the best product possible and craft the best user experience. Every day, a product designer must be able to handle receiving feedback gracefully, and they must be able to consider the opinions of others in order to ensure strong product design. Criticism is an important part of innovation and product design. The learning process requires experimentation, and team member feedback is key among product development companies in order to determine what works and does not work for a product and thus inform the design process.

2. Hard skills:

Hard skills are also essential for a product designer to possess. These skills are both teachable and measurable and include various abilities, such as the following:

  • Design thinking: Design thinking is an important ability for a product designer to learn, implement, and ultimately master. Design thinking methodology has five core aspects, as defined by Tim Brown of IDEO: empathy, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentation, and collaboration. Design thinking is essential for innovation, problem solving, looking more deeply into existing issues, and empowering a product designer and product design agency to quickly and effectively determine the right solutions for their product and to ensure a positive user experience.
  • UI design: Another important ability for a product designer to cultivate in order to create innovative and robust product design is UI design. UI design is all about how a user interacts with a product. Layouts and even transitions have to be effective and help users reach their goals. UI design is focused on fine details, rather than the overall user experience. Being well-versed in this skill allows for quicker design creation and a streamlined process, creating more time for both researching and prototyping during the design process among product development companies. There are many duties a product designer will have to complete that involve the use of this skill, including: creating a visual language that is consistent and attractive, crafting enjoyable interactions, understanding and determining user interface behavior, designing each user touchpoint, choosing color and typography, and building the visual appearance of an interface.
  • UX research: Another key element of the design process, and an essential skill for a product designer to cultivate, is UX research. Through mastering the skill of UX research, a product designer can help users reach their goals by crafting a product that has the right usability, while also looking and feeling right. UX design is all about research and data, and using that research to inform design decisions and shape the design process. The best UX research is paired with empathy and understanding of human psychology and customer pains to create the best possible user experience.
  • Design architecture: Design architecture is another skill a good product designer needs to cultivate. Design architecture—also known as Information Architecture (IA)—is all about structure and the techniques used to organize content into an accessible design. For example, users need to be able to navigate web pages and apps in a practical and enjoyable way so that they can find exactly what they are looking for and have an enjoyable user experience. The product designer must be able to fulfill this need, and communication is a major asset here, as it helps build an understanding toward the best way to convey information for a more effective user experience.
  • Design software proficiency: In order to create the best product design, a product designer must be experienced and proficient with a wide variety of design software. Product designers need to know the way to craft the best results possible using the most powerful and efficient design software for the job. Software is a tool that can be learned and cultivated in order to make the best possible product design and to help shape the design process, ultimately creating a powerful user experience.

Hiring an agency vs. hiring a freelance product designer

Now that we have a clear understanding of the skills a talented product designer needs to possess, you may be wondering if it is better to hire a product design agency or a freelance product designer. 

Product development companies consist of product and graphic designers, mechanical and electrical engineers, prototyping resources, and project managers. This makes hiring a product design agency more expensive than hiring a freelance product designer, so budget is an important consideration, as well as the possibility of having more materials and resources than you may need for your project. However, product development companies bring a wide range of backgrounds, experience, and skills to a project that are invaluable to the product design process.

Alternatively, a freelance product designer may be the preferable choice if you are a small company and working on a tight budget, or if you are an engineer in need of a product designer who can bring important soft skills to your project. 

Evaluate your budget, project complexity, amount of resources required, skills required, and size of your business and project to help decide if you should hire a product design agency or a freelance product designer.

How do you hire the best product design agency?

Since we have determined the skills most necessary for product design, and have a firm understanding of the difference between product development companies and freelance product designers and which will be best for your design process, it is time to examine how to find the ideal product designer or product design agency for your project in order to craft the user experience you wish to create.

1. Do your research. Before you hire a product design agency or freelance product designer, you need to have a clear understanding of which specific skills you are looking for and which agencies will best match those requirements. Conduct interviews and seek feedback from your network or current team members to determine what exactly you need to make the best product design and user experience possible. To research effectively and find the best design agency, you should do the following three steps:

  • Evaluate the experience level of the product design agency you are considering and compare this with the production and manufacturing techniques planned for the product.
  • Look at the skills and capabilities the product design companies you are considering bringing to the project and how they work together to create a strong design process and powerful user experience.
  • Look at the equipment used by the product design agency and how it will be integrated into the design process.

2. Decide if proximity matters to you. Consider if location and proximity will impact your product design process. This should take precedence in your decision-making process, as some projects will require in-person collaboration. Determine if distance is acceptable, or if you need your product designer close by. Will the product design agency you are considering be able to come to in-person to meetings? Will online meetings be sufficient? Determine this before you continue with any product development companies.

3. Narrow down your picks to 3-5 agencies and start from the top down. Before making a final decision about which product design agency to hire, narrow down your research. Determine which 3-5 product development companies seem like the closest fit and conduct further research. With these specific product design companies in mind, research thoroughly to determine which have the best skills, experience, equipment, and requisite proximity to be the right choice for your project.

4. Send them questions about hypothetical situations to see how they would react. Now that you have narrowed down your product design candidates, you need to ensure these product development companies think in a way that works for your project and complements the way you think and conduct work, and will create the best product design process for your project. See how they respond and determine which product design agency you are most comfortable with. Consider the projected costs; how effectively they answered your questions; and how effectively their communication skills, suggested solutions, and team members not only met your hypothetical needs, but meshed well with your personality, goals, and comfort level. By posing these questions and receiving detailed answers, you will be able to determine which product designer and product design agency has the design process that best fits your product design needs and offers the kind of user experience you most desire.

5. Set up a budget and make your choice. Before deciding which of these product development companies should do product design for your project, be sure to have a budget securely in place. The product design agency you hire should be a good fit in skill, experience, and cost effectiveness. The skills presented and equipment used need to be affordable for your company. Once you have determined which product design agency is the best fit in terms of all the above aspects as well as your budget, make your choice.

You now have all the tools and information you need to begin your search for an effective product design agency and to start crafting your design process in order to create the ideal user experience for your product. Not sure where to start? Check out Rocketplace’s curated marketplace and find your perfect fit.

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