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In-House vs Third Party UX Design: A C-Suite Primer for Saving Time and Money on UX

Photo by Morgan Housel on Unsplash

In recent years, the phrase UX design has become something of a buzzword used for marketing. There has been a lot of discussion about the subject and along with giant leaps forward, there is also a lot of background noise to sift through. Despite all of the fanfare and hype surrounding UX design however, it remains a valuable and indispensable part of the standard toolkit for the modern business.

UX design provides businesses with a way to laser focus their efforts on the interaction between their customers and their digital assets, whether it is an app, a website or an embedded system. UX design provides a number of benefits that range from increased sales, faster turnarounds for projects, and improved customer satisfaction. This time around we shall focus on arguably one of the most important and desirable benefits of UX design, cost savings. In this case, we shall consider savings resulting from reduced operational and/or setup costs and savings resulting from reduced man hours.

UX Design Primer: A Quick Breakdown of Key Tasks and Roles

To delve further into the costs associated with projects that require UX design assets to be deployed and utilized, we need to take a quick look at what a professional UX design team needs to accomplish in an average web or app project. What roles must they take and what key tasks must they fulfill?

According to the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 9241-210, UX is “a person's perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service.” The very same standard states that this encompasses all of a user’s psychological and physical responses including but not limited to their emotions, beliefs, personal preferences and relevant behaviors.

UX agencies need to fill the roles associated with numerous disciplines; from market research and product design to psychology and business analysis. They should also be familiar with all relevant design methods as well as both generalized and specialized technologies required to complete their tasks.

For many UX designers, the journey to build new products often starts with product and market research. After this, they can follow up with creating User Personas for their product as well as user stories and scenarios. Depending on the specific workflow, they can then create the necessary Information Architecture, make simple wireframes, construct working prototypes and proceed with product testing. From these tasks alone, we can already gather that a well-oiled UX team can streamline product development and reduce costs.

The Not so Hidden Costs of In-House UX

If you were to hire individual subject matter experts or build homegrown departments to handle each necessary role, the labor costs alone would be significantly higher than bringing in a third party agency. There are simply too many required UX related competencies to cover the complete UX design process. Implementing a UX design workflow is more cost effective than a more complex and specialized workflow involving several departments and individuals.

More often than not, ROI is significantly better on UX projects when working with an agency that is well versed in UX design thinking when compared to building up in-house UX capabilities from scratch. The gap becomes even more pronounced for companies whose core competencies lie elsewhere.

Adobe’s recent industry analysis on digital trends and CX/UX statistics shows the importance of partnering with leaders and expert agencies in the UX space. These teams can consistently help companies exceed annual business goals, further boosting ROI for UX initiatives.

Aside from workforce related matters, there are various other costs associated with UX design such as hardware and software. On a per head basis, the numbers might seem relatively small but the figures quickly add up when scaling is taken into consideration.

Currently, the US Bureau of Labor places the median annual salary for designers of web developers at around $77,200. To hire people with better competency, the rates go up even higher with the very best earning around $146,430 per year. Barring the simplest of products and projects, you will need a complete team of UX designers and developers to complete projects and reach product development milestones in reasonable timeframes.

For in-house teams, the costs add up quickly and if you have any downtime between projects, the problem is exacerbated significantly. When you offload your UX design initiatives, it is much easier to control the costs of each project. In fact, a recent report published by Deloitte has identified cost reduction as the primary driving force for this trend.

Moreover, costs associated with UX design are pretty much eliminated during downtimes between product development cycles. If you aren’t currently working on a product right now, then you aren’t incurring any UX design related costs.

Leveraging UX Leadership with the Help of Trusted Partners

Numbers aside, why should you reach out to a UX leader for your UX design needs? This will depend on a lot of factors but one of the key points to consider is Core Competency. What is your company’s core competency? Unless you are a design agency looking to offload some of your workflow, chances are that your core competency will lie in something other than UX design.

Maintaining multiple design and technology stacks and competencies is an expensive affair. While it may be worth it for some companies, this simply isn’t true for many others. In this case, taking advantage of UX leadership by forming profitable relationships with reputable and reliable third party UX design teams is the economical and sensible choice.

The most compelling reason is even simpler. You can focus on what your company does best, while offloading relevant workloads to a UX design team with a proven track record for delivering finished and polished products.