Agency vs. In-House

Insights from leading UX Designers at reputable organisations

Career ・ June 01, 2017 ・ 5 mins

I recently attended a talk at Huge Inc organised by The UX Crunch. The guest speakers were from three different organisations: two from design agencies and one was based in-house. What was noteworthy was all of them had experience of working in both positions for many years; but was their advice consistent?


In-House Life

The in-house UX Designer extolled the benefits of working for his company. One anecdote entailed proposing a future-proofing concept to his company’s board of directors. Normally it’s difficult to appeal to people such high up in the chain, but as it turned out, they were very happy to throw money at him in order to realise his project. This sounded ideal because it conjured up this notion of innovation being possible within an in-house environment. “Ask and you shall receive”. However, this is just one company; perhaps not all organisational cultures reflect this openness to innovation and is entirely dependent on subjective decision making of objective attributes like research budgets and employee time.

The downside of in-house life? In his anecdote, he mentioned he stared at the same five pages of a digital product for two years straight, attempting to understanding it inside-out. What this demonstrates is a lack of variety to his experience and this is detrimental if he wants to move elsewhere where the products are substantially different.

His suggestion around working for an in-house UX design team was rooted in heart-felt dedication. In other words, you really have to believe in that company’s products and the vision they’re tring to build. Failing this crucial aspect will ultimately result in dissatisfaction and a weakening of one of the company’s crucial foundations.

Overall, he was rather content regarding where he was. From what I could tell, he seemed like someone who favoured stability at that moment in his life, which is certainly evident from the dedication of being in one place for so long. And with years of UX design experience behind him, he could really carry the weight of his expertise within the company.


Agency Life

To corroborate at least a part of the above notion, the two other speakers who were agency guys, were more or less unified in their stance. Their individual experiences of working in-house resulted in the same outcome - they regretted doing being in singular companies when they were just starting their journey in their UX careers.

Their main complaint was about complacency: it seems to edge in at a company with an in-house team because there isn’t such a strong sense of urgency. Their experiences seemed to be incredibly autonomous and without much scrutiny from within the company. “I’ll do it tomorrow” seemed like the prevailing attitude in this kind of environment, which is certainly surprising for me to hear as I’ve not felt this way in other in-house roles.

Everyone agreed that agency life was the opposite of their in-house experience. More satisfaction stemmed from a dynamic environment and exposure with various projects and clients. Despite greater scrutiny from management and clients, UX Designers in agencies get involved working to mostly-known deadlines and yield more satisfying results because of fast the movement that occurs within and across projects.



Start your UX Design career in an agency:

  • Learn as much as you can,
  • Across a wide variety of projects,
  • Handling different clients,
  • And technologies.

Later on in your career, when you have a firm grasp of various scenarios faced as a Senior UX Designer, it’s worth going in-house as an expert to really drive product intent home.

As an interesting complement, one prediction that came up when the speakers were quizzed on the future of UX in the industry was that there’d likely be a shifting away of UX people from agencies to in-house. This is because as companies start to gain traction regarding awareness of the values of UX design, they’ll become more integral to BAU (business as usual) operations to iteratively improve products and services created in-house.

In conclusion, if you see an opportunity to join an agency, jump on board because the ride isn’t going to last forever.

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