Top UI/UX Design Agencies — 2020 Reviews
Find the best UX design agency in the world. Ranking the world’s top user experience design firms and UI/UX designers in San Francisco, NYC, Los Angeles.
Updated November 2, 2020
In 2020, UX and UI design are at the heart of any technology company, and user experience designers finally have a seat at the table. Forward-thinking tech startups are beginning to realize it’s the user interface, not technology, what shapes their digital product, whether it’s a website, mobile app, or B2B/enterprise software.
Many big enterprises have well-equipped design departments with armies of user researchers, UX consultants, UI/UX designers, and interaction design specialists. Smaller companies usually don’t have any UX or UI designers on staff, so they resort to hiring UX agencies to design their digital products.
As startup founders ourselves, we created this list of top UX design agencies from research to UX consulting to end-to-end UI/UX design, to help you find the right design partner for each step of your digital product design journey.
Anders 🇸🇪 & Kyle 🇺🇸
Top 10 UI/UX Design Agencies in November 2020:
Clay is a full-service UI/UX design and development agency based in San Francisco. They work with large tech companies and funded startups.
Location: San Francisco, CA
Clients: Amazon, Google, Slack, Facebook, Coca-Cola, Coinbase, UPS, Cisco
Team size: 32
IDEO is a user experience and digital product design agency that invented design thinking and human-centered design. They can design everything from user interfaces and physical products to entire organizations.
Location: San Francisco, Palo Alto, NYC, Tokyo, Shanghai
Clients: Kaplan, City of Boston, Planned Parenthood, Swarovski
Team size: 1300+
ustwo is a digital product design studio that’s well-known as a developer of the award-winning Monument Valley games. They offer strategy, UI/UX design, and app development services.
Location: London, NYC, Sydney, Tokyo, Malmö, Lisbon
Clients: Google, Jaguar, Samsung, Ford, Lush, Qantas
Team size: 219
Huge is a digital strategy agency specialized in user experience design, web design, and development. As a full-service UX design firm, they create mobile apps, websites, and digital experiences end-to-end.
Location: NYC, LA, SF Bay Area, London, Singapore, Toronto
Clients: Hulu, Canada Goose, LG, Lenovo, Nike, Pfizer
Team size: 1200+
Designit is a global UX design company that specializes in user interfaces for digital products as well as interaction and CX design. From mobile apps to websites and enterprise software, they design what matters.
Location: NYC, SF, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Sydney, Oslo
Clients: Facebook, BMW, Google, Mozilla, GM, Visa
Team size: 722
Nielsen Norman Group is a top UX consultancy started by the pioneers of research-based user experience. They provide digital strategy, user testing, and UI design services as well as write world-famous UX design articles.
Location: San Francisco Bay Area and Remote
Clients: Facebook, BMW, Google, Mozilla, GM, Visa
Team size: 46
8. Blink UX
Blink UX is a user experience consulting and usability research firm that creates meaningful digital products, brands, and experiences. Their core strengths are digital strategy, user research, and user testing.
Location: Seattle, Austin, Boston, San Francisco
Clients: Amazon, NASA, Nike, B&O, Atari, Microsoft, XBOX
Team size: 129
Doberman is a digital strategy and UX design agency that transforms businesses, innovates new offerings and designs digital products & experiences. Their UX design process is driven by data and user research.
Location: Stockholm & New York City
Clients: Google, Oscar, Tele2, Ikea, SEB, Wealthsimple
Team size: 109
Beyond is a UX design and development agency that builds world-class digital products for the world’s leading brands. They improve customer experiences and deliver the best UX design services to their clients.
Location: New York, London, San Francisco
Clients: Facebook, Google, Just Eat, Moving Picture Company
Team size: 267
How to hire the best UI/UX Design Agency in the World (FAQ):
Q: How much does a project usually cost with a UX agency?
When it comes to working with a UI/UX agency, there is a wide range of pricing models you may come across. In most cases, design agencies use time and materials based models. That means their rate is organized by specific amounts of time — hours, days, or weeks. In other words, you end up paying the digital agency based on how much time they invest in your project. Before agreeing to this type of payment plan, always take one thing into consideration: while it might seem like a more sensible model at first, you may very quickly lose control of your budget and f your project is not managed properly, your costs can rise drastically.
Another popular pricing model is the trustworthy fixed-price model. In this case, you have complete control of your budget. However, most fixed-prices are followed by arguments about the project’s scope. This model doesn’t really allow you to plan the entire project in advance. When something unexpected happens it means you have to either raise your budget or cut the project’s scope. So, if you decide to work with a digital agency on a fixed-price basis, you should be prepared for these types of situations.
Nevertheless, no one says you can’t utilize both arrangements. For example, you can hire a design team at a digital product agency for a fixed monthly price.
UX design is a broad service — costs can vary dramatically. Some design companies charge as few as $50 per hour, while others charge in the hundreds per hour.
Larger and older companies normally charge the highest rates. This is due to their high accompanying costs, including those related to administration. However, high rates don’t necessarily indicate that companies are going to perform a better job. The agency’s location is also an important price determinant. For example, user experience design agencies located in London or San Francisco have much higher prices compared to Budapest or Portland. In other words, enlisting help from a top-listed design company requires you to pay a significant sum of money.
And although there are hundreds — if not thousands — of cheap UX and visual design companies on the market, you won’t find any of them in this list. We’ve only featured top-rated, reputable agencies. Cheap agencies are everywhere and always available. But do you really want to pay the ultimate price — a subpar website and wasted money — of dealing with such a digital product agency?
The bottom line is, hiring a user experience agency can go from being expensive to being unbelievably expensive. It all depends on your budget and needs. Many companies these days resort to hiring boutique design studios that have somewhat modest rates, keeping the price tag at an affordable level for most firms.
Q: Why should I work with a UI/UX design agency?
There are at least a dozen reasons why working with a UI/UX design agency is a must. But, let’s take a closer look below at three major ones:
1. You Need a Clear Project Perspective. Putting together an in-house UX UI design team, including the processes of searching, recruitment, hiring, and subsequent training can become a huge problem. This includes lots of time and money. And often, in the end, you’ll find you have developed quite the narrow-minded team that on one hand is extremely focused on your products and services, but on the other has a hard time thinking outside of the box.
But, when working with an experienced and multi-faceted UX UI design agency, the absence of these restrictions grant you a more extensive view of your particular needs and how exactly to fulfill them. When it comes to providing expert and objective perspectives on your project, top UI/UX agencies do it best. They can view your situation from the outside and, therefore, provide unique solutions with clarity that you can not necessarily see by looking at it from the inside. Plus, a reputable UI/UX agency has experience providing services to firms in different niches with many different needs.
2. You Require Skills Not Available at Your Company. UI/UX design agencies are known for having high levels of organization due to constantly dealing with different industries and therefore sharing experiences and bases of knowledge among a wider array of skill sets than other types of companies normally do. When hiring a UX UI agency, you get access to UI/UX designers, research experts, strategists, and many other experts in their particular fields. Creating an in-house design team that possesses such a broad talent pool takes an incredible amount of time and money. Thus, hiring a UI/UX design agency for your mobile app or web design will provide you with the experience and skillsets needed that execute excellent projects, every single time.
3. You Need Your Core Staff to Be Focused on Your Company’s Immediate Matters. To put it simply, if your management has other tasks to handle, adding a design project to your current work may just become redundant and ultimately lead to lower levels of productivity. When you hire a user experience design firm, your team stays focused on your company’s essential and immediate matters — and nothing else. This way, all of your company’s major tasks are able to be completed correctly and on time. Meanwhile, your design project is taken care of by experts.
Considering all of the above, a top UX UI design company is a perfect investment that assures your mobile app or website can be executed in a timely and professional manner. While accessing great talent, you get to also keep your company’s team focused on the more pressing and immediate tasks. This ensures that the crucial processes of your business get the focus and attention they need.
Q: What features should I look for in a top UI design firm?
In order to achieve the best results for your business, your first user experience hire should be a team that will not just work on your project, but rather becomes your partner for that particular period. Below we have listed five crucial features UI design agencies should have in order to provide you with top-quality services.
- Empathic Ability
Any design agency’s primary skill should be its ability to empathize with the end-user. This means being able to anticipate the ways they are going to interact with a particular product or service. However, great UI design agencies understand that while their work primarily focuses on the end-user as the consumer, product managers and engineers are consumers of user insights as well. That is, a UX agency’s capacity to empathize and condense information into purposeful and relatable stories extends over the user interface design all the way down to establishing relationships and trust within the teams it is supporting.
- Business and Strategic Thinking
A UX and visual design firm should be identical to a team of product managers in terms of how problem identification is approached. A reliable UI design team understands how to align user needs with business goals and balance the natural tension between technology, business, and the actual user. Frequently, it is the product manager that manages the balance between user needs and business needs. And usually, business is always given precedence. But a smart UX UI designer will want to establish a partnership with the product manager and engineering staff, letting each of them stick up to their individual biases and, thus, nurture healthy discussions and more effective decision-making.
- Helping and Teaching
While designers often like respect and acknowledgment for their work, great UI/UX design agencies don’t hoard their design skills and aren’t protective or territorial about their design team’s process. Great UX UI teams are always eager to share their knowledge and experiences. They often do this by teaching design thinking to the teams of their clients. You will know you have a great mobile app or web design team when they are conducting workshops with your engineers and product managers, or if they like to sketch out ideas on a whiteboard with your staff.
- Strong User Research
A strong UI design team will be able to separate its ego from the raw user feedback since it’s more driven by getting it right for the client — you — than getting personal credit for its design solutions. A reputable UI/UX agency will always conduct extensive user research, working collaboratively with you. One great way to do this is by inviting your engineering and product management teams to get hands-on experience with and learn through usability test reviews and other related activities.
Q: How do I know that a UI/UX agency can be trusted?
The market for UI/UX services is constantly evolving. The variety of different potential agencies is so huge that selecting the right UI/UX design agency might seem like an insurmountable task. However, there are several factors that distinguish superior companies from mediocre ones. Therefore, when choosing a UI/UX design team, you should consider the following:
- Look for UI/UX consultancy instead of mere outsourcing. The agency you choose must become your business partner. Its team should not only offer you operational services but suggest to you the finest solutions that address your actual business needs. A great UX design agency considers all the aspects that can impact your project and works in line with them;
- Check the UX UI design agency’s portfolio for real cases and previous work. Every UI design agency will readily show you its portfolio. While looking through the earlier works presented on the agency’s site, make sure to not only check the look and feel of the design but make certain that the projects completed for previous customers brought lasting and real business value. To put it simply, don’t hire a mobile app firm if you’re looking for web design services;
- Find out more about the agency’s design process. Each design company has its own style of work and a design process in place. Prior to selecting a UI design agency, check if its team has a research-driven approach or is it just doing web or mobile app design based on their gut instincts. The key to good UX UI design is rooted in what your product/service users want and their concrete actions;
- A team with varied skills is a reliable team. UX UI design and development companies frequently focus only on this specialty, but there are companies present on the market today that can bring a richer set of skills to the table. Consider finding a cooperative UI design agency that is equally capable of creating a mobile app or enterprise software. Choose the one that might also be able to help you with other areas of your business, such as branding, web design and development, growth strategies, or marketing.
Q: Is it better to work with a local or remote UI/UX design agency?
Should you go local? When it comes to web or mobile app design, the answer is a definite and resonant ‘yes.’ Digital products are the heart of modern digital marketing and brand promotion. They deserve and require close attention as they play a crucial role in drawing in, convincing, and converting prospects to buy into a particular brand.
This is valid regardless of the industry but is particularly true in regard to local brands. Considering how important this is, the things listed below show why hiring a local UI design agency is the best way to go when you want to create high-quality digital services or products.
1. Local UI/UX Agencies Have a Better Understanding of Local Business’ Needs. First and foremost a local UX UI design firm understands how the needs of local and small businesses are different from those of larger brands. Budgets tend to be more restrictive, audiences more narrowly defined, some type of physical presence exists, and the products tend to be more niche-oriented. These needs, in turn, necessitate particular strategies. There are some widely understood best practices that exist specifically for this type of online presence in terms of your product’s user experience design. A local design firm will take its time to make certain these methods are applied efficiently in order to meet your particular business objectives.
2. Proper Understanding of Local Audiences. Local audiences are just as important as local businesses. Simply put, a consumer looking for a clothing boutique in their neighborhood will show very different search and selection patterns compared to an online shopper. Your product must tend to these nuances. For instance, local audiences are often the most interested in functional information. This includes things like open hours, phone numbers, and directions to your physical location. Always look for a partner that comprehends these nuances and is capable of designing your product or service accordingly.
3. Individualized Attention towards Each Customer. Agencies working in the user experience design niche tend to have stigmas attached to them. One of the most commonly shared thoughts is that once a business is secured, a client becomes a small fish in a big pond and their needs are not given the daily priority that may be expected. But the situation is drastically different from local UI design agencies. You should expect more personalized attention. This includes contact with an executive at the company and regular in-person meetings for planning and digital strategy. Reputation matters, so the right local UI design or development company will make certain its customers are happy with their services in order to build a positive, mutually beneficial long-term relationship.
4. Continuous Support. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that UI/UX design is a one-time project. Instead, when going local, you can expect to get ongoing UI/UX support. In case something goes wrong or you need an update, you will already have an existing partnership with your local UI/UX agency. It’s best to think of ongoing user experience support as an investment. Just as you would continue investing in your sales team with training and access to the latest resources, your product or service deserves the same type of attention.
5. Relevant Case Studies and References. Have you ever looked for a design, marketing, or support contractor, but couldn’t decide on the best fit because it was difficult to find out whether they had the relevant experience your business needs? With a local UI/UX design agency, it’s easy to get client references and case studies to double-check the relevancy. The reason is simple: local companies have a more determined market. Their clients have been in similar situations and are targeting similar audiences. As a result, it’s easier to appraise how their past work and experience relate to your particular needs.
6. Ongoing Communication. Finally, you can expect more open communication channels with a local UI/UX design company. The reason is a mix of what we’ve mentioned above: a need for ongoing support combined with the tendency for personalized attention and communication. You’ll be as involved in the user experience design process as you want to be. From regular status updates and emails to personal meetings, you will have a ton of touch points to engage in the process from start to finish.
To sum it all up — finding a company to design UX of your mobile app or website within close proximity is a significant factor in the overall success of your business. However, considering how easy it is to travel, you may work with a firm in San Francisco or Los Angeles, while being headquartered in NYC or Washington, DC and only experience slight discomforts due to the time difference. That’s not so bad.
Q: Where can I find more UX/UI design companies online?
If you search the web, you will find many lists and articles featuring top UX design companies. If you have time, you can look and sift through all of them and pick out the best options possible. One important thing to outline here is that most of these lists aren’t worth your attention. You might want to check what Clutch has to say. They do a great job interviewing design agencies’ customers and researching the industry as a whole. But, such lists aren’t the only way of finding out about great designers and design agencies. Make sure to visit Behance and Dribbble once in a while and also see what they have in store. These two platforms are basically live portfolios of mobile app and web design specialists as well as design agencies from all over the world.
What You Should Know about the UI/UX Design Process?
The UI/UX design process can be divided into four key phases: preparation, research, architecture flow, and final design. While the UI/UX design process usually takes place in that order, it’s important to note that UX UI is a highly iterative process. Designers working in this niche will often say “Design is never finished!” The reason is that throughout the design process, specialists uncover new insights that may lead them to rethink their initial design decisions.
Within each of these main phases of the UX UI design process, there are several individual steps that designers take to improve user experience with a product, service, application, or website. We’ll take a more detailed look at the design process, so you can see how proper design decisions can and will affect your business.
Preliminary planning and preparation
At this initial stage, the UI/UX design agency wants to understand the main problem your product is trying to solve. Normally, UX consultants organize a meeting to find out more about your company, target audience, and the product or service itself.
This is also the time when the agency performs preliminary research. Designers frequently ask their clients for things like mission statements, organizational structure charts, strategy documents, any previous market research, the most recent annual report, and examples of advertisements. They want to have all of this data in order to understand your business model and see how your product or service fits into the general structure of the company.
A UI design agency also needs to understand what your target market looks like. This includes your main competitors, how your product is different or better from other options present on the market, what your brand values are, and how exactly to identify success.
Once the first stage is over, UI/UX agencies normally begin identifying the types of consumers that may become potential users of your product. For instance, if the agency works with a customer that aims to create a new kind of mobile fitness application, they may already have a comprehensive idea, but not enough information about who their potential app users are.
This is the point when the UI/UX design agency comes in. The agency team analyzes the company’s main competitors to define their communication targets. They also perform web analytics, surveys, interviews, and market research.
Proper research helps the agency generate large data sets that will let it spot patterns and trends. By analyzing these trends and patterns, the UI/UX agency can understand how the average potential product user looks and then proceed to develop user personas.
Personas are archetypal depictions of the product users that describe the person in detail and focus on their motivation for using the particular product. Personas are basically the essential tools UI/UX agencies use to communicate their research data to customers.
Research and planning
Once the agency knows more about your target audience and business objectives, it’s ready to start the initial design phases. At this point, agencies usually use one or more of the tools listed below.
- User Scenario Mapping. User scenario mapping is basically a narrative that communicates the user’s intention to take some action and the steps they have to take to accomplish it. Using such scenarios is advantageous because they permit implementing visualizations like narrative scenarios, scenario maps or storyboards. Scenario maps are especially interesting because they display each step needed to execute a task. They convey the motivation of the persona to accomplish the task and help to reveal the issues that persona stumbles upon along the way. They also determine opportunities for making the process smoother.
- User Stories. A user story is essentially a sentence that describes one particular aspect of how a user may interact with the product, service, app, or website. However, the description has to provide action capable content for software developers. For instance, if the user would like to be able to change the color of the t-shirt in order to see the product in that color. Each user story has three parts: an individual, an action, and an action consequence.
- User Journey Map. The user journey map is a linear visualization that shows the persona’s feelings while using the product. It allows UI/UX designers to outline potential gaps in the process and define areas that should be improved. Designers normally base such maps on the feedback received via user interviews, observations, and data acquired during previous phases.
During this UI/UX design stage, the agency defines the product’s information architecture. This is where the team uses tools to help visualize the actual flow inside the product or service. At this stage, your UI/UX agency will likely resort to text-based flow charts, UI flow, and sitemaps. These are great for showing each page of the site or app.
So, your UI/UX design agency is finally ready to design your product. At this stage, the process will include the elements listed below.
- Design systems. A lot of top UI/UX agencies use design systems. These are systems of reusable elements that may be assembled in accordance with previously determined standards. These represent a perfect tool for larger projects. Such systems boost the design process in the long run — even if they require a sometimes hefty initial investment.
- Interaction design. This is when the agency’s team will define how the end-user is going to move from one screen to the next. By creating an interactive map, the team understands which parts of the screen will end up being interactive. For example, boxes, buttons, inputs, and links are all possibilities. Interaction maps are not exactly full-screen mockups, but they are helpful in understanding what the user interface ultimately looks like.
- Wireframing. Wireframes are the perfect tool for providing frontend developers with a sense of where various components will be located on the screen. A lot of UI/UX design agencies take advantage of whiteboard markers to convey their ideas as fast as possible without going into details. Wireframes point to the size, shape, and position of various design elements. They don’t include the content, colors, or even text font. They are a great basis for paper prototypes.
- Paper prototypes. As soon as the UI/UX agency develops a set of wireframes, it will move on to getting user feedback, which is exactly when paper prototypes come into play. UI/UX designers frequently make use of sticky notes, print out their designs, or even cut out the pages with their design sketches.
- UI design. Some agencies separate the roles of UI and UX designers to the point where the latter don’t even have to bother about user interface design. UI design focuses on designing product screens.Then, these designs are provided to the development company that subsequently implements them.
UI/UX design agencies also make functional prototypes that replicate the entire product use experience. For instance, by tapping on the “Next” button, users move to the next screen, just like they would do on a real site or mobile app. When the prototype is completed, the agency collaborates with developers on the designs’ implementation.
UX Design Production
The product development process is usually the most time-consuming stage, so the development team will likely be occupied working on the backend systems of your product. The UI/UX specialists normally support developers by answering questions about how everything should work or look. They also give guidance if necessary, and participate in user testing to generate more feedback. UI/UX agencies are also responsible for outlining new features and participating in discussions regarding future updates.
Should I hire a UX design firm or build an in-house team?
At this point there’s near universal agreement about the importance of user experience (UX) design. Any company that needs an online presence (that’s most of them) or is producing a digital product — like an application — these days must have effective and professional user experience and user interface design. In many cases UX design is not something that is created once but necessitates long term attention and development. This forces many companies to ask the question — is it worth it to develop an in house team or should UX design needs be done by a professional UX design agency ?
The truth is both are legitimate options, but at the end of the day established UX design firms are usually your best bet. Let’s look at why.
Creating an in house UX design team does have some benefits. First of all, the direct proximity to the projects the team works on allows a type of professional intimacy on projects that is often impossible to replicate when UX design is outsourced to a firm. The daily communication can help ensure attention is paid to particular details and also can help ensure that unforeseen changes in the project are immediately navigated without delay. Further if UX design services are constantly needed it can end up being a worthwhile long term investment. However, this is not guaranteed.
Unfortunately there are also some serious downsides to creating an in-house UX design team. First and foremost, while it can be a worthwhile investment, often it is not. The reason is that most companies and firms needing UX design will only need these services intermittently. To hire a whole team, ensure they are properly trained and paid a competitive salary is a huge investment. If the team is not actively and constantly providing services but are instead doing so only when needed it could be a drain on resources. This is especially true for those companies and brands who need highly trained professionals in other areas of their company. The other problem is that when companies do not specialize in UX design, but instead create an in-house team, this team does not get the professional benefit and growth that comes with being in a work environment that is entirely dedicated to UX design. The benefits of such are immeasurable.
For these reasons it is usually better to work with a professional UX design firm. These firms are reputable, reliable and focused daily on perfecting their craft of UX design. The benefit of hiring an agency is you can first and foremost reach out to their former clients and see portfolios of their work. This allows for you to pick a firm that reflects the overall style and essence that matches what your company actually needs. Because UX firms are focused on user experience design, they bring with them lots of experience and knowledge that is difficult to cultivate with an in house UX design team. If you find a UX design agency that matches your particular needs, then a one time investment will end up costing less in the long run and eventually pay for itself — its well known that professional grade effective UX design results in higher rates of customer conversion.
Professional and reputable UX design firms specialize in helping companies realize their UX design vision. They are helpful in taking what exists in the mind of those running a company and actualizing it into effective user experience design. This expertise gained through real time experience is what makes professional UX design firms a desirable option. Given the number of excellent firms out there, finding one might take time but eventually you end up with an excellent partner in the development of your brand or business.
The Bottom Line
The process described above is only one of many. This process varies from agency to agency. However, the key concepts and goals are always the same — that is if you work with a competent UI/UX design agency. Either way, if you want to really make certain that your mobile app or website gets the best treatment, you should always understand as much as possible about the design process from start to finish.
– Thanks for reading!
Written by Anders 🇸🇪& Kyle 🇺🇸
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