Today, in the middle of the hottest heatwave of the summer holiday season, I decided to finally put together this blog post on how to spot and choose the best digital agency or design team for hire. Outsourcing design is a growing trend – but how to choose the best people to execute a demanding UX/UI design project or other ambitious digital service design project with your own internal team?

Here’s my two cents on this one!

First, a brief disclaimer.

I must exclaim here that every design project is, of course, unique. In most cases the application and the implementation of design methodologies varies a lot depending upon the nature of the project. Nevertheless, for any design project to be completed, there are certain common pitfalls that are to be avoided at all costs, as well as certain common principles that should be followed when you bring in outsourced professionals to work with your team.

Before sending out any emails or making any phone calls to the potential agencies and people, you should naturally begin by considering the future key performance indicators of the digital service in question and all the things you want to achieve by design – and set to set as explicit goals for your project as possible. Working with the current analytics of the company can be of assistance here.

By explicit goals I mean that you should make a detailed list of the top KPIs and the concrete design tasks involved. You should attempt to break it down in JIRA or any other media of your choice and I would also highly recommend that you share it internally for comments before the project begins.

How to choose the best people and the team, then?

References and working experience matter here, but I would also emphasize the potential of the UX/UI design team to deliver contemporary solutions and to make radical design decisions.

This is mainly because the digital apps, platforms and sites operate in a very competitive market nowadays – with services with simplistic design solutions that are at the same time ambitious and creative clearly dominating the global marketplace.

From the end-customer-perspective, this means that only the most streamlined design converts and makes using the service an engaging experience.

Benchmarking your best competitors is paramount for a successful design project in any case.

Before setting out to hire a design agency or a team to execute the project, ask yourself, if they are innovative enough to deliver the solutions that outperform those of the current competitors.

Recently I stumbled upon this excellent list of the properties of the best-performing UX/UI design teams via LinkedIn. The list is compiled by the design agency called UX Studio.

According to this outstanding skillset list, the best UX/UI design teams on the market will:


  1. … never work for free
  2. … have a rigorous design process
  3. … can adapt to different industries and different team sizes
  4. … want to do more research
  5. … love to sketch and prototype
  6. … want to test and iterate
  7. … want to do more than drawing screens
  8. … want to talk about your product strategy
  9. … want to talk with your customers, developers, sales and support people, and others
  10. … also teach design


This designer skillset list is, in my opinion, a rather comprehensive summary of the traits that make an awesome UX/UI design team. I think there is hardly anything relevant missing.

So, let’s say that to kickstart your next project you now have selected your favourite agency and the dream team based on the principles of the previous list and you know exactly where you are headed with the project by the deadline.

That’s great, as hiring the very best people at the market, of course, significantly increases the chances to meet the set goals of any project within the set timeframe.

However, there are usually multiple internal and external factors involved that may cause friction, delays and challenges when it comes to successfully completing any complex design project. The most common pitfalls here are – in my experience – agreeing upon an unclear or otherwise fuzzy project scope to begin with, creating an overall too tight and intense timeframe for the project in question, or connected with or related to setting up a too limited project budget.

The key takeaways here are simply to set a sufficient budget for any project to begin with, to create as flexible a timeframe as possible for the design project and its parts to be completed and to discuss the scope of the project extensively both internally and externally before the design project kick-off.

Based on my experience, these are the basic building blocks of a successful UX/UI design project – in addition to having an outstanding agency and team working on the project.

The past 9 months have passed by with being all jazzed about design – it has been very intense.

My small digital design agency and start-up company Steps Helsinki has now recently completed the first few significant digital service design projects and has just turned 1 year old towards the end of last year. We are currently looking into fresh design projects to start the work on by this fall. Amongst the numerous other events over the course of this year, Steps Helsinki has attended the PING Festival 2018 at Clarion Hotel Helsinki, the SHIFT Festival 2018 at Kakola, Turku, as well as the ARCTIC15 funding and tech event at Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki.

I am happy to say that Steps Helsinki has also been selected as a part of the roster of the upcoming SLUSH18 that will take place at the Messukeskus conference center in Helsinki in 4.–5.12.2018. I am looking very much forward to the event – already in the middle of the summer holiday season.

See you there!