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As digital agency we traditionally work with clients to conceptualize, create and then optimize digital products, all done in close cooperation with them. As their businesses become almost solely digital, we’ve noticed some have their own internal development and design teams. As a result their needs from us as external agency are shifting. In this article I’ll outline some best practices and tools we use to effectively collaborate within these new team setups and make sure our work is used optimally.

Category Insights
Author Jonatan van der Horst
Date Jan 2020

The role of the UX agency

If you are a business that creates and sells a digital product, you might find yourself running into limitations when you want to reach certain goals like higher conversion numbers on website visitors, more in-app purchases or create more loyal customers. No matter how small or audacious these goals are, they need good strategy and UX design as their foundation to become reality.

Maybe you don’t necessarily want to hire and manage a full UX team or you’re struggling to find the right people, because designers and UX-ers often choose to work for agencies for the creative diversity and creative challenges they meet there. Having an agency come in can be a great way to reach the goals you’ve set for your product. Agencies can provide flexibility, experience and speed, plus they can be more affordable than setting up an internal team. Next to those benefits agencies can offer unbiased user research and provide an outside perspective on issues you’re struggling with.

As digital agency we create products from beginning to end including strategy, UX/UI design, development and maintenance. In recent years though we’ve seen a trend in our client anatomy where in-house design and development teams are becoming more and more common. This means both we and our clients had to change the way we work together and therefore we’d like to share our 5 top tips when working as one integrated team in a truly collaborative way.

5 tips to work as an integrated team

  1. Products and features start with good UX work. Get the agency in as early as possible, so they can strategize together with you.
  2. A proper creative UX brief can really kickstart a project and helps the agency understand your issues and intentions. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) specific to UX help an agency to precisely formulate and measure the goals of the project. Armen Ghazaryan wrote an article that will help you understand the KPIs that are most relevant to UX projects.
  3. Workshops can provide a great starting point for a project. As one of the first steps of the design process they will get your goals, issues and planning straightened out during the very first session.
  4. Understand the skills of the agency you’re working with. Next to UX design, agencies can help you foster a design culture within your company.
  5. The tools we use for collaboration can be used by you internally as well. Learn from these tools and workflows and see if they can be implemented throughout your company.
“Agencies can help you foster a design culture within your company.”
Jonatan van der Horst Digital designer

Collaboration tools

We use a few tools that help us work together more effectively and streamline our client’s own processes.

Communication

For general communication we often use Slack. This tool will let you communicate through dedicated project channels and lets you invite people from different companies to make sure everyone is up-to-date and in-the-know of the latest design updates.

Asana is the tool we prefer for project management. Project managers can assign tasks to different employees and people can create their own to-do lists. Even bug tracking, product roadmaps and customer feedback can be managed in Asana.

Resource sharing

We also help companies design and develop certain UI patterns or UI elements. To share this code with the development/engineering team we use Github and Gitlab. Creating a code repository can be hugely beneficial to development time and consistency.

An important part of any successful design team is the ability to speak one visual language. We love helping teams making this possible and one of the most powerful tools are shared asset libraries that can be controlled by a design lead and used by the entire design team. Sketch shared libraries offer a great way to make this possible. Alasdair Monk lays down the technicalities of creating a self-hosted and auto-updating Sketch Library for a team to use.

A branding-specific library (like brandstation.nl) offers a single place where your teams have access to all your brand assets. Things like logos, colors, typefaces, UI elements and code snippets make creating your product far easier and more consistent.

Prototyping

When we are working on interactivity we like using InVision or Sketch Cloud to share interactive prototypes with clients and internal teams. These tools offer a way to show what buttons do and where links go in a realistic environment that looks and feels a lot like an actual product. Interactive prototypes provide a way to build and test designs with a relatively small time investment. Fast iteration is key for better and more efficient digital product design.