Johan Ronsse
31 May 2017

The Value of an External Design Team

At Mono we work in product teams all the time. We are hired as an external party to provide advice on improving user experiences and to design digital products.

Most of the time we are so closely involved we might as well directly work for the product company.

Companies like Shopify and AirBnB have big in-house design teams that design the product over years and years and build up a massive amount of knowledge about it. But for a lot of companies getting past a few designers is just not possible.

The Problem: You Can’t Actually Hire Those Great Designers

The problem for a lot of companies is that they can’t actually attract the right designers.

If you are a great designer looking for a job you are going to look for an environment where you can thrive and improve your skills together with your colleagues.

At Mono, we provide this environment. Everything we do at Mono is about better design.

(By the way, we are once again looking for a new UI designer. There’s no official job listing yet but don’t let that stop you from saying hi!?)

I can’t count the numbers of times I’ve seen companies hire designers only to find out it doesn’t work, because at their core they are a dev shop or a different company altogether.

It is quite difficult to bring design into a company.

The “Poor” Single In-house Designer

If often goes like this: a company decides to hire an in-house designer. One designer, because there is not enough “work” for 2 designers.

This person ends up doing — everything — without a feedback loop from another designer.

I find that this situation leads to idea stagnation. The single internal designer has no outside influences outside of his core project and ultimately it leads to poor work.

Obviously you can go to conferences and be curious in general to compensate, but which would you rather have? Ideas from a single person or from a design team that has lots of outside influences?

Hiring an external design company allows you to bring design into the company in a rather easy way. This can get you going fast and can help kickstart a project.

But I believe a product company should ultimately have an in-house design team.

In-house + External = Best of Both Worlds?

Lately we’ve been talking about the idea of supporting a designer at a client’s company in his or her growth.

Because of the nature of our work – designing software – some of the projects we do go on for a long time.

Basically the idea is that we get hired as a design consultancy for a while, let’s say 1 year, but the company also hires an in-house designer around the 6 month mark.

As we work together the company builds its in-house expertise but can still rely on an external team with lots of experience.

This is a “best of both worlds” scenario. I’ve yet to see it executed but I think this could be a great idea for some companies.

Advantages of Scale Lead to Better Designs

Now, why would you hire an external design team instead of a freelancer? Or instead of hiring a single in-house designer?

Being a bigger group comes with some advantages of scale.

First of all we have a more diverse group of people. This diversity leads to diversity of ideas. Someone is coming for a research side, another from a visual, another from a technical one. Combine all of these and the product improves.

Being a group of designers, we can provide each other with a different kind of feedback than ‘client feedback’ (both are needed!).

Next we can invest in internal tools to work in better ways. Last week I talked about Bedrock, a tool that we have developed to build prototypes at scale. Developing this tool has been pure teamwork that leads to better results.

We can learn from different projects and apply our experience on what works to your project.

Finally, as an outside party we can challenge the status quo.

We are taking on new projects from August 1st. We offer discounted rates to startups. Interested in working together? Get in touch, and let’s talk!

Johan Ronsse

About the author: Johan Ronsse is an interface designer who is trying to find the balance between aesthetics and usability. He tweets as @wolfr_2.

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