To hire or not to hire an external UX design team, is a conundrum.

It’s like having your cake and eating it too – a tantalizing thought, but can it actually be done?

Plus, the buzz around the strategic benefits of UX design has created a hunger for design-focused companies with UX expertise. It has left companies striving to find the perfect balance between internal and external resources. 

While hiring new team members for immediate results may not be feasible due to the time and resources required for training and onboarding, partnering with an external team can bring in the necessary expertise without the need for extensive preparation. With careful planning and execution, you may just be able to indulge in the cake and savor every bite.

Just like Slack teamed up with Metalabs to design their digital products and Google outsourced its Santa Tracker design, savvy companies know that allocating resources efficiently is key to achieving maximum results.

It’s all about working smarter, not harder, and finding the perfect design partner to slay your competition.

In this blog post, we’re diving deep into the topic of how to successfully collaborate with external UX design agencies.

We’ll explore why businesses are turning to these expert partners, uncover the advantages they offer, and share some tips for successfully integrating your in-house team with external talent.

Why Go Solo, When You Can Team Up?

You don’t want to limit yourself to just your internal resources when you can tap into the endless possibilities of working with an external UX team.


Here are some advantages to consider:

  • Domain knowledge: Experienced UX design teams have sailed through multiple industries and wicked enterprise problems.
  • Specialized services: Professional UX agencies offer specialized research and usability testing services that your in-house team may not have the resources or expertise to handle.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Hiring an external UX team can be a cost-effective way to access high-quality design services without the overhead costs associated with hiring and maintaining an in-house team.
  • Scalability: External UX teams can scale their services to meet your business needs, whether you need additional support during peak periods or for specific projects.

Outsourcing a UX design agency: When should you do it?

Conventional wisdom says — seeking an external UX design team makes sense only when you’re short on either resources or time, or both.

However, limiting the scenario to just these two means you’ll be missing out on the world of possibilities that come with outsourcing your UX needs to a specialist agency.

According to The Creative Group and AIGA’s recent survey, the future of creative teams is looking more and more like a revolving door.

A whopping 37% of teams plan to rely heavily on freelancers in the next 3 years, as the cost of hiring and retaining full-time talent continues to rise.

ux collaboration

While deciding when to hire an external partner, consider these factors:

  • Consider your organization’s level of UX maturity: There are several levels of UX maturity, and each level determines the approach you should be taking to ensure the implementation of UX-led changes.
  • Evaluate your resources and timelines: Assess whether you have enough resources or time to handle the project in-house. If you’re short on either or both, it may be time to consider outsourcing to a UX design agency.
  • Determine the expertise you need: Consider the expertise you need that your in-house team may not possess. Are there specialized UX research and usability testing services you require urgently? Do you need experience in a specific industry?
  • Assess your growth goals: Determine what goals you want to achieve while partnering with an external firm. Are those immediate goals or is it something you plan to achieve in the coming quarters?

Also, consider if you want to involve them from the beginning of the product journey or if you want to wait till the later stages of the product cycle.

Involving the design team from the beginning of the product journey is highly recommendable and crucial for several reasons:

  • Firstly, design isn’t just about looks; it’s about user experience, usability, and functionality. Involving the design team from the beginning leads to a better user experience, intuitive design, and more efficient product development.
  • Secondly, involving the design team early on can help identify potential challenges and limitations, which can be addressed before the product is developed. This can save time and resources and reduce development waste.
  • Thirdly, it is always better to maintain design consistency from the outset than to rework it when user issues arise. It’ll save a lot of resources and time on do-overs.
  • Finally, involving the design team early on can help ensure that the product has a clear and consistent visual identity, which is important for branding and marketing purposes.

How in-house and external teams work in unison

Like a fine wine that needs time to age, successful integration of an external UX design team with an in-house product team requires patience and a strategic approach.

Product leaders must carefully blend the expertise of their in-house team with the unique perspectives of an external UX design team. With the right approach, this integration can lead to a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In-house vs. external teams: A collaboration, not a competition

When your internal UX team is overloaded or lacks expertise in certain areas, partnering with an external UX agency can alleviate their workload.

Survey states that collaborative environments lead to cost reduction, shorter timelines, improved productivity, and higher ROI by bringing together teams to achieve shared goals. It results in five times better performance.

While there may be a tendency to view these teams as competing with one another, the reality is that they should work together in a collaborative partnership to achieve the best results. Here’s how you go about it:

  • Identify the areas where your in-house team may be overburdened or may lack expertise.
  • Set clear expectations and goals for the collaboration and establish communication channels to ensure seamless integration.
  • Encourage knowledge sharing between the in-house team and the external agency to build on each other’s strengths and expertise.

Harmonize: Define responsibilities from the get-go

Design collaboration between in-house and external UX teams is crucial, but it can quickly turn into a chaotic power struggle without clearly defined responsibilities.

Let the external team in on your product plans and roadmaps. That is the easiest way of sharing where you’re trying to go and what you intend to achieve.

Communicating roadmaps is very important to everything I do as a product manager because essentially, you’re using the roadmap to communicate strategy. You’re also using it to communicate product delivery, right in terms of features, strategic partnerships, and wins.

Philips Nwachukwu, Product Lead, The Bulb Africa

To prevent any toe-stepping mishaps, it’s important to have a delineated workflow that plays to each team’s strengths.

For instance, the internal team can handle strategy, while the external team takes on user research. By keeping both teams updated on progress through regular check-ins, you can ensure a smooth collaboration and a successful project outcome.

Make time for onboarding

When it comes to integrating a new team with an existing one, slow and steady wins the race.

Rushing the onboarding process will be like jumping straight into a new relationship without taking the time to get to know each other. Give the teams enough time to learn each other’s quirks and ways of doing things.

To create a sense of camaraderie, start with an introductory workshop where the internal team shares the company’s existing style guides and design system.

Conduct meetings to encourage face-to-face bonding. And if there’s room in the office, let the external team work from there – nothing fosters friendship like sharing a space (and the occasional donut).

Have success metrics in place

Measuring the impact of UX is crucial for delivering the best experience to your users and achieving your product goals.

When you’re working with an external team, it’s even more important to set clear metrics for success from the outset.

Product leaders can take charge of setting these goals for both teams and ensuring optimal workflow. Because when it comes to the ROI of UX, you don’t want to be left guessing!

Keep communication lines open and functional

Good communication is at the heart of every successful product collaboration.

An ideal outcome can be achieved when the two UX teams work together and have ongoing communication open throughout the project.

There are numerous project management and communication tools that are tailored to facilitate remote product collaboration such as Slack, Google Drive, Basecamp, Jira, etc.

​​As a specialist enterprise UX agency, we believe in keeping our clients on board every step of the way, by inviting them to daily stand-up meetings and periodic touch-base sessions. This ensures that the client team stays aware and updated on any hiccups that may lead to delays or revisions.

Encourage continuous feedback

Designing a product requires constant refinement through a feedback loop. Collaborative projects are no exception. Periodically inviting stakeholders to provide feedback is crucial in keeping the project on track toward its intended goals.

Hiring an external UX design team is a decision driven by certain kinds of requirements, and can be a definitive value addition to any design project.

The key to success lies in managing the design collaboration effectively and squashing the “us” versus “them” mentality. Remember, everyone is working towards a common goal – creating an exceptional product for the users.

To Conclude…

Collaboration is not just a buzzword, but a vital ingredient for success in any design project. Whether it’s an in-house team or an external agency, the key to a fruitful product collaboration lies in open communication, clear delineation of responsibilities, and a shared understanding of project goals.

Remember, teamwork makes the dream work, and a collaborative dream is always better than a solo nightmare.