How can UX/UI designers choose between agency or in-house jobs?

by: | Jun 7, 2022

If you’re a UX/UI designer, what’s better: working in-house at a product company, or working for a consulting agency (like ArcTouch) that helps companies design their products?

The answer to that question, of course, depends on you and your professional goals. But it’s still an important question to consider at various points in your career journey.

In my career, I’ve had the chance to work both in-house and at agencies. There’s no “better” when choosing between the two — both have their pros and cons.

“Working at an agency offers designers the chance to develop more specialized skills, across diverse projects, and an accelerated learning experience.”

At ArcTouch, I get to work with many talented designers who are helping create lovable digital products for a variety of well-known companies. In my previous role, I was a design lead for an e-commerce company specializing in selling furniture and home decor, working directly with the team responsible for the website and app experiences.

Of course, you can’t generalize all agencies and all companies as the same. Even within those two categories, your experience as a designer will vary.

In this post, I’ll share some of the important factors I’ve considered in deciding where I’ve wanted to work during my career.

Project variety vs. deep industry knowledge

When you work directly inside of a company’s product team, you have the opportunity to learn deeply about that company’s history, industry, and customers. This can surely be beneficial as you are more immersed in one product context, developing more extensive expertise on its specific niche, than you would be working on multiple projects at an agency.

By contrast, agency life offers a variety of experiences working with many different companies, products, and teams. As a designer, you can develop broad (horizontal) industry expertise without having to jump from job to job. Plus, you gain the side benefit of being exposed to different businesses and seeing different characteristics that make them successful.

ArcTouch works for companies of all sizes across dozens of different industries. The users we design for are diverse. This diversity drives our interest in inclusive experiences and encourages us to design accessible apps for our clients.

In a recent survey conducted within our internal design team, the diversity of our projects was voted the most loved reason for working at ArcTouch. Here are a couple of quotes from team members:

“I like the opportunity to work with different projects, and to experience different scenarios, products, and solutions.”

“I also like the diversity of projects and industries. We can experience different market environments.”

Specialized design expertise vs. business acumen

Another benefit to working at an agency: You have a whole team of skilled designers working right alongside you, each of them with different professional backgrounds and different design specialties. From a learning point of view, there’s no better way to develop specialized design skills than surrounding yourself with other experienced designers.

At ArcTouch, we have programs in place that encourage us to share our best practices — including how to use new tools and technologies — and specialized knowledge with our peers. In fact, one of our core company values is Fellowship: “Our team is stronger than the sum of our individual strengths. We support each other, both professionally and personally, and celebrate our achievements, together.”

Design is ultimately about solving problems. So, when you have a collaborative environment and a group of talented designers with diverse experiences, it’s easier to find creative, innovative, and technically viable solutions.

Working internally at a product company offers a different educational opportunity. You’ll have a clear sense of how your design work affects the overall success of a product or service, such as access to analytics that may be used to improve the performance of digital products with every iteration. Your projects may even be linked to different organizational KPIs. You’ll also have more visibility of your company’s operations — offering a chance to strengthen your overall business acumen.

Diverse stakeholders vs. fewer, closer relationships

In any job, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from the people around you — and take that with you where you go. Another advantage of working at an agency is you’ll get to meet and collaborate with a wide range of people. Learning how to work with different types of people — with different jobs, skills, cultures, and personalities — will serve you well. It will give you the chance to hear many different perspectives on work and see different management styles in action.

Working with more clients also helps you build your professional network. At an agency, you may have some long-term clients. But the typical scenario for our designers is working with at least 2-3 clients per year. Each client means a chance to establish new connections.

You’ll also be able to refine one of the most important skills for a designer: communication. As designers, we often need to explain our ideas to non-designers — articulating our vision clearly without jargon. And with more diverse stakeholders, this becomes more important.

While I love the diversity of people we get to work with at an agency, many prefer working within the confines of an internal team and company. While you may not have as many relationships, you may develop stronger relationships with colleagues that work in many different types of roles at your company.

In the end, what’s better for my UX/UI design career?

As I said at the beginning of this post, there’s no right or wrong choice for designers when it comes to working at an agency or in-house at a product company. They’re just different! As one of our software engineers, Leticia Coelho, recently wrote (in Portuguese), “It’s up to the professional to understand how the agency or company works and evaluate if their career objectives are aligned with what is offered.”

Working directly for product companies may be more suitable if a designer prefers consistency and developing domain expertise in a specific industry. However, working at an agency offers designers the chance to develop more specialized skills, across diverse projects, and an accelerated learning experience. Both have helped me at different stages in my career.

Want to join the design team at ArcTouch?

At ArcTouch, our design team helps define and build lovable apps and digital experiences for leading brands and businesses. If you’d like to join us, check out our careers to learn more.