As with many other industries, there are two broad paths UX designers can pursue — either working as part of a design team in a company or as a designer at an agency. Many professionals work in both environments over the course of their careers, and while there’s no right or wrong option, they both offer different experiences. We break down some of those differences below:
In-house designers primarily work on internal deliverables for their company, such as product updates, from start to finish, managing everything from ideation, mock-ups, prototypes and development. Because these designers work so closely with a product, they usually get to know it inside out and can see its iterations, and their resulting impact on the company and product, over time. They also tend to get more control over design decisions than their agency counterparts.
Designers at agencies work with several different clients and on many projects at once. They are focused entirely on the client’s needs and can work on everything from website and app development to rebrands. Tackling a variety of design challenges is a great addition to any designer’s portfolio, and allows younger designers to figure out what kind of projects they most enjoy working on.
Because of red tape and the sheer size of large companies, it takes longer to change internal systems and implement new tools and technology. But you’ll get a better idea of how a business is run. In-house designers not only work closely with a design team — who can become great resources and mentors — but also with developers, marketers and product managers. You get a more holistic view of both the product and the business.
Agencies tend to be at the forefront of technology and implement new tools and services faster than large corporations. It’s a great environment to get immersed in the latest and greatest tech. And by working with different teams and clients for projects, you also get to meet a lot of people quickly. For young designers especially, there’s a lot of exposure to different mentors, design best practices and other resources.
In-house designers work just for their company. If you’re passionate about the brand and the product, it’s great because you get to spend all your time learning about and working on that one thing. However, if you’re not super aligned with the product or company, the work may begin to feel monotonous and static.
Agencies work with multiple clients, often with more than one at once. Some clients are great, others are more difficult to deal with, but working with different teams is just part of the agency package. Rest assured, there will always be a variety of projects you’re working on and people you’re working with. At larger agencies, while there’s still a variety of projects, you may be primarily working with one or two specific clients.
But whether you’re a designer at a company or an agency, what’s most important is that you’re in an environment where you feel supported, your work is respected and you enjoy the projects and the people you work with. Designers switch between agencies and in-house at different stages in their careers, and both options will only further hone your skillsets and design expertise.