The Design Dilemma: In-House vs Digital Agency

I’ll admit, we’re a little bit bias here but trust us when we say creating designs for your eCommerce website is not an easy task. With never ending demands from customers and competitors becoming increasingly complicated, designing your site is no longer as easy as finding a nice theme, slapping your logo on it and calling it a day.

Your website acts as a storefront for your brand’s online presence. It requires a huge amount of planning and consideration to execute effectively and has the ability to make or break your online experience.

Think about the last time you purchased something online. Was it an engaging and seamless end to end experience? Did it make you appreciate the brand even more? Or was it jarring and confusing which cheapened your perception of the brand?

Rest assured, it’s very easy for businesses to fall into traps regarding their website and we see it all the time. It can be for a number of very good reasons:

  • No clear goal setting or strategy
  • Lack of resource and expertise
  • No time (needs between 80-120 hours / 1-2 months)
  • No continuous support
  • Lack of creative ideas
  • Or simply, investing time in the wrong places

This leads us to the burning question: should I design my new website in-house? Or trust a digital agency with my brand?

The reality is, there is no right answer. There are so many factors to take into consideration and in the end, it comes down to what works best for you. Hopefully, the following questions will help guide your decision:

  • What are your goals for the new website?
  • How much internal resources do you have? Do they have the required skill set?
  • Do you have the time to oversee the process?
  • How much are you willing to spend?
  • Do you understand the technology?

The answers should come relatively easily.

Consider time, budget, resource management and the expertise you have available to you when weighing this decision.

Designing In-House

The Pros

Depth of Understanding
Your in-house team lives and breathes your company. They are with you day in, day out. This immersion affords them with a nuanced understanding of your brand and operations which is difficult (but not impossible) for external agencies to match.

Accessible, Dedicated & Focused
In-House teams dedicate their full working week with you and your business, enabling them to work with very focused objectives in mind. Since you are all under one roof, in-house teams are also more accessible, allowing for a more fluid and dynamic workflow.

Save on Costs (sometimes)
In some cases it is more cost effective to utilise what you have available to you and to have that person at your service full time, rather than paying an hourly rate to an agency for an equal amount of time. Designing in-house will likely save you initial upfront costs, but may result in work that reveals hidden costs later down the line.

The Cons

Creative ideas might start to run dry over time as in-house teams work within their brand’s bubble, without much visibility into what others are doing. Market trends change day to day, and this means your team will need to stay on the front lines every day in order to recognise ever-changing industry demands.

The Right Skills In The Wrong Place
Your in-house designer (or non designer) may not have the technical or specialised skills and experience required to tackle a website design effectively. They may require additional time for training and up skilling, or they could create beautiful work that isn’t code or customer friendly.

Double The Workload
Chances are your new site design will be additional work on top of your team’s existing responsibilities. A full site design can typically take from anywhere between 80-120 hours and shouldn’t be treated as a side project; it needs and deserves their full attention.

Outsourcing to an Agency

The Pros

A Fresh Perspective
Agencies can provide a much needed infusion of fresh ideas and insights. Often agencies work across multiple clients within the industry, which gives us a good sense of what’s new and what’s not. We provide an outside-in perspective which can be exactly what is needed to filter through the good to get to the great.

Expertise & Experience: We Get UX, HTML and Shopify
Web designers specialise in designing for… well… the web (eCommerce in our case). Which means we don’t just create pretty pictures, we create experiences. Your customers interact with our designs every day and we understand the importance of clear user experiences (UX), the constraints of the screen and the code that brings it all to life.

Budget & Time Friendly
To put it bluntly, you are more or less in control of how much you want to spend with us and when you want it done by. An agency’s design team is charged with the responsibility to make sure you get the most out of your money: we know what’s easy, what’s hard and what is best achieved within your set budget.

The Cons

Many Clients, Much Process
Agencies work across multiple clients on a daily basis and because of this, our attention can sometimes appear divided. We require far more structure around our process which ultimately, creates a far less fluid and dynamic workflow. This process, however, has benefits as it provides guidelines and structure so our clients can decide what is and is not important.

Playing Catchup
We don’t know the ins and out of your business like your in-house team does, so it may take us a little longer to get up to speed. This is why our first step is: to listen. Before we do anything, we have Discovery meetings with you and your team to learn as much as we can, as fast as we can. More often than not, these meetings reveal opportunities and discoveries that might not have been visible internally, or might have been overlooked.

'More Expensive'
This is usually the knee jerk reaction after receiving a proposal from an agency. At first glance, you might be right. Agencies typically charge on an hourly basis that is 3-4 times higher then what an internal designer may cost you. But in our experience, what seems more expensive may actually end up saving you costs. The lack of a specialised skills internally can often mean the work produced is neither very good, nor very effective. Which ultimately, wastes money, time and doesn’t deliver effective results that will push your brand forward.

So... what's the consensus?

Find yourself a digital partner (ahem).

Working side by side with a digital agency means you get to plug your business straight into a pool of professionals with a huge range of skills and expertise. This gives you access to help from creative and strategic minds that have spent years working in their field. This charges us with the skills, experience and understanding to bring your website from ideation to life; finding the sweet spot between eCommerce, your brand and the platform.

So, rather than seeing it as outsourcing your designs, think of it as finding and establishing an ongoing partnership with a digital agency who has your brand’s back.

Pretty neat, eh?

PS. I just want to reiterate that we are not suggesting that designing in-house can never work. In fact, we have a few clients that design beautifully and effectively for the web. But with the ever-growing skill set required for eCommerce designs, it has become a challenge worth highlighting.

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