Life at an agency vs "in-house"

7 years ago from , isl.co

Curious to hear other's experiences are working at agencies vs working "in-house".

Some Questions to get you thinking: 1. What do you like about your organization? What do you not like? 2. How is the success of your work evaluated? 3. Do you feel like you have the time needed to deliver quality work? 4. Does your organization have a clearly defined process? 5. How big is your team? 6. Does your organization have a culture of "over-working" you?

In my own experience @ a small botique branding agency we get to work on really fun and exciting projects, but it can be frustrating working on an interactive team of 1 person. I also don't like how the success of my work is evaluated on the basis of: *does it look good? *does the like like it? *did you do it reasonably quickly?

I get the impression that "in-house" your metrics are much more user-centric or outcome-oriented. ie, did this project succeed at a pre-defined goal regarding user actions?


  • Weston VierreggerWeston Vierregger, 7 years ago (edited 7 years ago )

    I've worked at 3 agencies, 1 in NYC and 2 in Seattle, before transitioning to my current position in-house.

    1. HTC Creative Labs is very much set up and ran like a design studio. Our studio is isolated and separate from the corporate and marketing organization, both figuratively and literally -- we have an entirely separate/independent office specifically for Creative Labs.

    2. Internal vetting, mostly, but very often we don't know if anything has been successful until we ship! Our studio moves along at a relatively fast clip, and we are often shipping new features and reacting to feedback on the fly.

    3. Absolutely. The best reason to go in-house, IMO, is to have more time and control over your own projects.

    4. I would say yes and no. There is a clear path to get from ideation to development (e.g. concept > wire > visual > build > ship) but the actual tooling and workflow process varies from designer to designer, and the studio enthusiastically supports alternative process exploration when possible.

    5. HTC Creative Labs is a decently large org of UI/UX designers, prototypers, full-on devs, and industrial designers. The software UX/UI team I think right now is about 30 people in the US...? Something like that.

    6. No! Sure, no matter where you work you're going to have to burn the midnight oil once or twice -- deadlines are deadlines after all. But from my experience, I have had and seen friends have many many more nights/weekends spent working during agency jobs than their in-house counterparts.

    All said and done, I don't think I'd ever go back to agency life -- but, never say never I guess. :)

    Edit: Also, if you live in Seattle and this sounds cool, get in touch.

    3 points
  • Drew AlbinsonDrew Albinson, 7 years ago

    I'm in-house.

    1. My organization is a mission-oriented NGO which makes a measurable difference to protect endangered species and landscapes, which in turn helps local populations and reduces the effects of climate change. I really like being a part of an organization I believe in. Because it's a non-profit, resources are always scarce and everyone has to chip in. It's a lot of work which can be tough (and good).

    2. On my team we evaluate success on whatever metrics are available. Sometimes that is analytics, CTRs, donation totals, other times it's qualitative responses from our constituents.

    3. Sometimes. I think it's important to make the time and not compromise on the integrity of your work. I rarely have as much time as I'd like to have, but I push back when deadlines are going to heavily impact the effectiveness of a piece. I think every designer needs to find that balance regardless of in-house/agency.

    4. My team does, my organization is very large and each department doesn't always interact.

    5. My team is 5 (soon to be 6) people. Currently I'm the only designer in my team (and department), we're hiring another one now.

    6. Yes, but I wouldn't want to work anywhere where I wouldn't be willing to put in extra hours.

    2 points
  • Christina FowlerChristina Fowler, 7 years ago (edited 7 years ago )

    I now work "in-house" and my last job was within an agency.

    1. I like that I work for a charity now, for a great cause. I don't have to worry about working on projects that I may not agree with ethically.
    2. My work is judged on the impact it has, on the data. Previously my work was judged far more on the client's expectations and happiness levels, not on the success of the users completing tasks.
    3. I absolutely get the time I need to complete tasks. I find that coming from an agency my pace of work is much quicker than other people are used to in fact.
    4. The process right now isn't great but my organisation is keen to improve and already see the benefit in the way external agencies work. They have been very flexible in the way I like to work.
    5. I work in a digital team of 4 editors, 1 PM, 1 account manager/producer, 1 dev, 2 UX designers, 1 team manager and currently recruiting for an additional FE dev.
    6. I don't feel overworked at all. On my first day my boss' boss came to me to say that I could go home at any time I wanted, the hours are very flexible and the environment very supportive. I also can't deny that I love working in the charity sector because it attracts so many women, it's great to work somewhere where I'm not the only female for once!
    1 point
  • barry saundersbarry saunders, 7 years ago

    I've worked at a bunch of agencies, as well as in-house at a new/magazine publisher, a big NGO, and on university research projects.

    NGOs and universities are intensely frustrating as they are slow-moving, top-down organisations often with powerful, elderly stakeholders who need to be handheld. However you get a level of satisfaction with a successful project that you don't get elsewhere.

    News publishers can be interesting but you are often dealing with the constraints of advertising (leading to shitty UX), the frustrations of downsizing (lot of staff leaving all the time, demoralising). Often the devs are jack-of-all-trades lifers who never specialised, so are stuck churning out identical drupal crap. I often had to find examples of existing stuff online to point out that what they described as 'impossible' was in fact 'possible' and also 'actually pretty basic.'

    Agencies are a mixed bag. Some are very build focused, so you have to work pretty closely with devs to get stuff built. This can be great, particularly if you have a good client who appreciates good design. However, there's always that one client who never likes anything or simply can't visualise what they're asking for. Often you'll end up overworked churning out wireframes or comps just to get everything done.

    Other agencies are very strategy / UX focused, where you get to really focus on creating the right design. This is where i've ended up, and it's the happiest I've been. I get to still work with devs (i frequently work on client's agile teams) but I also get to do high-level strategy and UX work.

    0 points
  • Ryan Hicks, 7 years ago

    I've worked for one agency and other than that all in house on teams. Speaking from that experience I hate working at agencies. I hate working late hours that come with clients, constantly stressing, constantly switching projects, and having to please clients making decisions they know nothing about. Fighting budgets vs doing something really cool on the project. I hate feeling like every day could be my last in an agency because if no new business comes in they start getting rid of people. Which is exactly what happened to me. I knew it was coming just a matter of when.

    1. My org just recently dipped it's toes into SaaS and it's their first time developing software. So there some things I don't like. I'm leading the design efforts and trying to get some things in place. To much to list here would rather discuss in person.

    2. Success is based on deadlines right now. We have not launched a beta product yet so we are just pumping stuff out to prod for internal testing.

    3. I feel i have enough time sometimes no but you deal with it.

    4. No process defined. Process for design is define by me right now. Working on getting that more refined. As I said they are new to building software.

    5. 3 designers. Me the lead UX, and two somewhat inexperienced old school designers for the web. One helps me on the project under my guidance, and the other helps with our current websites already in prod supporting the other side of the business. We just had an intern start the other day. We have a handful of dev guys working remotely in ukraine, and two in house developers one front-end and one that works front-end and some back-end. We also have two data scientist working on data analysis and algorithms for the new product.

    6. We def. don't get over worked here. In fact it's odd. Only company I've been at that everyone literally is out the door at 5pm sharp.

    0 points
  • Matt CoadyMatt Coady, 7 years ago

    I work on a product (Unbounce - UI Dev), not an agency so it's a bit different but I'll share my experience.

    1. The company I work for is pretty great. Anything I need from them, they'll do their best to make it work. We're growing pretty fast so I guess the only downside right now is the growing pains of growing as a company.

    2. There's no formal evaluation per se but we have pretty good open communication and customer feedback.

    3. We work in two week sprints, so you commit to what you're capable of doing in that amount of time. It's really on you to make that call.

    4. Our process varies from team to team. We have 3 major dev teams: the page builder tool, the web app (where you manage your account) and academy (which is like a training center). Each team has their own set of rules and process but there is a degree of crossover as well.

    5. I'm actually a part of a few teams. There's my primary role team which is product. That consists of UX/UI, customer feedback and analytics. There's about 10 people on that team. I'm also embedded in the Page Builder team as their primary UI Dev (about 9 people there) and I'm on the UI Dev team (3 people).

    6. No (see #3). You choose the work load with a promise to your team you can get it done.

    0 points
  • Paul Best, 7 years ago

    *does the "client" like it.

    0 points