Would you 'go back' to working at a design agency?

5 months ago from , Digital and product designer

Freelance, startup or in-house designers with agency experience: Would you return to a job at an agency? Or have you, and why? Given the different cultures, pay, type of work, hours, challenges, growth etc. I don't mean a place you've worked previously, I mean to any design agency... Versus continuing to be a freelancer, startup or in-house designer.

32 comments

  • Stephanie JadotteStephanie Jadotte, 4 months ago

    I would NEVER EVER go back to working for an agency. All of the ones that I have worked for in the past has had HORRIBLE work culture.

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  • Scott Burns, 4 months ago

    I'm about to go freelance in January after 6 years in digital agencies... I'm rather excited at the prospect, and think it'll be good for me, similar as to the reasons some other people have already given for not wanting to go back already in this thread.

    As to whether I'll go back in future, who knows, will probably depend on how the economy goes in the years to come as much as anything...

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  • Jj MoiJj Moi, 4 months ago

    yes, but only at the top 10 agencies.

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  • Matthew SaforrianMatthew Saforrian, 4 months ago

    I would consider starting a small design studio that focuses specifically on helping brands develop and execute on UX strategy work.

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  • Benjamin RogersBenjamin Rogers, 4 months ago

    Generally, no. There are a few small boutiques out there that do fantastic stuff, only take on limited clients a year, etc.

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  • Timothy McKennaTimothy McKenna, 4 months ago

    I'm 90% sure I would never go back.

    In my career I have flip flopped in and out of agency life (in-house then agency, back to in-house and back to agency, etc) and I can honestly say that I have grown more as a design professional in my time working in-house and consulting. At least in my area, many of the agencies have the "Churn and Burn" mentality; get work in, do as fast as you can, bill a metric ton of hours, and move on. I've always contemplated about what it would be like at a large international agency like Pentagram, Huge or Ogilvy...but when I think of the impact and attention I have to focus on one or just a few clients, I find that I have more freedom and greater control building the brand and products they need.

    The only way I would go back is if I start my own agency, and even then it would be different from the standard model in my area.

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  • Ruban KhalidRuban Khalid, 4 months ago

    Each has it's pros and cons. I think if you want to work with and have fantastic brands on your portfolio, then Agency is the way to go. If you really care about product design and seeing a product from start to finish then in house is better.

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  • Ix TechauIx Techau, 5 months ago

    Depends on the agency. Some places, like Thoughtbot for example, seem to encourage a startup mentality and approach to client work, only accepting specific contracts and making sure employees still feel empowered and creative.

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    • Mike MaiMike Mai, 4 months ago

      Those guys are cool and great at ping pong, totally took me to school. :)

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  • Joe VillanuevaJoe Villanueva, 4 months ago

    No. Depth, pay, culture, clients, collaboration, disciplines - these are my chief reasons, in no particular order.

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  • Jon MyersJon Myers, 4 months ago

    Lone wolf digital product design specialist til' I dieeeeeee......

    This is kind of like asking a musical artist earning a living from digital distribution if they would like to go back to working at a record store. Ok, not really exactly. :)

    In terms of the traditional agency model, they seem like a dying breed. I wouldn't want to work with them.

    There are some interesting "agencies" - that are more digital product design studio where there is a better understanding and synthesis of approaches to building digital products, say like - 3Drops or MetaLabs.

    They might be a better prospect to work with and further your growth.

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  • Juan Gonzalez, 5 months ago

    Definitely not.

    Not because the culture isn't that great, neither the salary &cie, put mostly because I could not follow a project after it was launch, like it has always been a one-shot project then you move on.

    As a UX/Product Designer, I like to get datas and feedback from the stuff I made to know what was performing or not and improve it, or at least knowing it so I could make it different on a next project.

    That being said, there is a lot more UX Agency now than 4 years ago when I worked whitin an agency, so maybe that would be different.

    But now, after having the chance to work for Microsoft and Match/Meetic/Tinder, I don't think I would go back in an agency. :)

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    • Shina Charles Memud, 4 months ago

      Totally right, it kills me to work on something for 1-3months and let it go just like that. It almost feels as if I haven't gained anything.

      I've been fortunate to work with close clients on continuous projects ... this doesn't only allow me to improve on previous version (and experience) but also see/monitor how the value of my work is being used.

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  • Naim SheriffNaim Sheriff, 4 months ago

    I've been running my solo studio from home (NYC) for a year and a half now. Financially I can't afford going back to agencies (being an employee). Work wise, my work is better and faster.

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  • Matt CastilloMatt Castillo, 5 months ago

    Definitely depends on the work.

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  • Andu PotoracAndu Potorac, 4 months ago

    What is the difference between in-house designer and being a designer in-house at an agency? :-)

    So you're basically comparing the startup world, with the freelance world versus being employed at an agency?

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    • Ismet TrakoIsmet Trako, 4 months ago

      Huge difference, tbh. Simply said, working in-house basically looks like you're working for 'one' client, in agency you are supplying multiple clients.

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      • Andu PotoracAndu Potorac, 4 months ago

        Still not clear to me. Can you elaborate?

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        • Matthew SaforrianMatthew Saforrian, 4 months ago

          You get to focus on one problem, really get to know the users, and follow up on projects after you launch it. Basically, you get to not only have more influence on the strategy and long term vision but also execute on it.

          On another note, I've seen some numbers over time that working for a tech company pays better then agency work.

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    • , 4 months ago

      An in-house designer is employed specifically to work on their employers project(s) and product(s). The company you work 'in-house' for could be anything from a startup to a fortune 500 company. Comparatively, an agency designer could work on/for dozens of different clients and projects, in many different industries.

      Working in-house gives you greater access to and understanding of the business, its needs, audience, data, and stakeholders. A project doesn't end at launch — you learn, iterate and scale. You are likely more invested in the project, as you are tied to its success, so to speak. The work you do is likely problem solving focused, over creating award-winning work, and you're fine with that. The pay/salary is probably much higher (including stock/shares too) in-house, with less churn, and the hours are probably much kinder.

      An agency designer can ship a project and never see or hear of it again. Unless you have a close bond with the client, you likely won't see any data, learn what worked and what didn't, and may not have a chance to iterate on work that shipped. Most likely everything is done 'on the clock', billed hourly/daily and tight deadlines are more common, which can be reflected in the hours you work. The work you do is likely more short-term focussed, with more emphasis on how it looks (think: portfolio and awards) than long-term strategy, MVPs, product rollouts etc.

      No doubt both have their own pros and cons, culturally, politically and the type of work you do. They are very different, neither are for everyone.

      P.S. Note my repetitive use of 'likely', 'probably' and 'may' in the descriptions of both :)

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      • Andu PotoracAndu Potorac, 4 months ago

        Thanks Andrew! As an owner of an agency and founder at a startup, in the position of Art Director and PM, I didn't fully understand the terminology you use but now it's clear. Appreciate your response as I am sure others do too!

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      • Oz ChenOz Chen, 4 months ago

        Thanks for the in-depth response :)

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  • Jake FlemingJake Fleming, 5 months ago

    Yeah sure.

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  • John PJohn P, 5 months ago

    Yeah far less bullshit and politics.

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    • , 4 months ago

      In agency culture?

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      • John PJohn P, 4 months ago (edited 4 months ago )

        Yeah, only have to deal with the client, once the project is out of the door you can forget about it.

        Startups you have to deal with stakeholders, investors, other people in your own company redesigning each others work without telling them then sending it straight to the top in private to try and further their own careers. 90% of it is just office politics.

        It's garbage.

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        • , 4 months ago

          Interesting and very valid point! I suspect some agencies will also have this issue, between other designers and all the [art/design/creative] directors etc. But this is certainly a painful problem with some companies and startups. The games and politics suck.

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  • Ryan MurphyRyan Murphy, 5 months ago

    Nope, it's a different world completely. I think they are great when you are young, because you get the chance to work on so many different industries at different scale. But once you step out of that, it's not so desirable to get back in the muck.

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    • Michael KwonMichael Kwon, 4 months ago

      I second this! I really find that design agency lacks the stability that the older years desire...

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