Choosing where to work is never black and white. Even comparing an agency and an in-house product UX role isn’t straightforward because of the internal factors that can influence both. For example, an in-house UX role can be dramatically different in a small company compared to a large, or even working on an e-commerce product compared to a healthcare product.
When I started thinking about this topic, my instinct was to list all the negatives for each environment. But it shouldn’t be the negatives that dictate your choice. It should be the positives, and about who you are as a person now and the person you want to become.
The list below should prove to be food for thought in helping you figure out if an agency or in-house product UX role might suit you best.
Agency — With new projects coming in, you’ll always be meeting new clients and new teams. You’ll also have the opportunity to network with people in different roles and industries, learn from them, gain new perspectives and skills in collaboration. For extroverts, this can also be an added perk of an agency role.
In-house — When you work in-house, you’ll be working with the same teams and company, which allows you to form strong relationships that build over time. You’ll have a great support network and be able to establish long-lasting relationships that can remain even if you move on. It’s great to be surrounded by people you trust and can depend on at work.
In-house — If you’re working on the same product, you’ll have the ability to understand it truly. Who are your users? What tasks are they trying to complete? How do they use our product? What does our product do, and how goes it work? These are the types of questions you can dig into to uncover insights, and you have the time to invest in learning the product inside out.
Agency — In an agency environment, anything can happen at any time. These could be external factors like a client not paying and dropping the project or internal factors like a dramatic change of strategy. You could also be working on multiple projects at the same time that could be opposites. Not everyone can hack this type of environment, but sometimes the best way to grow is to be constantly challenged and engaged, and you can also pick up secondary skills like time management. However, it is essential to recognise when you are in an environment that gives you a healthy challenge or overloads you with work.
In-house — A great perk of an in-house UX role is that you have the chance to work on a product, reiterate, expand and contribute to its growth. We can’t be perfect the first time around, and there is nothing more satisfying than designing a user journey, seeing it in production, then taking observations to improve continuously. By working in-house, you have the luxury of following up on results and seeing these improvements gradually come to life. You can allow yourself to care and invest in what you’re working on.
Agency — An agency is a perfect place to experiment. You’ll be facing new projects and clients regularly, which will inevitably expose your different skill sets. Whether these are skills you can build on or learn from scratch, the agency environment can help you become clearer on the type of UX Designer you want to be. For example, you might find you love the research side more or prefer working on a specific product type. With the range of projects you’ll get to work on, it will bring clarity on what aspects you enjoy the most.
In-house — Typically, when you’re hired for an in-house role, it’s for a specific skillset. The edge case would be start-up environments where you could be expected to dabble in multiple areas. Chris Kernaghan gives a bit more insight into the start-up life for a UX Designer in his article, “How to survive the start-up life as a UX designer.” An in-house UX role can be a great way to concentrate on your area of expertise and push growth in that area. However, it’s also important to note that working in-house does not mean you are trapped in that one area. If you want to expand into other areas, make sure you talk to your team and manager because most companies want to help you develop into the best and happiest person you can be.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully, this article will give you a bit of insight into what type of UX environment might suit you best moving forward.