Adaptive Path, Sapient, Razorfish, etc., achieved high billing rates because they had something new and valuable that large companies could not easily replicate and incorporate into internal processes. The larger companies leap-frogged their competition by hiring leading edge agencies. However, we drank our own koolaid and are today thinking that companies will still pay premium rates for something that long ago became common knowledge via UXmatters, UX Magazine, UIE, Cooper, UXPA, wandering UX minstrels, etc.
This is a comment from Paul Bryan on a post by peterme titled San Francisco Design Agencies Feeling the Squeeze. I have to agree. From the aspect of User Experience Design much of the objective should be to educate the client so they make better decisions in the future. The imparting of wisdom is at the forefront of creating something great. That doesn’t mean that the output would be the same if they attempted it themselves, it would be different individuals with different views but also they would be engrained with the office politics, and history of the organisation and this can still lead to being crippled by yourselves.
There is nothing wrong with companies now building their own in-house teams and of course it makes sense that this is then where design budget is sent to, but that is not what agencies should be concerned with. We want them to do that, we have always strived to making our clients more aware.
The issue is when agencies want to keep, as another commenter wrote ‘their skin in the game’. To be able to take on the next project, and the next and the next, but this comes at a huge cost. The longer you stay ‘in the game’ the more pressure you will feel to appease the loud ones of the group, you will pander to personal opinion, become embroiled in the same politics and historic experiences until you are just another cog in the broken system you were sent in to fix. You can no longer be the agent of change. That, at least for a UX Agency is; or should be, the #1 priority.
We want to help you be better. We cannot do that when we are too entrenched in whether Server A allows us to do Funky Thing B, or we can’t produce that content because it has to be made by Team X and validated by Team Y and checked over by Washing Mangle 72 before being scheduled for release in 2016. It doesn’t work.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have UX people within your organisation either, a person who can be responsible for questioning decisions on your service and check whether it meets intent, but even these people, if not supported and not able to evolve the organisation as a whole from the bottom up will begin churning out the same crud, project after project, because of routine and the desire for an easy life.
The Agency is feeling the pinch because they changed the rules of the game. Instead of being an agent, they became a partner, that is a very different relationship. We can still be agents, acting on the behalf of another because they can’t be that themselves.