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The Rise of the UX Design Team

The growing impact of designers on companies’ business strategies seems to be inevitable and increasingly vast, enabling design studios to slowly but surely redefine large corporations' mindsets.

With UX [User Experience] design becoming more and more mature and widespread in digital product development businesses, we can now see a major shift happening throughout all software companies and their design-consulting vendors.

Design teams are now impacting businesses from the top down. To illustrate that trend, let's look into the recent acquisitions of famous design agencies by large corporations like Accenture, Facebook and Adobe, and identify the design-related evolution we expect in the next two years.

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A Design Maturity Shift
On one hand, there are too many large corporations with an old-school mindset, bureaucracy as a cultural trait, and redundant processes that haven't been efficient for at least a decade. On the other hand, there is Apple, Google, and other successful giants, accompanied by smaller product companies and startups that view design as their key business driver.

Between these two extremes, there's a massive amount of companies that either just recently realized the value of design or decided to explore UX design as a possible trend/accelerator/differentiator because... well... everyone is talking about it. As a result, in that middle layer, we can see different outsourcing vendors, design agencies, and less successful startup companies with human-centered design mindsets. However, a lot of them may not have a well-defined design philosophy or the necessary skill set to be in that mature league.

This middle layer is certainly the most dynamic. As everything goes digital, the old-school corporations have long felt the pressure to adapt. Now, they are being pushed by the market toward higher design awareness. It creates huge opportunities for the middle layer outsourcing companies and design agencies that are either providing design/consulting services or being acquired to become in-house design departments (the #1 UX Design trend for 2015). At the same time, mature design giants are monitoring this middle group as well so as not to miss the genius sparkles that can boost their creative teams.

The Tendency Toward Design Firm Acquisitions
As design teams become integrated into traditional corporations, some companies, like RGA, chose to operate and grow organically without acquisitions, and further, don't seem to be seriously interested in joining other companies. However, during the last five years we've been witnessing a number of major acquisitions in the design world, and some of them were pretty unexpected. Let's consider a couple of recent acquisitions:

  • 2011 GlobalLogic & Method: This was a classic capabilities extension acquisition for both companies as GlobalLogic had a strong technical R&D side, and Method helped them cover that end-to-end process and move to the next level of collaboration with clients. Both companies decided to remain under the same names for the sake of keeping branded centers of excellence that are well recognized and have certain levels of credibility, which are essentially multiplied when they work together.

  • 2012 Adobe & Behance: This one seems more like a product purchase than head hunting, as Adobe needed a portfolio platform not only to understand the creative community (existing and potential customers) better, but to add value to its Creative Cloud by integrating two platforms, just like it did with Typekit in 2011. Also, it was a smart step toward good public relations as Behance CEO Scott Belsky became Adobe's vice president of community.

  • 2013 Accenture & Fjord: Fjord became a small but natural extension for Accenture Interactive, Accenture's marketing direction. This was very similar to the GlobalLogic & Method acquisition, when a large corporation extends its capabilities through a design agency acquisition, with the only major difference being the size of Accenture's workforce, which stood at 260K+ employees. Fjord's 200 employees seems like a pretty small branch in this scale!

  • 2014 Capital One & Adaptive Path: This was probably the most unexpected acquisition of a design firm. Even Adaptive Path co-founder Jesse James Garrett, in his announcement, made a comment: "I know, weird, right?" However, his words may serve as a good showcase for the reasoning behind design agency acquisition: "The more people we meet at Capital One, the stranger it seems that they all work for a bank, of all places. They are genuinely creative, collaborative, and, well, fun people."

  • 2015 Facebook & Teehan+Lax: This one is the most recent acquisition, just announced at the end of 2014. It can hardly be called an acquisition as Teehan+Lax had to let most of its employees go, and only the founders and a portion of their key members joined Facebook. Such an acquisition raised lively discussions that threw stones at the agency founders. However, from the announcement we can tell it took a lot of planning and mental efforts to make those decisions.

Design-Related Business Tendencies
The trend speaks for itself -- both successful digital product makers and old school companies that need to be refreshed tend to use design agencies as a resources and capabilities buffer, and that means we will see more acquisitions of a different kind in the near future.

Today, decisions that impact design capabilities are highly strategic. In order to approach the efficiency level of in-house design teams, design service providers and consultants in their current format need to become involved with their clients on a strategic level; ensure that they have well-developed processes that can be easily integrated with their client company's internal processes; and be ready to provide a long-term commitment, on-site presence, and deep product domain knowledge.

If such service components are not on the offer, it can drive product companies to either develop the competence in-house (which takes a lot of time, money, and effort), or acquire an already existing company and integrate it into their businesses. The last option -- spend the cash to buy what you need -- is usually the easier one.

From the perspective of a design agency, the last two examples of recent acquisitions are not merely business events, but present very personal and ideological questions for business owners and for their teams. These decisions are not always about money -- often it is about preserving the shared vision ad common mindset of a design firm/team.

Although, according to Jawbone UX executive Peter Merholz, clients in general are now less willing to buy design from agencies (and project budgets have been shrinking). Even so, there will still be enough clients with low design maturity that need help. The main concern in this case can be that agencies will get the majority of such clients rather than those companies that are building in-house teams. This can result in an agency's projects becoming less interesting and challenging, causing design professionals to potentially lose their motivation. The decision of what jobs to take comes down to a particular agency's philosophy and a culture that will keep work interesting and employees well motivated.

Another interesting approach can be out-staffing design instead of outsourcing it. This can make designers part of a client's company and potentially eliminate some disadvantages mentioned above such as temporary involvement, limited on-site presence, and lack of product domain knowledge.

While the industry is changing, the growth of designers' impact on companies' business strategies seems to be inevitable and increasingly vast. Relatively small but robust design studios will slowly but surely redefine large corporations' mindsets. That should lead to powerful design innovations in the near future.

Andrii Glushko is a UX Designer at SoftServe, Inc, and a regular blogger on the SoftServe United blog. He has focused his career on solving business problems through the creation of high quality user interfaces. Andrii's work ensures optimal user experience for numerous desktop, tablet, and mobile applications by defining effective information architecture, conducting usability assessments, and heuristic evaluations.

  • 2012 Adobe & Behance: This one seems more like a product purchase than head hunting, as Adobe needed a portfolio platform not only to understand the creative community (existing and potential customers) better, but to add value to its Creative Cloud by integrating two platforms, just like it did with Typekit in 2011. Also, it was a smart step toward good public relations as Behance CEO Scott Belsky became Adobe's vice president of community.

  • 2013 Accenture & Fjord: Fjord became a small but natural extension for Accenture Interactive, Accenture's marketing direction. This was very similar to the GlobalLogic & Method acquisition, when a large corporation extends its capabilities through a design agency acquisition, with the only major difference being the size of Accenture's workforce, which stood at 260K+ employees. Fjord's 200 employees seems like a pretty small branch in this scale!

  • 2014 Capital One & Adaptive Path: This was probably the most unexpected acquisition of a design firm. Even Adaptive Path co-founder Jesse James Garrett, in his announcement, made a comment: "I know, weird, right?" However, his words may serve as a good showcase for the reasoning behind design agency acquisition: "The more people we meet at Capital One, the stranger it seems that they all work for a bank, of all places. They are genuinely creative, collaborative, and, well, fun people."

  • 2015 Facebook & Teehan+Lax: This one is the most recent acquisition, just announced at the end of 2014. It can hardly be called an acquisition as Teehan+Lax had to let most of its employees go, and only the founders and a portion of their key members joined Facebook. Such an acquisition raised lively discussions that threw stones at the agency founders. However, from the announcement we can tell it took a lot of planning and mental efforts to make those decisions.

    Design-Related Business Tendencies
    The trend speaks for itself -- both successful digital product makers and old school companies that need to be refreshed tend to use design agencies as a resources and capabilities buffer, and that means we will see more acquisitions of a different kind in the near future.

    Today, decisions that impact design capabilities are highly strategic. In order to approach the efficiency level of in-house design teams, design service providers and consultants in their current format need to become involved with their clients on a strategic level; ensure that they have well-developed processes that can be easily integrated with their client company's internal processes; and be ready to provide a long-term commitment, on-site presence, and deep product domain knowledge.

    If such service components are not on the offer, it can drive product companies to either develop the competence in-house (which takes a lot of time, money, and effort), or acquire an already existing company and integrate it into their businesses. The last option -- spend the cash to buy what you need -- is usually the easier one.

    From the perspective of a design agency, the last two examples of recent acquisitions are not merely business events, but present very personal and ideological questions for business owners and for their teams. These decisions are not always about money -- often it is about preserving the shared vision ad common mindset of a design firm/team.

    Although, according to Jawbone UX executive Peter Merholz, clients in general are now less willing to buy design from agencies (and project budgets have been shrinking). Even so, there will still be enough clients with low design maturity that need help. The main concern in this case can be that agencies will get the majority of such clients rather than those companies that are building in-house teams. This can result in an agency's projects becoming less interesting and challenging, causing design professionals to potentially lose their motivation. The decision of what jobs to take comes down to a particular agency's philosophy and a culture that will keep work interesting and employees well motivated.

    Another interesting approach can be out-staffing design instead of outsourcing it. This can make designers part of a client's company and potentially eliminate some disadvantages mentioned above such as temporary involvement, limited on-site presence, and lack of product domain knowledge.

    While the industry is changing, the growth of designers' impact on companies' business strategies seems to be inevitable and increasingly vast. Relatively small but robust design studios will slowly but surely redefine large corporations' mindsets. That should lead to powerful design innovations in the near future.

    Andrii Glushko is a UX Designer at SoftServe, Inc, and a regular blogger on the SoftServe United blog. He has focused his career on solving business problems through the creation of high quality user interfaces. Andrii's work ensures optimal user experience for numerous desktop, tablet, and mobile applications by defining effective information architecture, conducting usability assessments, and heuristic evaluations.

  • 2013 Accenture & Fjord: Fjord became a small but natural extension for Accenture Interactive, Accenture's marketing direction. This was very similar to the GlobalLogic & Method acquisition, when a large corporation extends its capabilities through a design agency acquisition, with the only major difference being the size of Accenture's workforce, which stood at 260K+ employees. Fjord's 200 employees seems like a pretty small branch in this scale!

  • 2014 Capital One & Adaptive Path: This was probably the most unexpected acquisition of a design firm. Even Adaptive Path co-founder Jesse James Garrett, in his announcement, made a comment: "I know, weird, right?" However, his words may serve as a good showcase for the reasoning behind design agency acquisition: "The more people we meet at Capital One, the stranger it seems that they all work for a bank, of all places. They are genuinely creative, collaborative, and, well, fun people."

  • 2015 Facebook & Teehan+Lax: This one is the most recent acquisition, just announced at the end of 2014. It can hardly be called an acquisition as Teehan+Lax had to let most of its employees go, and only the founders and a portion of their key members joined Facebook. Such an acquisition raised lively discussions that threw stones at the agency founders. However, from the announcement we can tell it took a lot of planning and mental efforts to make those decisions.

    Design-Related Business Tendencies
    The trend speaks for itself -- both successful digital product makers and old school companies that need to be refreshed tend to use design agencies as a resources and capabilities buffer, and that means we will see more acquisitions of a different kind in the near future.

    Today, decisions that impact design capabilities are highly strategic. In order to approach the efficiency level of in-house design teams, design service providers and consultants in their current format need to become involved with their clients on a strategic level; ensure that they have well-developed processes that can be easily integrated with their client company's internal processes; and be ready to provide a long-term commitment, on-site presence, and deep product domain knowledge.

    If such service components are not on the offer, it can drive product companies to either develop the competence in-house (which takes a lot of time, money, and effort), or acquire an already existing company and integrate it into their businesses. The last option -- spend the cash to buy what you need -- is usually the easier one.

    From the perspective of a design agency, the last two examples of recent acquisitions are not merely business events, but present very personal and ideological questions for business owners and for their teams. These decisions are not always about money -- often it is about preserving the shared vision ad common mindset of a design firm/team.

    Although, according to Jawbone UX executive Peter Merholz, clients in general are now less willing to buy design from agencies (and project budgets have been shrinking). Even so, there will still be enough clients with low design maturity that need help. The main concern in this case can be that agencies will get the majority of such clients rather than those companies that are building in-house teams. This can result in an agency's projects becoming less interesting and challenging, causing design professionals to potentially lose their motivation. The decision of what jobs to take comes down to a particular agency's philosophy and a culture that will keep work interesting and employees well motivated.

    Another interesting approach can be out-staffing design instead of outsourcing it. This can make designers part of a client's company and potentially eliminate some disadvantages mentioned above such as temporary involvement, limited on-site presence, and lack of product domain knowledge.

    While the industry is changing, the growth of designers' impact on companies' business strategies seems to be inevitable and increasingly vast. Relatively small but robust design studios will slowly but surely redefine large corporations' mindsets. That should lead to powerful design innovations in the near future.

    Andrii Glushko is a UX Designer at SoftServe, Inc, and a regular blogger on the SoftServe United blog. He has focused his career on solving business problems through the creation of high quality user interfaces. Andrii's work ensures optimal user experience for numerous desktop, tablet, and mobile applications by defining effective information architecture, conducting usability assessments, and heuristic evaluations.

  • 2014 Capital One & Adaptive Path: This was probably the most unexpected acquisition of a design firm. Even Adaptive Path co-founder Jesse James Garrett, in his announcement, made a comment: "I know, weird, right?" However, his words may serve as a good showcase for the reasoning behind design agency acquisition: "The more people we meet at Capital One, the stranger it seems that they all work for a bank, of all places. They are genuinely creative, collaborative, and, well, fun people."

  • 2015 Facebook & Teehan+Lax: This one is the most recent acquisition, just announced at the end of 2014. It can hardly be called an acquisition as Teehan+Lax had to let most of its employees go, and only the founders and a portion of their key members joined Facebook. Such an acquisition raised lively discussions that threw stones at the agency founders. However, from the announcement we can tell it took a lot of planning and mental efforts to make those decisions.

    Design-Related Business Tendencies
    The trend speaks for itself -- both successful digital product makers and old school companies that need to be refreshed tend to use design agencies as a resources and capabilities buffer, and that means we will see more acquisitions of a different kind in the near future.

    Today, decisions that impact design capabilities are highly strategic. In order to approach the efficiency level of in-house design teams, design service providers and consultants in their current format need to become involved with their clients on a strategic level; ensure that they have well-developed processes that can be easily integrated with their client company's internal processes; and be ready to provide a long-term commitment, on-site presence, and deep product domain knowledge.

    If such service components are not on the offer, it can drive product companies to either develop the competence in-house (which takes a lot of time, money, and effort), or acquire an already existing company and integrate it into their businesses. The last option -- spend the cash to buy what you need -- is usually the easier one.

    From the perspective of a design agency, the last two examples of recent acquisitions are not merely business events, but present very personal and ideological questions for business owners and for their teams. These decisions are not always about money -- often it is about preserving the shared vision ad common mindset of a design firm/team.

    Although, according to Jawbone UX executive Peter Merholz, clients in general are now less willing to buy design from agencies (and project budgets have been shrinking). Even so, there will still be enough clients with low design maturity that need help. The main concern in this case can be that agencies will get the majority of such clients rather than those companies that are building in-house teams. This can result in an agency's projects becoming less interesting and challenging, causing design professionals to potentially lose their motivation. The decision of what jobs to take comes down to a particular agency's philosophy and a culture that will keep work interesting and employees well motivated.

    Another interesting approach can be out-staffing design instead of outsourcing it. This can make designers part of a client's company and potentially eliminate some disadvantages mentioned above such as temporary involvement, limited on-site presence, and lack of product domain knowledge.

    While the industry is changing, the growth of designers' impact on companies' business strategies seems to be inevitable and increasingly vast. Relatively small but robust design studios will slowly but surely redefine large corporations' mindsets. That should lead to powerful design innovations in the near future.

    Andrii Glushko is a UX Designer at SoftServe, Inc, and a regular blogger on the SoftServe United blog. He has focused his career on solving business problems through the creation of high quality user interfaces. Andrii's work ensures optimal user experience for numerous desktop, tablet, and mobile applications by defining effective information architecture, conducting usability assessments, and heuristic evaluations.

  • 2015 Facebook & Teehan+Lax: This one is the most recent acquisition, just announced at the end of 2014. It can hardly be called an acquisition as Teehan+Lax had to let most of its employees go, and only the founders and a portion of their key members joined Facebook. Such an acquisition raised lively discussions that threw stones at the agency founders. However, from the announcement we can tell it took a lot of planning and mental efforts to make those decisions.

    Design-Related Business Tendencies
    The trend speaks for itself -- both successful digital product makers and old school companies that need to be refreshed tend to use design agencies as a resources and capabilities buffer, and that means we will see more acquisitions of a different kind in the near future.

    Today, decisions that impact design capabilities are highly strategic. In order to approach the efficiency level of in-house design teams, design service providers and consultants in their current format need to become involved with their clients on a strategic level; ensure that they have well-developed processes that can be easily integrated with their client company's internal processes; and be ready to provide a long-term commitment, on-site presence, and deep product domain knowledge.

    If such service components are not on the offer, it can drive product companies to either develop the competence in-house (which takes a lot of time, money, and effort), or acquire an already existing company and integrate it into their businesses. The last option -- spend the cash to buy what you need -- is usually the easier one.

    From the perspective of a design agency, the last two examples of recent acquisitions are not merely business events, but present very personal and ideological questions for business owners and for their teams. These decisions are not always about money -- often it is about preserving the shared vision ad common mindset of a design firm/team.

    Although, according to Jawbone UX executive Peter Merholz, clients in general are now less willing to buy design from agencies (and project budgets have been shrinking). Even so, there will still be enough clients with low design maturity that need help. The main concern in this case can be that agencies will get the majority of such clients rather than those companies that are building in-house teams. This can result in an agency's projects becoming less interesting and challenging, causing design professionals to potentially lose their motivation. The decision of what jobs to take comes down to a particular agency's philosophy and a culture that will keep work interesting and employees well motivated.

    Another interesting approach can be out-staffing design instead of outsourcing it. This can make designers part of a client's company and potentially eliminate some disadvantages mentioned above such as temporary involvement, limited on-site presence, and lack of product domain knowledge.

    While the industry is changing, the growth of designers' impact on companies' business strategies seems to be inevitable and increasingly vast. Relatively small but robust design studios will slowly but surely redefine large corporations' mindsets. That should lead to powerful design innovations in the near future.

    Andrii Glushko is a UX Designer at SoftServe, Inc, and a regular blogger on the SoftServe United blog. He has focused his career on solving business problems through the creation of high quality user interfaces. Andrii's work ensures optimal user experience for numerous desktop, tablet, and mobile applications by defining effective information architecture, conducting usability assessments, and heuristic evaluations.