Prototyping is an essential step in digital product design. It sets the course for development and eventual product release. Since you can pretty much outsource any project nowadays, some companies choose to hire design agencies and startups to do their prototypes.

And just like outsourcing, there are gains and pitfalls that come with it. You need to carefully think about your reasons for hiring an external party and what you expect to get out of it because everyone offers something slightly different.

When should you consider outsourcing your digital prototype design?

Rushing into outsourcing without a purpose and planning is like diving into a sea with no swimming skills. It’s not the answer to everything. There are certain situations when outsourcing makes perfect sense and will bring you more rewards than problems.

1. When your resources are scarce

Big companies will have product designers in multiple projects at a time, and sometimes you’re exhausted of resources. Instead of procuring additional resources on a project basis, you’re better off hiring an agency to do it for you.

2. When you want quicker results

This is one of the key reasons behind an outsourced project. A third party can work fast, because that is their bread and butter. They will have systems in place and proper workflows that speed things up for you.

3. When you lack the skills and experience

For startups or small businesses with limited skills and experience, outsourcing the prototype design can be a winning strategy. This also works if you’re a big company that is struggling with haphazard design strategy and processes.

A professional design company can optimise your processes, boost productivity and better spot design flaws, enabling you to fix them earlier rather than during the later development stages. Outside parties give you a more holistic and realistic view of the product, helping it be more usable, meaningful, and more stable.

What are the pitfalls of outsourcing your digital prototype design?

There are downsides to outsourcing, and it usually depends on who you work with. There are common pitfalls like language barriers and time differences that come naturally with offshore outsourcing. However, these can be minor issues for some.

The other issue is when you work together for the first time. There will be a lot of getting up to speed, establishing workflows and communication to ensure everything runs smooth. If the teething issues become a major problem, then it’s either your internal processes and teams aren’t ideal, or you hired the wrong company.

Lastly, you may end up with cookie cutter designs, depending on who you hire. And when you’re spending money to outsource, you want to make sure you get the absolute bang for your buck.

This is when your criteria and selection process is crucial. Knowing what you want, your timeline, and expectations is key.

7 considerations for hiring digital prototype design agencies

Once you are convinced that you can outsource your prototype design, the next decision to take is about choosing the best company to outsource. Since there are several companies in the market providing this service, it often becomes overwhelming, especially for first-timers, to choose the right one. Below are a few factors to weigh on.

1. Creativity

One of the key benefits of hiring design agencies is that you get a wealth of solutions. When you hire a third party, you’re essentially hiring them for their design brains too. You can tap into their experience and skills to generate ideas that you never thought of before. There are more people on board, bringing fresher ideas and newer perspectives or insights.

Choose a company or agency that has a creative culture ingrained within itself. Have a look at their past projects and clients to determine if the products were innovative enough and right up your alley. Or you can chat with their creatives to get a feel of what they can do.

2. Experience

Opt for agencies that have enough experience working in your industry and your type of product or service. Do some research about the company, read reviews, or contact their past clients if possible. Consider the technology and resources they use, their capabilities, and the company’s overall reputation in the market. If they have worked in your industry, chances are high that they know the nuances and requirements related to your product.

3. Speed

Design agencies can shorten the product’s time to market by rapidly designing prototypes. Check how long they complete the projects and their turnaround times. One way to do so is by reading the case studies and client testimonials.

While talking to their representative, check if their approach and process are fast and they can get your design done within weeks. Ask about their systems and workflows. Hire companies that can shorten your typical product design time.

4. Cost-Efficient

Usually, the purpose of outsourcing a prototype design is not just saving time and resources, but also the cost. Go for the company that quotes you reasonably. It’s not about going for the lowest price because the money you spend on them should make sense and bring great results. Compare the prices from several companies and do your cost-benefit analysis. Based on that, you can negotiate to get the best possible deal.

5. Intellectual Property

Make sure you own all the design assets in the project. A simple way to do this is to have a non-disclosure agreement, outlining how you are going to deal with the intellectual properties that is created in the project. While most companies are professional about it, you want to back yourself up in case the worst happens, where you can’t use the design you’ve paid for.

6. Onshore or offshore design

This is something you need to decide for yourself. Offshore design may be cheaper, but it comes with language and time zone barriers. Some businesses prefer to hire local agencies because it is much easier to establish a long-term working relationship that’s beneficial for both parties

7. Add-on services

Check out their add-on services. Some offer end-to-end process, from strategy to design and development. If you’re running short of resources for development, you can rope them in too. If you need to optimise your strategies and teams, they can help with that too.

The other thing to consider is the quality of their service. Do you enjoy working with them? Are they honest, reliable, and accountable? These intangible qualities are hard to predict but they can make or break your project.


At the end of the day, it’s about doing your due diligence and picking the right outfit for your business and requirements. When hiring third parties, you should do it to get better designs, improved insight, faster service, improved productivity, all totalling up to a great investment. Otherwise, you’re just trading one issue with another.

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.