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The strategic advantage of design retainers in agile environments

Sarah Edwards
User Experience Consultant

In an agile environment, where flexibility and collaboration are critical, design retainers allow for on-demand access to design resources. In brief, a design retainer is an agreement between a design agency and a client wherein a set fee is paid for access to design services throughout the duration of a specific time period. Regardless of the volume of work, design retainers are typically billed in monthly cycles. This way, design retainers make it easier for clients to plan their year ahead in terms of budgeting.

 

The services usually offered by an agency include but are not limited to consultancy and research, UI/UX, and brand and design. For example, at Make it Clear, we’re able to support the development of a website, app, or other digital platforms with UX/UI services such as wireframing, UI design, stakeholder workshops, usability testing, and the maintenance of a design system. We’re also able to support ongoing marketing campaigns, as our team of creatives can infuse print design, video and animation as well as corporate presentations and social assets with innovation and inspiration.

A retainer is a bespoke, personalised approach to a client’s specific design requirements and business goals. Before diving into a project or task, the nature of the design work, consultancy, project management, and budget are agreed upon. We’re also sure to ask clients what success looks like to them, such as through cost savings, increased efficiency, design effectiveness, and the outcome of set objectives.

 

What are agile methodologies and their key principles?

Agile methodologies approach design work with an iterative style, embracing change as part of the development process. This way, designers tackle a project in increments, ensuring that communication with the client is consistent to welcome feedback and avoid misalignment. Agile environments also call for continuous improvement and the evaluation of systems and processes, guiding teams to deliver exceptional user experiences. For this reason, design retainers have plenty of benefits.

 

The benefits of design retainers

Enhanced collaboration for inspiration

One of the key benefits of design retainers is that they pave the way for strong collaboration and the opportunity to communicate on a regular basis. This long-term partnership allows a design agency to develop a deep understanding of a brand. The constant flow of ideas and suggestions leads to more efficient and effective design solutions, complemented by an ever-growing sense of trust. Familiarity with a client’s brand enables designers to become more aware of their design preferences over time, and provides space to push creative boundaries that can be reviewed and tweaked. At Make it Clear, we encourage close communication with our clients with the aim of becoming an extension of their teams that can anticipate their needs and accurately execute their visions, even in a dynamic setting.

To ensure effective and coherent communication, we employ project management tools and conduct frequent meetings, typically conducted remotely to enable collaboration regardless of where in the world our clients might be. These tools serve as centralised platforms for exchanging ideas, sharing updates, and documenting progress, encompassing all timelines, tasks, and deadlines to maintain everyone’s focus and direction.

 

Consistent communication for alignment

Our scheduled meetings involve our project managers, account managers, strategists, designers, and researchers, convening regularly to review project status, solicit feedback, and address any challenges that may arise within agile cycles. Consistent communication through these regular check-ins is paramount as it fosters transparency regarding project advancement, facilitating close monitoring to prevent any potential misunderstandings. Moreover, we value ongoing feedback to ensure continuous alignment with expectations and to affirm that progress is proceeding smoothly – this is absolutely key when navigating fast-paced, dynamic agile environments! Furthermore, in the event of timeline adjustments, clear and consistent communication enables us to adapt promptly and effectively.

 

Rapid prototyping and iterative design

Regular feedback loops that are an essential element of design retainers enable designers to perfect a piece of work through multiple rounds of refinement during a sprint. Regular reviews of the most recent work allow for the identification of opportunities for improvement and creativity that continue to inform the process and contribute towards the final output.

 

Enabling continuous improvement

Design retainers provide a framework for ongoing UX/UI design optimisation which aligns with the agile ethos of continuous development and improvement. For example, with access to our research and consultancy services within a retainer, we can ensure that our design and development processes are informed by rich and insightful feedback from real users. The data collected from usability testing, interviews, and surveys guarantee that our design work is user-friendly, intuitive, and tailored to our clients’ target audiences. Once user feedback is analysed by our detail-oriented research department, we’re able to make targeted and specific iterations. As a result, this creates a host of long-term benefits such as user satisfaction and overall business growth.

In addition, UX/UI agencies such as Make it Clear are passionate about keeping up-to-date with the latest design trends in the industry. We bring fresh and innovative perspectives to everything we do, and are constantly working to improve our techniques, discover new tools and technologies, and make sure that we’re always adhering to best practices – while it’s important to make sure that our design work looks good, its functionality is crucial. Embracing the latest design trends within an agile framework offers several advantages, from the prioritisation of adaptability to responsiveness to change, constantly reviewing our internal processes and approaches to projects allows us to experiment when it comes to pinpointing the best design solutions and crafting a broad toolkit of techniques.

 

Evaluating the compatibility of a design retainer with your agile practices

A UX/UI design retainer might be right for your agile team if you…

  • Have a roadmap of work outlined
  • Are looking for ongoing, flexible, and reliable support
  • Would like a cost-effective solution to a best-in-class user experience
  • Want to ensure predictable budgeting
  • Are seeking a long-term partnership and deep understanding from a design agency

 

How to select a UX/UI design retainer for agile projects

Once you’ve decided what work needs to be done, consider the diversity of a team’s skillset. If you want to focus on how an audience responds to and interacts with a digital product, you may want to seek an agency with a strong background in research and consultancy. Or, alternatively, if your key focus is a brand refresh, looking for an agency with an experienced team of graphic designers might suit your needs. A multidisciplinary team with expertise across all various aspects of UX/UI would be most beneficial for an end-to-end project that includes both research and design work. If an agency has experience working with other clients that are the same or similar in industry is also an advantage to consider, as they are better equipped with the knowledge of handling challenges and meeting standards that are specifically significant for you.

The compatibility of communication channels, communication styles and frequency of updates and check-ins is also paramount to bear in mind when selecting an agency for a design retainer. Learning about how a studio collaborates, what their protocols are for delivering information, and how often they relay details is advised to ensure that both teams are aligned and on the same page at every step. In the same way, a full understanding of pricing structures and potential return on investment is key.

 

Final thoughts

On the whole, design retainers in agile environments offer a wide range of strategic advantages. From predictability to priority, a design retainer offers the flexibility and security that clients need when the delivery of an exceptional user experience in a short space of time is the key focus for their business. Design retainers are customisable, tailored to clients’ needs throughout the entire development process. While it’s certain that enhanced collaboration, consistent communication, rapid prototyping and continuous improvement are what makes design retainers a great option for agile environments, it’s not guaranteed that every design agency will meet every business’ goals and requirements. For this reason, evaluating the various aspects of an agency when deciding to start work is a crucial step that shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

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Discover how Make it Clear can elevate your organisation with our expert services. Contact us now to start the conversation!


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