Top 5 UI/UX Design Agencies in San Francisco — July 2019

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I tried to address the most common concerns that arise when hiring and working with UX agencies. Have a question? Let me know in comments, and I’ll make sure to post my answer here.

Q: How much would a project with a San Francisco-based UI/UX design agency cost? What are their hourly rates?
It’s not that easy to come up with an estimate for a UX design project. Many factors are involved here, including the project scope, team composition, and timeline. A design firm would almost always clarify everything before sharing any cost details with you. Generally speaking, if you’re hiring a San Francisco-based UX design agency you’re looking at anywhere between $75k and $1M+ depending on the project details and agency profile. Bigger design firms often charge for their brand and to offset the additional overhead that comes with extra layers of management. Most boutique UI/UX design agencies only bill their clients for the actual work done based on the time spent.

Hourly rates vary based on the same principle. Bigger, more established UX design firms usually charge anywhere from $300/hr to $500/hr, while most boutique agencies generally stay in the $200-$250/hr range. Be cautious if you come across lower rates. This could mean whether an agency uses offshore resources or they simply employ inexperienced designers and interns.

Q: How would a UX design firm work with my team?
Many startup founders and product directors are skeptical about hiring an outside design firm to entrust them with their product’s future. While this is true for remote and offshore UI/UX companies, it’s almost risk-free when you work with a local agency based in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.

Many San Francisco-based UX agencies would operate as an extension of your team working very closely with your developers, product managers, and marketing agency people. Often, in the same physical space, at least for the initial phases of the project when face to face collaboration is the most important. Then, they would have weekly in-person design reviews in addition to daily status updates. And with tools like Slack and Zoom, you could stay in touch with them 24/7.

When it comes to project phases, a typical agency process is the following:

  • Discovery (stakeholder interviews, knowledge transfer, requirements)
  • Research (user interviews, competitor research, audits, mood boards)
  • Strategy (content strategy, feature planning, road maps, etc.)
  • UX Design (navigation and information architecture, user flow mapping, wireframes, clickable prototypes, user testing, and iteration)
  • UI Design (visual design exploration, UI design production, illustrations and icons, animations and interactive elements, style guide, and UI kit)
  • Delivery (asset creation, front-end development, prototyping, etc.)

Q: How can I find a local San Francisco-based UX agency besides this list?
If you’re based in San Francisco, the easiest way is just googling something like UX design agency in san francisco on a mobile device with your location turned on. You’ll see the agencies closest to where you are. I bet you’ll be surprised how many great design firms are within the stone’s throw from your office.

Just make sure to not show up at their door without an appointment. This is considered unprofessional and you won’t be taken seriously. Shoot them an email first and then hop on a 15-min call for initial screening. If your first call goes well, set up an introductory meeting at their office to get a better feel of who they are. And remember, the first impression is everything.

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