Outsourcing design. The good, bad and ugly

Outsourcing is a behaviour we’re all familiar with, we outsource our manufacturing, textiles and even food production but our attitude toward this paints a different story.

As organisations start to or already see the value in design and investment is spent to grow internal design teams. There’s always the challenge of not enough troops on the ground to cover all the work.

There can be benefits to outsourcing design work but these do not out weight the risks.

Chris Stonestreet – Outsourcing design. The good, bad and ugly

Chris started out in print design before moving into frontend development, then a few years ago gravitated to human-centred design and currently works at NIB. Recently he was lucky enough to start the DesignOps team there as well.

But he’s here to talk about experiences outsourcing design; breaking it into individual designers, then medium organisations and large enterprises.

Sharing a blog post where someone jokes that they’ve outsourced sleep, exercise and eating. The point is to highlight the odd way people think about the impact of outsourcing.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing… people often sell one title and do another, both ways in the process (either to get the contract, or to attract a contractor).


  • Balance your team – contract designers who balance the people you do have
  • Upskill your current team – get them pair designing with a contractor
  • Request to meet – before you engage, sit down and talk to people

The kool-aid effect: lots of places are latching onto human-centred design as a sales or success strategy. But many are just having a workshop with internal people; then suddenly a full design turns up and gets shipped. People might feel great, but no user was actually involved in the process. This can still happen when outsourcing or bringing in contractors…

What can you do?

  • Call it out
  • Ask why there isn’t budget for user research
  • Document things that aren’t captured
  • Propose steps to get real testing happening
  • Advocate the right way

Are you in synch?

  • Communication is key
  • Define roles and responsibility
  • Partnerships – make sure teams are integrated, avoiding disconnected external outsourcing

Caveat – Chris only has second hand experience with large enterprise, but it’s important to look at.

link: designintechreport.wordpress.com

Large businesses are trying to use design more, they’re moving into areas like AI that need new kinds of design. Some buy expertise, some build it internally, others use a combination.

Talking to people in large enterprise, some themes emerged:

  • Less choice over projects (being restricted to one sector)
  • Designers diversify and take on more problem spaces
  • Culture (risk of losing the culture)
  • Less pressure to pitch

Take aways

  • integrated teams – make the contractor feel like they’re part of your team, treat them as one of your own
  • onboarding is critical – people need guidance, good docs and tooling to be productive quickly; set clear expectations
  • make sure you and your team are available to the people you contract – they’ll have questions; and you can take advantage of the power of pair design
  • continuous delivery – don’t give the impression that outsourced work is done with no more involvement