10 May 2024
Studio
7 min read

7 things to know before hiring a digital product studio

Charli

Charli

Marketing Manager

A digital product studio is a team of designers, engineers, product strategists and project managers who specialise in creating digital products (web apps, native apps and software) and websites.

Picking the right partner to deliver your website or digital product should definitely go beyond who can do it cheapest and quickest. You should always be wary of any studio promising the earth but asking comparatively little in return – remember the old saying that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

When you’re hiring a digital product studio, you need to first and foremost ensure that they can deliver what they say they can, and to sufficient quality. You also need to ensure that you’re going to be able to foster a good working relationship – both from a “chemistry” perspective and in terms of processes.

You want to get it done, and get it done right.

In this post, we’ll look at 7 things to consider before you hire a digital product studio – and how they’ll help you get the best possible end product.

1. Understanding your project requirements

Before you go out seeking a partner to deliver it, it’s useful to get a good idea of what it is your project will entail. While you don’t necessarily need a highly detailed brief or request-for-proposal (RFP) to start a conversation or engage with a product studio, it’s certainly incredibly helpful in getting your project moving more quickly if your potential partner has a good idea of the challenges or perceived challenges you’re looking to solve from an early stage.

As a minimum, before you reach out to a product studio you should have a good idea of:

  • Overall business objectives (to help feed into the project objectives later)
  • What you have now in terms of websites/digital products (if anything), what they’re lacking/don’t allow you to do, and where you’d like to get to
  • Some information on key users and what they need to get from the website/product
  • Context around your existing setup and ecosystem that the product might need to fit into or integrate with

You don’t have to have all the answers or an ideal solution in mind – you’ll normally go through a discovery process to get into the finer details of your project and requirements which will shape what the approach will look like. But having this fundamental information is a good basis to start your project from.

2. Defining your budget and timeline

You’d probably be quite surprised at how many briefs or RFP’s we receive that don’t mention project timelines or budget. From our perspective, that information is pretty fundamental in being able to assess our suitability and capability to deliver. It’s helpful to approach a potential partner with at least a rough idea of these. That being said, it’s beneficial to build in some internal contingency around budget and timeline – as we’ve discussed, the right partner might not be the quickest or cheapest, so having a bit of flexibility around these is helpful.

If you’re struggling to land on a realistic estimate/figure for either budget or timelines – try asking other people who work in your industry (if you don’t know anyone directly, you can join online networking groups) – they’ll likely have completed a similar project at some point and should be able to advise. We’d also be happy at a top level to run through what some of our past projects have cost to give you some steer.

3. Identifying the necessary skills and expertise

Having the necessary skills and expertise is probably the most important quality you should look for in a digital product studio to partner with. There’s always going to be a level of trust required here – unless you’ve got technical or development experience, it may not be immediately easy to recognise the skills and expertise they have. Usually, the best way to assess this is to look at examples of previous case studies – they should have these on their website, and during the process of pitch/proposal you can ask for more detail on those projects. Also, don’t be scared to ask for references – not only is it useful to chat with previous or current clients in terms of assessing expertise and culture fit, if a client is happy to chat with you, it’s usually quite a good indicator that they’re decent to work with.

To round this point off – it’s all good to be wary of a “jack of all trades, master of none” narrative. An agency that’s just completed your rebrand might say they can also design and build your website – but is this where their expertise is? Have they done it successfully before? Just because an option seems “easy”, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.

4. Assessing communication and collaboration abilities

Hopefully, you should get a “vibe” very quickly from your potential project team that they are good communicators and collaborators. It’s also vital to clarify their project management processes – how will they communicate with and update you on the progress of your project? How frequent will these updates be? Do they have a project management platform where you’ll be able to get updates? Who is your main point of contact? If they don’t have answers to these questions, that’s a big old red flag. And again, probably the best way to assess what it’s like to work with them is by asking if you can speak to past/current clients.

5. Evaluating past work and experience

As we’ve touched on, a digital product studio should have previous work on their website, or showcase it on a platform like Awwwards. Outside of clarifying that they have the necessary skills and expertise (as covered above), evaluating this can become pretty subjective. Do you like their design style? Have they worked with other organisations you aspire to be like? On a related note, previous experience in your sector can be useful, but it’s not the be-all and end-all – skills and expertise around websites and digital products are highly transferable across different industries. Sector-specific experience can be particularly useful if you’re looking to integrate with some industry-specific software or some sort of processes that they might’ve encountered before.

6. Considering cultural fit and work environment

The importance of good culture fit with a potential digital partner shouldn’t be underestimated. Digital projects are best when they’re highly collaborative, and it always helps to get on with someone you’re working closely with. Projects can also be fairly lengthy (at least over a few months) and quite involved – you want to make sure that you can work closely with them and actually enjoy the process. Getting a face-to-face meeting in ahead of working together (if possible) can be helpful in terms of getting a feel for the studio and the team. After all, a good environment and team = a good end product. The initial discovery process is also a good piece of work to assess working with the team.

7. Setting expectations for long-term collaboration

Transparency and setting expectations is an essential part of establishing a good working relationship. From the outset, it’s helpful for you to clarify what the procurement process will look like and when/how the studio should expect to hear back from you – they’re planning their schedule and booking in work, so it’s not just helpful for them, it’s helpful for you in the long run, as you ensure that studio time is secured. In terms of long-term collaboration, although you don’t necessarily want to enter a project promising your new partner lots of future work, it’s a good idea to go in with the mindset that this isn’t a one-off. Ongoing support is vital in future-proofing your website/product and ensuring it’s maintained and continues to be developed along with your changing needs and expectations of your customers.

 

Got a potential website or digital project, but unsure where to go with it and who to approach? We’re more than happy to chat through your potential requirements and provide no-strings-attached advice – just book a free 30-minute call here.