Top 5 App Design Agencies in the World
Find the best app design agency for your mobile app. Featuring the top app design firms and mobile application design companies from San Francisco, NYC, and LA.
Last Updated May 4, 2021
Mobile apps are central to our daily lives. They help us do anything and everything. Some help us communicate with loved ones or order meals, while other mobile apps save us money or schedule workouts. As our needs become more dependent on mobile apps, app design agencies are becoming critically important to ensuring businesses' success across industries. The reason is simple — mobile apps are only useful if they are effective. And they are only effective if professional UX designers from a top UI UX design firm had a hand in designing the mobile application's user experience.
It’s true — no two mobile apps are the same in look and function. But, what all mobile apps do share in common is design. Design is key to the success of any mobile app. App design is the intersection between digital-technical know-how, comprehension of markets, knowledge of particular industries, psychology, and artistic creativity. This is why excellent app design companies and mobile app design agencies are a dime a dozen. Finding a genuinely excellent app design company is like finding a needle in the haystack, so the saying goes.
But we are here to help you navigate the search. Below we’ve compiled a list of the top five best app design agencies in the world. Read the descriptions, check out the links, and see for yourself.
Top App Design Agencies — May 2021 Ratings:
A digital product and UX agency in San Francisco. Strategy, design, and development across all platforms — clay.global
San Francisco’s Clay Global stands out among the rest, and for a good reason. Clay boasts an impressive portfolio with excellent, world-class clients. It is one of the industry’s top digital product and UX agencies, with a specialization in both startups and established firms in the tech industry. Given Clay’s depth of experience working with tech companies, Clay should be considered a mobile app design agency as much as anything. Their immersion in, experience with, and proximity to the tech industry give Clay two advantages as an app design agency: they know precisely how to make an excellent and useful mobile application, and they blend tech know-how with cutting-edge presentation. The depth of UX and UI talent at Clay also shows on their mobile apps. They are indeed one of a kind.
Ustwo designs and builds digital products and services that make a tangible difference to people’s lives — ustwo.com
Founded in London in 2004, Ustwo is now a global app design agency with offices in Malmo, NYC, Sydney, Tokyo, and Lisbon. As the firm’s manifesto lays out, Ustwo fosters a tight-knit and creativity-centric company culture to help unleash the best possible collective outcomes in the design process. By foregrounding impact and values in their design vision, Ustwo has managed to create a unique and cutting edge design firm with a diverse portfolio. The mobile app design that Ustwo has done over the years blends sleek and easy to use UX with final products that are both valuable and ultimately useful. In the world of mobile app design, no firm combines soul and technique quite like Ustwo. Check them out and see for yourself.
Fjord is a digital design firm that puts design at the heart. — fjordnet.com
Fjord is an excellent, industry-leading app design firm. Fjord produces useful, simple yet amazingly modern and sharp applications with an unyielding commitment to people-friendly values and human-centered design. Their mobile app design stands out for its precision and focus on utility — the types of services people need. With offices in Europe, North America, South America, Asia, and Australia, they bring a forward-thinking, diverse, and ever-evolving perspective to their design. Even just a quick look at Fjord’s portfolio of work, and you’ll see a compilation of slick app design for many important and useful services as well as global, industry-leading companies. It’s easy to see the consistent excellence yet diversity of Fjord’s mobile app design — look at the work done for Greek bank Piraeus or Finnish airliner Finnair. Whatever industry Fjord works in, their mobile apps help make the service that much more effective.
4. Work & Co
Work & Co designs mobile apps that transform companies — work.co
North America, South America, and Europe based Work & Co is a highly successful app design agency with a stunning track record of successful clients. Their simple and straightforward form of organization and unique work process have afforded their clients' excellent outcomes. Their list of clients is impressive and includes some big names — Apple, Google, IKEA, and Gatorade, to name a few. Work & Co’s ability to, in their own words, “bring to market and operationalize digital products at scale” provides them with a unique position in the world of app design and digital products. Work & Co’s hands-on approach with clients, and intimate consultation process throughout their projects, are refreshing given the size and distance so often plaguing the client-designer relationship. This is one app design company you don’t want to overlook.
5. AREA 17
A branding and mobile app design firm. – area17.com
Since 2003, Area 17 has worked with a long list of clients to create and design valuable brands and products. As the world has changed, so did their focus — Area 17, with offices in New York and Paris, is now a leading app design agency. Their ability to bring craftsman-Esque attention to design details has helped Area 17 unleash a rather prolific list of great brand and digital product designs. Their global team, which includes more than seventy people speaking 18 different languages, brings a range and scope of creativity to every project they work on. With a client list, including Apple, ESPN, and Vice, Area 17 can bring focused craftsmanship to big names. In terms of app design, the work done on Precision Run shows exactly what Area 17 is capable of — artistic yet useful mobile app design. Area 17’s expertise in the art world, and the ability to bring the utility of app design to it, shows clearly in the app it developed for Global Edit.
These five app design agencies are the best in the industry. While each one may have its particular specialty — in terms of industry, market, or another niche — they all transcend the limits of professionalism, artistic intelligence, and technological know-how.
Frequently Asked Questions
A list of common questions and concerns from people looking to hire an app design agency or a mobile application designer.
Q: Are apps really important?
A: Important is an understatement. With estimates that the number of smartphone users worldwide is 3.5 billion and growing, mobile applications have become the centerpiece of digital information. This means they are not only critical to users but for businesses and public services as well. Applications provide users near-constant, uninterrupted access to the service or business the application is providing. The transformative nature of apps to the daily life of users is due to their mobility. While previously, digital services were entirely accessed on desktop computers or laptops with internet access, the ability to access the internet on mobile devices has increased access to information, services, and goods to unprecedented levels. Whether you want to order a taxi, file your taxes, make an appointment, or even pay for something at the store, applications are becoming more and more universal to every moment of daily life. While websites still exist — and aren’t going anywhere — the trends and data say it all. Apps are central to digital in a world that is only getting more digital by the day.
Q: Do businesses need to use mobile apps to succeed?
A: The thing is, these days, the majority of e-commerce happens via mobile phones. As this trend continues alongside the overall increase in mobile phone use and internet access through smartphones, it has become a rather unwise business decision to avoid developing and using a mobile app for your business. But beyond using applications as a point of sale for a product or service, there are other, less obvious, yet equally essential advantages for businesses when using an app.
Awareness — by maintaining a daily presence on a mobile device, your business or brand will remain in the purview and understanding of the user or customer who downloads the application. If your application can eventually connect with other ones — for e-commerce or data sharing purposes — even better. Essentially a mobile application can function as a form of advertising by always being on the dock or background of a user’s smartphone. Don’t underestimate — this alone will increase the number of hits and overall visitor retention.
Engagement — similar to awareness, a mobile application keeps users and customers in a more active engagement state. They are more likely and more capable of using the app than sitting down to visit a website. This heightened level of customer and user engagement is critical to the growth and success of any business.
Revenue — Apps are proven to help increase revenues of business of any sector or industry. The main reason is the accessibility — enhanced awareness and engagement of users and customers — means they are statistically more likely to make purchases and become repeat customers. As revenue is the bottom line of any business, this alone is an enticing prospect.
Simplification — The simplification of purchasing a product or using a service determines whether or not some would-be customers will actually use the product or service. Mobile applications not only increase accessibility but simplify interaction with the product or service from the beginning. An app can make even some of the most complicated goods or services simple and easy to order.
Digital proliferation — the good news is that as applications become ever more interconnected and vital, your business, service, and app can start to make connections and appearances in new places. Apps are often connecting with customers through other apps or digital mechanisms, allowing for your particular business to become a part of digital and commerce ecosystems. It would never have gotten a chance to before. Social media, financial services, and other services already functioning as digital apps help with this.
So as you can see, mobile applications aren’t just crucial for businesses. They are essential for running a successful business. They will open up new avenues for revenue, simplify business-customer relationships, and increase your company in ways you never thought possible.
Q: What are the different types of mobile apps?
A: Three types of mobile apps exist — web, native, and hybrid. While in the user's eyes, each one may look the same, there are substantial technical differences that anyone looking to have a mobile app designed or developed should be aware of.
A web app is a mobile application that is a website at the end of the day. While it appears on your mobile device or tablet as an application, it is functionally a URL that links to a modified version of the website in question. Think about web apps like a permanent link formatted like an application. There are good and bad, pros and cons, about web apps. For one, they are less development intensive — without the need for operating system customization, development costs tend to run less. However, the major con is that they are not fully functional unless there is an internet connection. Depending on the particular application and its desired function, this can be a problem.
A native app is built specifically for a particular operating system. For example, iOS or Android. These applications are often preferable because of the speed and ease of use. This is because the applications are developed by interacting with the UI of the particular device and more connective functionality with the device's hardware. Almost universally, native apps are preferred due to the optimal experiences they provide for users. There is one significant downside to native apps — from the development side of things. If you hope to have an iOS and Android version, for example, you’ll have to invest in the development of both — which is costly.
A hybrid app is exactly what it sounds like. They are essentially a web app designed to look like a native app. They are an excellent choice for two reasons — as a preliminary version of an eventual native app or instead of a native app if your budget does not allow for full native app development. They are less costly to produce and are held in high regard by users. The only major drawback is that hybrid apps do not have the same functional capacity and processing speed as native apps.
Q: What is mobile app UI design?
A: On a regular laptop or desktop computer, the user interface (UI) on a given website or application is where and how the website's structure interacts with the user. What makes UI important is its functional dimension of design, not merely the color palette or typography. It is how the user can interact with and command functions through whatever is displayed on the screen.
Mobile app UI design is something different from other UI design. Screen size, touch screens, and the ecosystem of other applications on the device, and the particular technologies of a mobile phone or tablet make the UI design for mobile apps especially important.
For example, mobile applications are developed for particular operating systems. Therefore, the mobile app’s user interface must work within and reflect the operating system it is designed for. Suppose the mobile application's UI is too drastically different from the operating system to look and feel. In that case, it can make the application difficult or impossible to use for users. Or it can make the learning curve undesirably high.
Unlike user interface design for websites, UI for mobile applications must consider the size of smartphone and tablet screens. The distribution of touchpoints, access to content, links, and other UI considerations must consider screen size. Further, unlike traditional websites, touch screens add another dimension that must be considered. The design and access to information and functions via touch screen functions change the user experience and, therefore, the mobile application's user interface.
Q: How do you design and develop a mobile app?
A: Designing a mobile app takes skill and experience. This is why it’s always best to leave mobile app design and development to the professionals. Even so, if both the design team and client share an understanding of the design process, the final results are unquestionably higher in quality. So let’s break down how it works.
Before the mobile app's design process can begin, designers must ascertain which operating system they are designing the mobile app for — mac iOS or android. As mobile apps designed specifically for particular operating systems — known as native apps — function better, they are more desirable overall. Therefore, the design process must begin with a specific operating system and platform in mind. However, there are necessary steps in all mobile app design processes regardless of the particular operating system.
One universal component of mobile app design is the development and design of the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). The UI includes the technical, visual details of the user’s interaction with the app, and UX is the larger, more all-encompassing design curated application users have. These two elements are central to the design process.
Integral to UI and UX in the development and design of a mobile app is its structure. Wireframes that designers develop are the basis for creating and designing the structure of the app. Wireframes map out the mobile app's basic usability in a format more developed than a basic sketch on pen and paper and a bit less involved than a full prototype. They are the earliest formidable mapping of the mobile application. The wireframes are developed by designers and reviewed by all parties in the design process before the next step. It’s important to remember that the designers will have created the brand, basic design, and mapped out the UI and UX with the brand’s vision in mind at this stage. This is where designers work creatively together to design the mobile application's essential pillars, shaping them from ideas into something workable.
The next step is developing a workable prototype from the wireframes. In this stage, the application's design is transformed into something that resembles an actual working application. The UI and UX are more closely and technically developed in this stage, and other dimensions of the mobile app design developed in the wireframes are developed as well. At this point, the brand's visual elements and the app’s functionality and usability are created into an actual application. Once this step is fully complete, the prototype design is given to developers to turn the prototype into a reality. They clean up any problems the design steps may have overlooked in the detailed mechanics of the app design process. Once the developers complete their step, a working mobile application is ready to go.
Q: What are mobile app design best practices?
A: In all types of design, trends and best practices shift slightly from year to year. Here are a few of the most up to date, trending, and interrelated best practices in mobile app design.
Narrativization. Structuring the user interface and user experience as one, the uninterrupted narrative is a practical approach to mobile app design and development. This is done by ensuring the application's experience is consistent and continuous, leading from one point to the next with a flowing consistency both visually and with the information presented. Instead of overloading the user with unmanageable amounts of text, creating a story-like journey with small blocks of text and images helps ensure that the mobile app's experience has a logical and comfortable flow.
User choice. While the narrativization and story-like structure of the application is crucial, it is also important to ensure that the user can choose and determine the next steps within the mobile app itself. This means that various options and destinations should be interwoven into the story, like choosing your adventure book. With dynamic UI and a carefully curated UX, the user feels engaged with and control their own experience.
Dynamic & interactive animation. Incorporating animation into the mobile app design is helpful in further creating an interactive experience for users. The animation alone can help revitalize the narrative structure of the mobile app. Yet, when the animation is made interactive with the user and personalized, it creates a more interactive and effective experience overall. One way to do this is to imagine that if the user makes a set of choices while using the application or inputs particular information, interactive animations can present themselves with these in mind.
Realism & the return of 3-D. In service of the trends mentioned above, many designers incorporate both 3-D visuals in the user interface and a technique called “neumorphism.” 3-D visuals help expand the realistic and interactive dynamic of the user experience. Products become more robust and dimensionally authentic. Further, information can be communicated more straightforwardly, replacing some need for text. Neumorphism is a fancy name for creating imagery that looks and feels like real life. This is done through object mimicry and various types of shading and shape-design practices. The goal of both 3-D and neumorphism is to create a realistic design that minimizes the barrier between real life and the application itself, constructing a wholly immersive experience.
Q: Why should I hire a mobile app designer or firm to design my mobile app?
A: Designing and developing a mobile app is no simple task. It requires a mixture of technical know-how, artistic creativity, and market knowledge. This is where a professional mobile app design firm comes in. With a concentration of knowledge and experience, a mobile app designer or team of designers can effectively turn your vision for a mobile app into a functioning reality. So, when deciding whether or not you’re going to hire a mobile app designer to design your mobile app, keep in mind why you’re hiring them in the first place:
- Knowledge and experience — professional mobile app designers and design firms have the expertise and knowledge necessary to create excellent mobile apps. While you might have a vision for the app you want to see, professional designers utilize their experiences to navigate what works and what doesn’t in the mobile app design process. These aspects are critical to producing great mobile apps and cannot be acquired overnight.
- Concentration and resources — if you’re running or starting a business, you likely have a million things to focus on. Mobile app development is a time consuming and resource-heavy endeavor. Hiring a professional means that there will be a concentrated team putting in hours of work solely on your mobile app's development and design. Further, the professional designers you’re hiring have the tools at their disposal to design the application with unmatchable professionalism. Unless your company wants to hire an in-house design team and acquire the necessary hardware and software for it, then a professional designer is the way to go.
- Quality and effectiveness — because producing a mobile app is time consuming and not exactly cheap, you want to ensure that the final product is of the highest quality possible. It should look, feel, and function like something produced by a professional mobile app designer team. But not only that, it should have UI and UX design that makes it a compelling application — a tool that converts visitors into users and provides them with a positive experience from start to finish. The mobile app should be useful. Professional designers are experts at producing such a result.
Design professionals have the vast majority of business owners and entrepreneurs interested in having a mobile app designed and developed. The cost of creating a mobile app at first might seem prohibitively high, but if done well by a professional, it will turn into a worthwhile and profitable investment.
Q: How much does it cost to design a mobile app?
A: There is no single answer to this question. In general, mobile app design can low-end in $3,000–5,000 and high end upwards of $30,000 to 40,000. If the mobile app design is a more extensive brand development project, the price would likely fluctuate. The cost of mobile app design largely depends on a few factors — the particular design firm and its portfolio depth, the scope and complexity of the app, the number of platforms the app is being designed to work in, and the particular role the mobile app plays for the specific business.
Given this range of factors, it is nearly impossible to give an average. However, all professional design firms can provide accurate estimates of projects before they begin.
Q: How to hire the right mobile app design firm?
A: As the demand for mobile apps increases, so too does mobile app design firms. Picking the right one can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing. But with a little guidance, the experience can be easy and straightforward. Just follow the steps below.
- Determine your budget and timeline
- Review mobile apps that have a design, style, and structure you like.
- Find out which firm or designer created, designed, and/or developed those mobile apps.
- Contact the designer or mobile design company and ask for a consultation.
- Repeat the above four steps a few times.
- During the consultation, make sure you get a feel for the design team's communication style and how they are organized.
- Ask the designer or design team for references. After the consultation, call or email these references and ask about their experience working with a particular mobile app designer or app design firm.
- Compare the consultations and references and ask yourself — which firm provided the best deal? The best timeline? And has the most impressive portfolio? The easiest to communicate with? Understands my vision, the clearest?
- Make a decision and contact that firm.
- Negotiate and finalize the terms of the project, sign a contract, and begin!
Q: Where are app design agencies located?
A: There is not one hub of app design agencies but rather a number of hubs around the world — especially in North America and Europe. Of course, Northern California’s Bay Area — which includes San Francisco and Silicon Valley — is home to several world-class app design agencies. The concentration of talent and prestige there is unmatched. However, Los Angeles, New York City, Austin, and Portland are all American cities that are also home to great and professional app design agencies. In Europe, cities like London, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Paris each have their own excellent app design talent pools. Outside of Europe and North America, Tokyo, Japan, and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil also is home to world-class app design agencies.
Q: Does the app design agency’s location matter?
A: It matters…and it doesn’t. On the one hand, instant communication on the internet and video conferencing make it possible to have meetings and work on projects with people worldwide. There isn’t as much of a pressing need to have in-person meetings with design teams as there has been historical. On the other hand, the professional climate of places influences how design agencies work and their client bases. Therefore, a New York-based app design firm might have access to particular New York-based clients based solely on their location. This helps boost the portfolio of mobile design firms. If you’re working with an app design firm but need services for other pieces of your project, the app design firm’s location and connections to other local firms could benefit your project.
Further, if your firm is located in one of the metropolitan areas listed, working with local mobile app design agencies is often easier than working with those in a wholly different time zone or continent. It is always worth exploring which local options are in proximity to you first to see any agencies worth working with.