Top 5 UX Design Agencies in San Francisco
Hire the best UI/UX design agency in San Francisco for your digital product, mobile app, SaaS, or enterprise software. Listing top UI and UX design firms from SF and the Bay Area.
Last Updated: January 2, 2021
San Francisco is a truly incredible place — the Pacific Ocean, rolling hills, the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars are but a few of the city’s famous gems. But these days San Francisco is also known for something else — tech. San Francisco’s proximity to Silicon Valley has made it a global epicenter for the technology industry — tech supergiant Twitter famously calls San Francisco home.
But as we know, tech includes a wide range of companies. Firms as drastically different as YouTube and Oracle both fall under the larger umbrella term “tech” — and both are based in Northern California. But in this article, we are going to provide a list of agencies that specialize in user experience design — or UX design for short — located in San Francisco. The reason for this focus is simple — over the past few years, UX design has become integral to the operations of many companies. Some are even hiring in-house, full time, UX designers. For digital products like enterprise software, B2B, mobile apps, and websites in general pristine and intuitive user interfaces (UI) and professional UX design is critical.
More often than not, however, creating a full in-house UX design team either isn’t economically feasible or simply isn’t necessary. For many firms creating an application, website, or other digital products, UX design may only be needed intermittently, or once. For this reason, many companies are looking to hire the services of UX design agencies. And because San Francisco is home to so many amazing UX design firms, as well as other technology industries, we’ve put together a list of the top five best user experience design agencies in San Francisco. Your search can start here.
Top 5 UX Design Agencies in San Francisco — January 2021 Rankings:
UI/UX Design Agency and Web Design Firm in San Francisco — clay.global
Clients: Slack, Facebook, Google, Credit Karma, Amazon, Coca-Cola
Clay is one of the tech industry’s finest digital product and UX design agencies. And even better — they’re based in San Francisco. They offer strategy, UI/UX design, and development as well as web design and branding services. Regardless of the platform or digital product in question, Clay helps actualize the unique and cutting-edge visions of its large and diverse clientele.
Clay is a unique UX design firm. For one, they don’t release the names of every client they work with. This discreet relationship boasts many advantages for companies in terms of brand development. Clay also makes a point to largely work with start-ups. There’s a reason for this — it allows for long term professional intimacy with clients, from start to finish. Rooted in San Francisco, Clay prides itself on working with many local Bay Area clients. Yet the success of their firm has also reached global notoriety, and therefore international clients. Clay is not a digital design firm to be overlooked.
Human-centered design and UI/UX agency — ideo.com
Clients: Verizon, Swarovski, Ford, IKEA, GE, Procter & Gamble
IDEO is one of San Francisco’s more special and influential UX design firms. As one of the first UX design agencies which started using and popularized human-centered design and the design thinking methodology, IDEO has left its impact on the entire industry. They get quite a bit of respect for this and it shows — they have offices around the world and constantly work with the world’s top companies.
IDEO focuses on user experience design but also offers management and consulting services, industrial design, and branding services. IDEO’s global reach is one of its strengths — yet this does not compromise its presence and importance in the tech industry ecosystem of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Further, IDEO prides itself on not only providing excellent design services but also to help its clients cultivate confidence and take whatever it is that’s been designed into their particular industry with a renewed focus on achieving their particular goals.
Digital innovation consultancy and UX agency — frogdesign.com
Key clients: Apple, Porsche, GE, Intel, UBS, Sharp, Hyundai
Frog Design is unique — unlike other firms that are relatively new, Frog was founded in 1969 in Germany by Hartmut Esslinger as an industrial design firm. The resilience and ability to change with the changing world of design have provided Frog with a long, impressive, and multifaceted portfolio. Today, Frog prides itself on its human-centered design approach, global reach, as well as innovative capacities. Among a range of services, Frog launches new businesses, improves CX at scale, helps clients make bolder choices, and deliver better products as well as builds stronger teams for firms of all sizes.
Frog is well known for its successful CX — customer experience — services. While certainly not limited to CX, Frog has helped many businesses grow from scratch and structured globally respected CX as an integral piece of the particular company’s growth. Their user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) services are also world-renowned. Though founded in Germany, and having offices in places as diverse as Bangalore, Lyon, and Mexico City, San Francisco is Frog’s home base. This makes Frog a great choice for anyone looking for a globally reaching UX design firm in the heart of San Francisco.
Global user experience design firm and UX consultancy — designit.com
Key clients: BMW, Google, Audi, FedEx, Visa, Cisco, Facebook
Designit is truly one of the best out there — with a long list of awards behind its name, offices across continents, and an impeccable portfolio of clients, Designit is one of the industry’s top design firms. Although originally founded in Denmark, one of Designit’s main offices is in San Francisco. Designit’s services run the scope of design — from helping clients start something entirely new, transform a brand or digital product into something better, or even a range of educational services to help companies boost innovation and creativity.
Anywhere UX design might be needed — with a focus on user experience, user interface, customer experience, and branding — Designit is available and able to offer human-centered approaches and solutions alike. One key to Designit’s success over the years is the values that base its approach to all projects — empathy, collaboration, creativity, holistic thinking, experimentation, and craftsmanship. These values guide all projects and lead to hugely successful design results.
User Experience Consulting Firm and UX Design Agency — blinkux.com
Key clients: Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, HBO, Nike, Starbucks
Blink UX is truly a revolutionary firm. The firm prides itself on working with clients that push the envelope of their particular industry. Therefore, Blink UX’s role is helping these clients utilize revolutionary design in their particular industries. They’ve proven wildly successful. One of Blink UX’s key strengths is providing their wide-reaching UX design services to a varied client base — this means they are experienced providing an essence of their own design but are not limited to a particular industry.
Blink UX has a very astute motto for user experience design — “great design happens at the intersection of knowledge and imagination”. With their commitment to utilizing intelligence and creativity, they make their UI an UX design both chic, modern, and rooted in the understanding of the particular industry, market, or niche they’re designing for. They offer services such as product design, foundational research, design strategy, service design, brand expression, evaluative research, market research recruiting & facilities, as well as front-end engineering. Blink UX’s depth of knowledge and personnel make them a San Francisco gem.
Find your best-fit UX design agency now
So now you’ve been introduced to the five best UI/UX design agencies in San Francisco, the global epicenter of the technology industry. If you reach out to any of the above design companies, you will surely be provided with world-class design. While each of the above-mentioned UX design firms has their particular strengths, you can rest assured knowing that regardless of which one you pick the final result will be of the highest caliber. You’ve got all the information you need so the real question is, what are you waiting for?
FAQ — Top UX Design Agencies in San Francisco
San Francisco is arguably the epicenter of the tech world. A laundry list of world-class technology companies that were founded and function in the city by the bay. These companies hire incredibly talented people from around the world making San Francisco a robust ecosystem of tech talent and skill.
It’s proximity to Silicon Valley makes San Francisco stand out as an attractive location to find technology companies when they’re needed. For example, companies across industries are more and more in need of professional quality user experience design — UX design for short. A number of successful UX design agencies with excellent portfolios and world-class clients are based in San Francisco. This leads many companies to look in San Francisco for UX design firms. Sounds logical, right?
While San Francisco is a great place to look for a UX design firm, there are a number of common misconceptions that should be dispelled before you begin your search. Companies looking for a UX design agency often assume just because an agency says they’re based in San Francisco means not only will they provide excellent work, but that they’ll be better than any firm anywhere. So in order to help you navigate these preconceptions, and figure out which ones are based in truth and which ones aren’t, we’ve put together a number of fairly asked questions about UX design agencies in San Francisco.
What do UX Design Agencies do?
Let’s say it like it is — the term “UX” is used so loosely these days, most people don’t even know what a UX design agency even does. So, let’s clear a few things up, shall we?
“UX” stands for user experience. That means a UX design agency is responsible for designing the entire user experience from top to bottom, start to finish. User experience is everything that the user of an application or visitor of a website interacts with and how those interactions translate into a larger, holistic experience of the site or application. This makes the job of UX design agencies both complex and integral to the effectiveness of any contemporary site or application.
Think of a UX design agency as both a designer and a curator. Their job is to design the user experience in such a way that helps the company in question reach their goals and actualize the larger vision of their company. Though the design aspect is not merely about typography and colors — it is also about ensuring that every user or visitor has particular experience of the site, and therefore impression and understanding of the company or brand in question. The way this is done is by combining both the detailed, nitty-gritty artistic dimensions of traditional design with an understanding of the company or brand’s target audience.
A UX Design Agency first and foremost undertakes what is called UX research. This initial step is key. The agency does a thorough investigation of the target audience, demographics, needs, wants, and desires. This is then compared alongside companies or brands that are in competition with the one in question. From there an architecture of information is mapped out which reflects the research findings of the target audience. This is the step that structures the particular experience each and every user or visitor will have and therefore will inform how they understand the site or application. Usability is a hugely important part of this step — ease of use plays a critical role in shaping the user’s perception of the application or website.
Once the UX design agency has finished these steps, then, it comes time for the more traditional design aspects. A UX design agency will with this deep and comprehensive understanding of the project goals, design the interface of the site to complement the information architecture. Choices of typography, color schemes, use of blank space, and overall style are consciously chosen to reflect the sentiment of the brand and the target audience.
UX Design agencies also provide other services such as branding. Branding is different than UX design but is intimately related. Some companies need professional guidance when designing their brand and many UX design agencies provide this service as well. When the same UX design agency has developed the brand and the UX design, then the effective consistency between the two often has great results.
So now you know the complex yet critical role UX design agencies play in any company’s online presence or application development!
What is better: an in-house UX design team or an external UX design firm?
This is a common question that comes up at some point in the process for any company with a need for UX design. Truthfully, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to this inquiry. Many factors influence whether a company opts to create an in-house UX design department or to hire a UX design agency, including the company’s size, long-term UX design needs, and budgetary constraints.
In the long run, a UX design department can prove to be a valuable investment. If the team can forge proximity and intimacy, a level of detail and intricacy of a project can be achieved at a level far beyond what a company can get from an outsourced project. As employees of the company to which they offer their UX services, in-house team members would already have an innate corporate vision and mutual understanding as it relates to the brand identity of their company. However, creating and sustaining a UX design department is only a necessity if continuing UX design support is necessary, which is not the case for many companies who can simply benefit from an upfront investment into a UX project.
Hiring a UX design agency is a tried and true option. It is also one that is reliable, given the combined experience of the agency’s employees, to deliver an excellent result, making UX agencies a very attractive option. However, this option is not cheap. By hiring a company you are paying for the long-term experience of professionals with years of focused experience on UX design projects. A combined level of experience like this cannot simply be taught and is an invaluable resource that might be well worth the hefty investment that it requires. While the price tag is high, the cost of creating your own in-house UX department, even minimally staffed, is more expensive in the long-run.
While both options come with their own pros and cons, UX design firms offer the most cost-effective, reliable, and realistic solution for most companies’ UX design needs.
Are San Francisco UX design firms better?
The short answer is — not necessarily. On one hand, UX design agencies in San Francisco function in a tech industry hub. San Francisco is close to Silicon Valley and therefore works intimately with major names in the tech industry. This simple fact allows UX design agencies to benefit in terms of talent and access to big and respected names in the industry.
On the other hand, a number of the biggest technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area themselves hire UX design firms outside of San Francisco. Google and Netflix, among others, have outsourced UX design needs to firms around the world. The simple reason for this is because there are talented UX designers everywhere. This growing pool of global talent sometimes disincentivizes companies from hiring UX design agencies solely in San Francisco. It’s important to consider both price and the quality of an agency’s portfolio, not only their location.
Why are San Francisco UI/UX design agencies so expensive?
The downside to San Francisco’s proximity to Silicon Valley is costs are much higher. As we all know, housing costs in San Francisco and the surrounding area are some of the highest in the United States. On top of that, competition between large technology companies for world-class talent pushes up incomes and therefore project costs. It’s true that many San Francisco based firms are also able to increase the prices of their projects due to the simple fact of their location — the name notoriety of San Francisco and everything that comes with it has this effect. Further, because massive tech companies boast huge profits, many smaller yet geographically proximate companies charge more than they would elsewhere. This doesn’t always result in more customers for these firms, but the desire to catch up to more established companies revenue-wise pushes them to do so
Are they worth it?
A few UX design firms in San Francisco are absolutely worth it — their location, prestige, and portfolio speak for themselves. However, some UX design firms charge inflated prices with more junior talent. The issue is that because of the large tech firms working in San Francisco, a tense competition for talent often disproportionately benefits the largest and most valuable companies. Google, for example, can offer higher salaries and benefits packages to potential UX designers that smaller and more boutique UX design agencies can. What ends up happening is that many UX design firms lack the senior talent that some of the bigger companies have, yet the conditions of San Francisco still force them to charge premium prices. For this reason, some San Francisco UX design firms charge too much for lower quality. It is therefore important to search carefully and look closely at their portfolios.
What about remote user experience design agencies?
Every single year, remote work becomes easier and more efficient. Video teleconferencing, real-time editing software and a number of other innovations make distance working not only possible but seamless and easy. Similarly, harsher living conditions, housing prices, and job competition in certain tech hubs like San Francisco are making some very talented people reconsider where they want to live and work. The possibility of working remotely or outside of established tech hubs is also becoming an attractive option for UX design firms themselves — this can help keep down certain costs yet maintain high levels of talent and produce great results.
Further, it’s important to remember that excellent UX designers are not beholden to already existing tech hubs like San Francisco. There are roughly 2–3 million UX designers working around the world. Incredible designers and agencies are everywhere. Most of these excellent firms, throughout Europe for example, work with clients globally. Some of these portfolios provide the same quality and consistency at a much lower price.
If I want a UX agency based in San Francisco, how do I find one?
The list we’ve provided above is a great place to start. Once you’ve determined the boundaries of your budget and concrete timeline, you can begin to search for the firm that meets your needs and conditions. You can set up in person or teleconsultations and compare prices and portfolios to determine which firm will be a great fit for your project.
Beyond the list we provided, another tried and true method for finding a good UX design firm is to ask around to established Bay Area companies with excellent UX design. Ask them which agency did their UX design. Once you find out you can reach out to them directly, along with a list of what you like about their UX design, and organize a consultation. Many Bay Area companies large and small use local UX design firms and will be a great resource for finding one yourself.
Before your search begins it’s also equally important to determine how important it is that the UX design firm you work with is based in San Francisco. Sometimes, especially if you are based in the San Francisco Bay Area yourself, a San Francisco based UX design agency is preferable. In-person meetings can help maintain a client-customer intimacy that’s proven to be important for successful projects.
Thanks for reading!