Top UI UX Design Agencies & User Experience Firms in 2021

Find the top UI/UX design agency for your digital product design. A list of best-in-class user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design companies and UX designers.

Last Updated — September 1, 2021

The design and usability of an app or website inform a user’s first impression. Both elements are central to a curated and designed user experience (UX). The world’s most popular websites and apps, more often than not, have excellent user experience design because top UX design agencies with the best UX designers and UI designers were responsible for creating it. Despite how vital experienced design agencies are for most businesses, it’s not always easy to know which design agencies have top UX designers. Worse, some companies in desperate need of UI UX consulting or user experience design services don’t know the first thing about UX design or how to find a great design agency. So let’s clarify a few things.

User experience — or UX for short — is the digital intersection of artistic creativity, market research, and technical know-how. The structure and design of what in the tech and design industry is called the app or website “information architecture.” The designed communication of the essential information and the company or service’s brand vision are structured into the digital interface functionality, which helps convey and curate an emotional sentiment and impression upon the user.

UX design agencies specialize in creating and designing the user experience for established or newly founded brands and businesses. Regardless of whether a company’s services are primarily digital, professional user experience design is a crucial part of any business’s success and growth. Potential customers make initial impressions on the viability of service or product-based, not always intentionally, on how practical the user experience is of a company’s digital components. Given how vital UX design is for doing business, using a top UX design company’s services is crucial. But with an overabundance of amateurs out there, it’s essential to know where to look.

Below is a list of the best five UX design agencies with the top UX designers in the industry.

Clay: UX design agency, web design, and branding firm
Clay: UX design agency, web design, and branding firm

San Francisco’s Clay is an excellent and experienced UI/UX design company known for providing world-class branding, digital strategy, and user experience design. Clay’s professional team has worked with big household names in the tech industry like Facebook, Google, and Amazon. This has positioned Clay as a well-respected user experience agency with the work to prove it. But beyond their impressive portfolio of working with technology giants, Clay also prides itself on working with carefully chosen startups and other newly founded companies.

By designing and developing the user experience and user interface, and in some cases the whole brand or branding strategy, from the very beginning, Clay can play a crucial role in the holistic development and growth of the startup. While Clay works across industries, the tech industry is their specialty and the source of most of their clients — this gives Clay particular insight into how UX design and UI design should be professionally and effectively executed for tech companies.

Doberman: UX design agency and digital innovation firm
Doberman: UX design agency and digital innovation firm

Founded in 1998, Doberman maintains a rare mix of longevity and experience along with cutting edge creativity. This Scandinavian UI/UX design firm has offices in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, and a partnered studio in Brooklyn. Their chic and transformative approach to user experience design shines through in their portfolio.

What is immediately clear about Doberman is that their excellence as one of the best UX agencies comes from the innovative reach of their design services in terms of industry and project type. For example, Doberman applies the curative elements of user experience and uses it outside of digital applications and websites and into projects like urban living infrastructure. This shines through in their product design as well. Doberman employs only the best UX designers and therefore boasts a track record of excellent design.

Firstborn: UX design and branding firm
Firstborn: UX design and branding firm

In 2019, NYC based Firstborn was named one of the “Most Innovative Companies” for their excellence in AR/VR design. This gave this already top UX design firm even more recognition for its decades-long commitment to innovative and modern approaches to their work. Firstborn celebrates its commitment to contemporary design combined with “rich interactive experiences.” Their focus on the development of the experience is evident in the companies they work with. Beats by Dre and Adidas are two examples of Firstborn clients where the expertise and creative design transcends the often unfounded product binary of digital / non-digital but instead embodies a wholeness that transcends the platform that these brands are striving for.

These brands are as much about lifestyle as products, and so, in all digital interfaces and interactions with the brand, the experience must be carefully curated. Firstborn also won recognition as one of the “Best Places to Work” in 2017 by Crains, which has pushed the design firm into a position as one of the best companies for UX designers to work for — Firstborn’s depth of design talent is a testament to this.

Code and Theory: digital creative agency and UX firm
Code and Theory: digital creative agency and UX firm

Code and Theory is a digital-first creative agency with offices in New York, San Francisco, London, and Manila, Philippines. Their straightforward approach to design has proven to be successful and practical — the digital ecosystems Code and Theory’s top UX designers create are central to their design strategies and are not merely parallel auxiliary components. Unlike so many interactive design agencies that imagine digital platforms — as well as other technological developments — as new pieces of a larger design puzzle, Code and Theory embrace their disruptive importance and base their creative, industry-shifting design strategies upon them. Whether working with digital media, healthcare services, or real products — Code and Theory is the digital vanguard of the design world, shaking up the industry with every client.

Big Human: a digital product studio and UX design company
Big Human: a digital product studio and UX design company

As a full-service New York-based studio, Big Human offers a range of creative design services — design, strategy, branding, and development. With a focus on digital products, they’re widely regarded as a top UX design firm. Their comprehensive approach for UX design is user-centered, always considering the intricacies of usability to develop a seamless user experience. While information architecture and usability are so central to UX design, Big Human also understands the importance of illustration and iconography — never foregoing the creative visual elements of design. Big Human prides itself on having some of the best UX designers out there able to combine, as they themselves state: “creative wonder with engineering and business needs.”

This type of balance is what every client to be should always look for in a UX design firm.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

As the Interaction Design Foundation so eloquently explains, user experience design — or UX design in industry shorthand — is the process of designing an excellent user experience “that meets a particular user’s needs in the specific context where he or she uses the product.” This does not mean UX focuses solely on which typefaces or colors should be used. It means imagining a user’s experience of an app, or other digital product, from start to finish and designing the interactive elements which constitute that experience. Unlike what most people think of when they think of design, UX design considers the intention of the users, the detailed functionality of the platform, and the creative aesthetics of the designed elements. In some cases, UX design can include the digital and non-digital aspects of how a brand interacts. For example, Apple is known for its superb UX design. While clearly an app on an iPhone or the digital interface of an operating system necessitate UX design, so too does the look and feel of the product, its packaging as well as its presentation in advertising and beyond. The user is having an “experience” of the product that must be carefully curated from start to finish. Before even turning on an iPhone, there is something the user experiences — so it is crucial that this is designed in conjunction with the information architecture within the product itself.

UX design does not just magically appear — it requires the investment of time and attentive skill by a team of UX designers into the UX design process.

The UX design process begins with UX research. A separate UX researcher (or in some cases, the UX designer themself) formally researches the brand or product’s target audience and the demographics, cultural composition, needs, and wants of this group of people. They may also investigate industry competitors and other social, economic, and consumptive trends. This data is then organized into a general understanding used to begin the process of developing and designing the user experience.

Once the information is gathered, the UX design team creates profiles of typical users called “personas.” These profiles are used so that the UX designers can put themselves in the shoes of the target audience and make sense of why and how they would approach and use an app. These personas are then used to develop a storyboard. The storyboard places the user in a realistic environment so the design team can assess with more accuracy the intentions of the user. This is also followed by the creation of a journey map where each and every step in the experience the user takes is addressed and examined. These are essentially outlines of what the user’s experience would look like from start to finish. At this creative pre-technical stage, the UX designers use their imagination and expertise to design a vision of the UX that can be brought to life technically by the design team.

At this point in the process, UX designers will have brainstorming sessions where the base elements of the UX design are discussed, given what the team has learned from the research and mapping phases. Once all of these ideas are written down, then the initial prototyping can begin. User flow diagrams and sitemaps are created to get a clearer picture of how the UX will be organized. These are useful visuals for understanding clearly the user’s journey on the app, as well as seeing each and every move the user makes in a graph-like visual.

At this stage in the UX design process, prototypes are developed. There are three categories — low fidelity, high fidelity, and interactive prototypes. They are all prototypes of how the UX will actually look and feel but have different levels of detail depending on the extent to which the UX has come together in the previous stages. While low fidelity prototypes can be as simple as raw images, high fidelity prototypes are digital presentations of each and every screen a user may encounter. Interactive prototypes are still prior to coding and engineering but are interactively rendered in a digital format.

After prototypes are agreed upon, the actual coding, engineering, and real design begin. At this stage, these versions are discussed with clients and approved or not. Changes can continue to be made for as long as has been agreed upon, but the formal UX design process has come to an end.

User experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design are terms often incorrectly used interchangeably. While the two are related, they are distinct aspects of the more extensive design process of digital apps and websites.

UX design focuses on curating the whole experience of a user’s interaction with the app or website from start to finish. The approach of UX design is rooted in the information put together in the UX research phase — when UX researchers learn as much as possible about the target audience and future users of the app or website. This information is integrated into the design into something called the “information architecture” — this is the basis of the user’s experience.

UI design, on the other hand, focuses on the technical details of the digital interface. This means UI designers are not likely to be involved in the UX research phase or in ensuring that the research results are structured into the information architecture. Instead, UI design ensures that all of the technical details of the digital interface function smoothly, work, and also are designed to be aesthetically pleasing and reach the goals the UX design team set out to accomplish.

The reality is, almost no viable business model can function without a digital component. And further, the digital component businesses do have often act as the first interaction a potential customer will have with the company. This makes the app or website that a business builds for itself crucially important. Unlike traditional advertising, however, these digital interactions a user will have with your business are not passive but active. Like entering a storefront, or meeting a sales representative, or interacting with a product, the user will have an experience of your business digitally. This is where UX design comes in.

The user experience of your business’s digital components should aim to turn your target audience into a visitor and eventually a (recurring!) customer. A simple website with text strewn about thoughtlessly won’t get the job done. What is needed is a professional UX design. UX design ensures that a curated experience is designed with the target audience of a brand or business in mind. What this does is creates a feeling for the user and an adventure with your company or brand that informs how the user thinks about the product or service. If your business is selling a product or service that is not digital, then the user experience might be the critical factor that will determine if the user will convert into a customer. If your product is only digital — then the user experience is how your product or service will be consumed by the customer.

UX design can also transcend both the digital and non-digital divide. Apple is the most evident example. Their user experience design is needed for not only their unique operating system but also packaging, the hardware of their electronics, as well as for apps and their website. While these are all various expressions of the Apple brand, there is also experience customers, and users have of that brand. The connectivity and consistency between the different steps of the user experience begin before the product is bought, into, and through the user’s engagement with the operating system, software, and digital elements.

While most businesses understand the importance of branding and brand identity, user experience is the detailed engagement that brand identity that brand can have with users on digital platforms and beyond.

A UX design agency is a creative agency that develops and designs user experiences. UX design agencies come in many sizes and offer a range of different services related to or that complement UX design. Some offer UX design only, while others might focus on another service and provide UX design as well. So let’s break it all down.

Some companies hire UX designers and create in-house UX design teams. However, more often than not, an in-house team is a prohibitive expense and, after a few projects, ceases to be useful. For this reason, most companies and businesses hire creative agencies to help them with all of their design needs.

A creative agency that focuses on or offers user experience design can be called a UX design agency or UX design firm. They specialize in innovative design and branding, and help structure the interaction the company’s brand identity has with the target audience on digital platforms and beyond. This is not advertising nor simple branding, but instead incorporating these elements into the touchpoints and interfaces users and customers have with the company.

A UX design agency is usually organized into a team of designers. Depending on the firm and scope of the project, a project manager oversees a team of UX researchers, UX designers, and UI designers. Sometimes these roles overlap, but in general, they are specialized. These roles stick together through projects from start to finish. They meet with clients, depending on the phase of the project, and do everything possible to meticulously and accurately create a compelling user experience for the given company. Rigorous UX research informs the design process from beginning to end. The UX design agency provides prototypes along the way, and pending approval, these prototypes lead the way to the final product.

My name is Nik. I write about UI/UX, Web Design, and Branding. https://uxplanet.org/top-ui-ux-design-agencies-user-experience-firms-8c54697e290