Chosing The Right Design Agency, Miami Style

Earlier this week, I spoke at the Internet Retailer Web Design Conference in Miami. The venue, the Fountainebleau, was spectacular and the event was great. There was a lot of good insights for online retailers. And at every gathering spot like meal tables, I found an open flow of tips, tricks, and best practices being shared amongst previous strangers.

My speech was called “Choosing The Right Design Partner.” The other speaker for the session was Bill Kane, who was previously the VP of IMS & Web Development for 1800mattress where revamped the site with the help of TELLUS.


I started by comparing design agencies to Harvey Dent, the hero turned villain (“Two-Face”) in Batman. My point was that design agencies can be very helpful, but there’s no guarantee of success unless you actively manage the entire lifecycle of the relationship.

I shared Forrester’s WAVE methodology for evaluating design agencies which looks at firms’ current offering, strategy, and market presence; showing results from our Q2 2007 evaluation, but not harping on the results since we are in the middle of another evaluation.

I spent most of my time discussing our approach to evaluating the firms’ current offerings. By looking at the results from our evaluations of agencies’ usability, branding, and personas, I made the case that none of the firms are anywhere near perfect and even the better agencies don’t do a great job ALL of the time.

Then I gave my advice on how to manage the relationship after you’ve selected an agency. The most important point is that you need to have a strong project manager assigned to the project in your firm (as well as a strong one from the agency).

Bill Kane followed my speech with his lessons learned in building a site that supports 1800mattress’ multichannel environment. He reiterated the importance of active management on the client side of a project. Bill’s now a consultant out on his own and he’s got great experience implementing large-scale multichannel projects. Contact him if you need help:

Here’s a copy of the presentation: Choosing The Right Design Partner (.pdf).

Besides the content stuff, the trip had some other highlights. I got to have dinner with my brother-in-law and his friends at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink which was a lot of fun. I also caught up with some Forrester clients at the event, which was also great. But the coolest part of the trip was watching Obama’s inauguration speech. Internet Retailer showed the speech on the large screens in the main ballroom and served lunch to us at our seats. It was fun to share the moment with several hundred other people.

The bottom line: Kudos to Internet Retailer for a great event.

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile:

4 thoughts on “Chosing The Right Design Agency, Miami Style”

  1. Hi Bruce

    I do agree to you that choosing a design agency is very difficult, and to choose an agency you have to go through the entire company projects which they have done in past and mainly the management, as i think for any design company to be good it has to have a good team with a good project manager.

    Because its the responsibility of the project manager to handle and manage its team, as he’s the person who knows about the project what they are handling and therefore he’s the one who assigns the work/task to his team.

    Therefore a good project manager will have all the leader ship qualities through which he would assign task to his team or manages them.

    But i still believe that it is very difficult to select or choose a design agency with a good project manager.


  2. “Actively manage the entire life cycle of the relationship.” Now, that is a great lesson. How many times do we see individuals start something and then let it fall off the map? Then, they’re surprised as to why they failed to achieve their goal? It’s usually because they failed to follow-through. To manage the entire life cycle of a relationship. Well said.

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