A number of agency buyouts in both the UK and the US has fuelled an ongoing debate about the future of the agency model. Leslie Fountain, MD of Foolproof explains why she believes the agency isn't dead.

Over the last year or so there have been a number of what could be described as high profile agency buyouts in both the UK and the US.

This has fuelled an ongoing debate about the future of the agency model, with many outspoken people foretelling the death of the agency.

I recently participated in just such a debate at Design + Banter with Andy Budd, Nick Marsh and Utku Can. The debate ranged across topics including start-ups, mergers and acquisitions, business culture, recruitment policies, learning and development, capitalism, and client services. There were no shortages of opinions.

What’s fuelling the debate?

In addition to high profile mergers and acquisitions in the agency world, we are also seeing a surge in UX teams either being bought or built up client-side, in management consultancies, technology giants and marketing conglomerates. History tells us that some of these will be successful, some will fail, and some will destroy the culture that makes user experience design successful. Equally there will be some who choose not to buy or build due to a lack of resource or choice.

The agency’s not dead

I believe we will see history repeat itself. In the 20 years of my career I’ve seen this same pattern repeated with ergonomics in the late ‘90s and then usability in the 00’s. Furniture resellers and architects tagged ‘ergonomics’ to everything they designed or sold and claimed to have these skills in-house. Some managed to hire ergonomists and build their capabilities, while others continued to use consultants (I personally provided this service to a few). Today we have seen these consultancies evolve by adding outsourcing to their list of services and computer based training for example.

Similarly the usability industry evolved. It moved from being a tick-box activity at the end of the product development lifecycle to turning into a strategic input into the design of user experiences and combining the power of user research, design, development and measurement. Today we can see a handful of successful user experience design agencies that are continuing to grow and prosper, of course there is Foolproof and to name few, Clearleft, Nile, Webcredible, Akendi, Cyber-duck…

There are many perspectives on the future of this industry. The debate touched on which model is best; in-house teams, bought in expertise, freelancers or agencies. I won’t go into all of these arguments here, but there are a number of benefits of working in, or with an agency, which I believe will continue to secure the future of the agency model. OK, I have to agree with my fellow panellists that some agencies will die. But this will most likely be due to being bought, growing too quickly or not responding to market conditions.

The advantages of working with an agency

Regardless, the demand is high for our expertise. So why do I believe the agency isn’t dead? Because there are many advantages to working with an agency:

The advantages of working for an agency

If you’re looking for a job in experience design, there are also many benefits in working for an agency which will ensure the future of the agency.

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