Design Agency vs. Startup Panel Discussion, The Alley NYC: 03/28/13

Interesting panel discussion last night that aimed to discuss various aspects of business as seen through the eyes of an established agency (R/GA) and a startup (Fitocracy).  The topic questions were centered around R/GA’s involvement and experience working on FuelBand and Fitocracy’s app.  It’s interesting to note the obvious differences between the two- R/GA partnered with Nike and Fitocracy of course worked for themselves…bootstrap central.  Also worth noting is the fact that many agencies and enterprises are taking note of startup methodology which is quick and lean.

Some highlights:

Role of the designer:

Both groups believe that as a designer, traditionally you are expected to be proficient as a visual and experience designer…R/GA, heavy on resources, can afford to specialize and dedicate people to UX, UI, visual…  No surprise, at a startup a designer will be expected to carry responsibility throughout the spectrum.  Both groups agree that constant communication between creative and development is very important. (Agreed.)


Producing just enough functioning product to test and validate is key for nimble startups- this is clear.  Interesting for me though is how agencies, which work with a range of clients with varying mindframes, create digital.  Agile may be a hard sell for a client who may be unfamiliar with the methodology especially if their group creates physical products in addition to digital.  Many times a client will want to specify requirements up front (waterfall) for budgeting and other purposes.  This is a situational call- depending on the product, client and how the agency operates and is staffed. (My vote is agile- it’s really about educating a client and going strong with what works for the work in question.)

How to gain/retain users - product theory:

R/GA believes a product should meld seamlessly into a user’s life.  For example, FuelBand is wearable and the interface is intuitive.  There is no need to rely on a device away from the environment the product is being used.  Both groups believe that the product should be insightful and pave clear next steps.  If a product gives you data, the user should have an actionable path forward for using the data.  Both groups also agree that an excellent product should also have a social/behavioral element.


Data is everywhere…what data do you capture, measure against, use?  Both groups had similar opinions:

  • Capture as much data as possible but ensure that it is in the context of user goals- correlate.
  • Data that doesn't lead to meaningful change is not good data. 

Established agencies and startups alike both can learn from each other.  Last night barely touched to surface of the discussion.  We’ll certainly continue to see more and more melding and knowledge sharing between the two worlds…Keep it open.