A Fresh Start on the Journey: Into the Field of Hong Kong UX Design on Startups, Agencies, MNCs, or Freelancing? / by Gavin Lau



In the past decade, Hong Kong has undergone great change in lifestyle and work, transforming into one of the world’s most technologically advanced cities. There is a growing reliance of and preference for digital platforms as smartphones allow convenient access for information, networking, and purchasing online. So when there is such a demand for digital platforms, there is definitely a demand for digital talents for not only small startups, but also traditional MNCs.

Since 2008, I have been working in the area of user experience (UX) design on digital projects, and have worked in various companies ranging from startups, design agencies, and large MNCs as both a full-time employee and a freelancer. I have witnessed the fast-paced development of this industry and its ever growing potential, especially in a city like Hong Kong. Many companies are in great need for talents in this area, and over the years, I have come across many fresh graduates and designers that are interested in the field but are unsure of where to start. This article is written with these groups in mind, introducing the range of companies from startups to MNCs that are suited for different people.

However, this information is based upon my personal experiences and should only be used as a reference. Individual jobs and companies have their own differences, so be sure to read the job descriptions or talk to the employees.

If you are interested in UX and related skills, this is a good place to start; Interaction Design Foundation, General Assembly and UX Designer Salaries.



Here are a couple of good references if you are interested in the startup scene; Angel List and Startup HK

The Pros:

  • Able to gain lots of experience being in different roles ranging from the decision-making process to the running of the business.
  • The job will never be boring, because the UX designer will be performing tasks that range from user research to testing to designing. On top of this, work outside of designing will also be touched upon, such as project and product management.
  • Startup companies provide a tight-knit work environment where designers will be able to work closely with the founders and other employees of other business functions. 

The Cons:

  • Pressure, tight deadlines, and sudden changes are bound to be part of the job, especially since you will most likely be the sole UX designer on the team. All changes, whether they are big or small, will have to be made by you.
  • Generally speaking salaries will be on the lower side of the spectrum since startups are limited with their financial resources.

Those who prefer to learn on the go with more opportunity to experiment creatively and are not afraid of a hectic work life will benefit from startup companies. They are a great place to learn and grow, not only within the work of UX design, but also in other related business functions, which can be a stepping stone for ambitious designers.


Design Agency

Here are some of the top digital agencies in Hong Kong that aim to drive digital transformation through brand commerce and product and UX/service design; Isobar, Razorfish and Mirum, etc…

The Pros:

  • Able to work on multiple projects at the same time for different types of companies and clientele, so work is dynamic.
  • Some agencies place strong focus on UX work, allowing opportunities for fresh graduates and those new to the field to learn from seasoned designers.
  • Salary-wise, some agencies are willing to invest a decent sum in UX talents and pipeline, whereas others are still in the process of understanding which roles to give UX designers. These roles affect salaries as those who are client facing and are able to handle the tasks of a project or product manager will receive higher payment for the additional responsibilities.

The Cons:

  • Hectic work life similar to startup companies, because designers are in charge of multiple projects simultaneously and can be placed on a new project at very short notice.
  • Long-term team relationships may not be as possible at agencies, as many tend to hire contract and freelance talents on an as-needed basis. And should an agency lose a big client, there will be inevitable downsizing.

Depending on the agency, these companies can be a place for UX designers to grow and become familiar with different cases and projects. Those who prefer more autonomy with their work and can handle a faster-paced work life would do well in a design agency. However, one should note to research the agencies and clarify work details before accepting offers, since some agencies’ foci and practices may not coincide with what one wishes to do.


Multinational Corporation (MNC)

he Pros:

  • The company is able to afford specialized roles and departments, so employees can focus on one area to specialize in for the long-term.
  • More management structure allows a team of fellow designers and managers and even mentors for junior designers to learn under.
  • Relatively relaxed working environment, as work processes are much longer than in startups and design agencies.
  • Higher job security with added medical benefits and higher salaries.

The Cons:

  • Less autonomy and opportunities to experiment creatively, as all decisions and strategies have to pass through multiple layers of management.
  • Job tasks are more routine due to specialized work and long work processes.

MNCs are able to offer those new to the field a more organized learning process as a UX designer. Although there may be less job satisfaction due to company structure, working for large companies offer higher pay and job security in return.

However, in recent years, there are MNCs such as DBS and Amazon that are transforming in a big way, combining innovation and UX to restructure their companies internally and to better service their customers. This transformation of aligning business goals with customer needs has not only caused a ripple in their respective industries, but has also changed consumer behavior internationally. 



The Pros:

  • Able to choose projects that one is genuinely interested in than having to work on what is given by the company.
  • Able to establish personal brand and build own network of contacts.
  • Higher salary than most in-house designers.

The Cons:

  • Junior designers will find it more difficult to find projects and jobs when first starting out due to lack of presence in the field.
  • Freelance designers are required to bring their expertise and experience to the team, which is a standard junior designers will find difficult to achieve.
  • There will potentially be long gaps between projects where there will not be any pay.
  • General administrative work will have to be performed by the designers themselves.

Freelancing may not be the best choice for new UX designers with a limited network. However, when the right opportunity comes, it can be very rewarding, as the successes of the project will be filed directly under the designer and not the company, helping to establish one’s presence in the field.


Wrapping Up

UX design is one of the up and coming fields in Hong Kong that is currently in strong demand for talents with skills in this area. So long as you have a relevant skill set in UX design and creative technology and are interested in working on digital platforms, there is bound to be a company that suits you and your needs in Hong Kong. If you are considering entering this field, I hope this article will be of help in selecting which type of company that align to your UX journey.

Good Luck!



Useful Links

For more information about the UX, below are some useful sites:

Smashing Magazine - An established online magazine for professional web designers and developers with a dedicated UX design category practical tips, useful guidelines, best practices, and case studies.

UX Magazine - A central, one-stop resource for everything related to user experience; great for instruction, opinion, and analysis.

UX Matters - Insights and inspiration for the user experience community 

UX Booth - An online publication by and for the user experience community. In their own words: “anyone interested in making the web a better place to be is welcome”.

UX Movement - A progressive user experience blog devoted to improving the way designers create user interfaces.

DailyUX - Gather & share insights and inspirational articles/video to fresh-grads & junior designers who want to get into UX.

Nielsen Norman Group - Veteran user experience firm offering a huge collection of ‘evidence-based’ research, articles, and reports.

UXDesign.cc - This incredibly useful site has a collection of links, blogs, books, methods, events, and tools to keep you updated about the happenings in UX Design.

Usability Geek - This site covers a range of topics from UX and interfaces to conversion and optimization – a slightly more varied roster than other UX sites.

Creative Bloq - A leading website for UX information and articles.