app design costs - cover

A Transparent Look at SaaS App Design Costs

Design, Product
14 min
May 03, 2024

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications have exploded in popularity over the past decade. The ability to deliver software over the Internet without requiring local installation has opened up new possibilities for businesses and consumers. However, developing a custom SaaS product requires careful planning and consideration of many factors — not least, app design cost.

With so many aspects and stakeholders involved, estimating design costs accurately can be tricky. The number of screens, depth of functionality, and choice of the technology stack — these variables and more affect the effort and, therefore, the budget. Still, having a reasonable sense of potential design costs is vital for making informed software investment decisions.

In this article, we’ll break down the key drivers of SaaS design costs and provide ballpark figures tailored to projects of varying scope and complexity. Keep reading for practical guidance shaped by real-world experience.

Key Factors Impacting SaaS App Design Cost

When designing a new SaaS application, there are a few major factors that typically drive the overall costs and should be accounted for in the budget. They can significantly influence the scope, complexity, and resourcing needs for product design efforts. We’ve found the aspects below make up the bulk of design costs based on our past project experience.

Features and Functionality

The number one driver of app design costs is the size and complexity of an application’s desired feature set. Design effort — and therefore time and money — scales up with:

SaaS App Design Cost - Features and Functionality

  • The number of unique app screens. The more individual pages or views needed to bring the product vision to life, the more layouts, workflows, and components need to be mapped out and properly linked together. Complex platforms may have 50+ screens compared to simpler apps requiring nearly five-ten.
  • Functionality depth per screen. The degree of customized functionality and dynamic logic required on each screen also expands effort. For example, a basic static page with straightforward information needs far less design consideration than an interactive dashboard page full of real-time graphing components, complex input forms, and conditional display rules.
  • Custom interactions. The more specialized and dynamic flows between elements like hovers, clicks, toggles, and micro animations that bring delight through interactivity also multiply the effort to craft. These touches require additional review cycles, prototyping, and refinement to perfect across flows.

Thus, more screens equal more individual page designs. More functionality equals more elements to arrange and interconnect per page. More interactivity equals more potential states and paths to cover.

So, while every app design project requires foundational steps like research, requirements planning, and visual branding, the cost of mobile app design for SaaS stacks up with each page added and the sophistication of component relationships defined within.

Design Complexity

The visual sophistication of a SaaS app also significantly impacts the app UI design cost. Custom elements take additional effort, requiring more skill and iterative refinement. Key complexity factors include:

SaaS App Design Cost - Design Complexity

  • Branding, illustrations, and icons. While templates help kickstart apps cost-efficiently, most organizations rightly invest in customized branding, color schemes, illustrations, icons, and imagery that reflect their personality.
  • Animations and microinteractions. Similarly, animated interactions like hover effects, toggles, notifications, and loading sequences go beyond standard libraries.
  • Data visualizations. For data-rich web apps, static charts fall flat next to animated, visualizations that speak directly to customer insights. But crafting intuitive graphs that balance clarity and layers of detail at different view levels challenges even seasoned designers. The data parsing and rendering logic compound backend complexity as well.

The returns on investing in compelling, coherent visuals and micro interactions are highest for apps where first impressions guide adoption. Still, balancing customization with convenience remains key across app ecosystems. Yet, for some products, sticking to base functionality with clean information designs is enough.

Development Stack

The technology infrastructure decisions also carry big budget implications. The specific backend, database, and web frameworks powering a cloud application steer the ongoing cost to design an app and maintenance needs dramatically based on constraints.

For example, legacy monolithic architectures risk more brittle integrations, struggling under rapidly expanding connectivity demands from new devices and real-time data flows. Migrating to modular microservices patterns and modern APIs requires more initial modeling but enables faster, parallel feature building by distributed teams.

On the front end, JavaScript UI libraries like React and Vue also factor in design needs significantly. React’s cutting-edge component model facilitates dynamic experiences through real-time rendering and granular composability. However, this requires more upfront alignment with structural best practices between designers and developers collaborating.

Getting platform advisors involved early on in assessing target infrastructure allows right-sizing experiential goals to technical realities. This prevents overscoping specifications as well as underplanning the coordination needed for coherent designs across global software teams distributed long term.

Team Structure

The team structure and talent mix also greatly impact the cost of app design. Some options to weigh include:

SaaS App Design Cost - Team Structure

  • In-house teams. Building an internal group of UX, UI, interaction, and visual designers allows directing efforts fully customized to evolving product needs. But first, recruiting across specialties delays immediate velocity, carries more training costs, and risks underutilization if needs fluctuate.
  • Freelancers. Independent designers are fast and bring outside wisdom. But the burden falls more on product leaders to direct priorities across projects without always having a big-picture design strategy perspective.
  • Agencies. Consultancies offer access to cross-functional teams with technical specializations like research, prototyping, branding, and animation skills pooled together. However, agencies invest significantly in talent, so they may charge higher rates.

Blending internal teams augmented by vetted agency partnerships balances predictability, continuity, and flexibility.

Scope and Timing

Last but certainly not least, project scope and delivery timeframe raise or lower the app design pricing, too. Designing 50+ screens on a rushed calendar burns resources faster via overtime wages and cut corners. Carefully determining must-have features, setting reasonable schedules, and assigning adequate staff prevents waste. Be realistic, and keep priorities focused.

Thus, design costs intersect with project scale, components, technologies, team makeup, and timeline, but thorough planning helps estimate expenses.

Providing Cost Estimates

In general, the SaaS application design average cost can vary greatly depending on the scope and complexity involved. As an approximate guideline:

Complexity

Cost

Includes

Basic$1,600 – $6,4005-10 basic app screens

Simple layouts and minimal custom designs

Basic UX flows mapped Clickable prototypes

Intermediate$6,400 – $13,00015-25 custom-designed screens

Unique color schemes and branding

Common workflows and interactions

Interactive animated prototypes

Enterprise$13,000 – $44,000+25-50+ dynamic app screens

Complex conditional flows Custom illustrations and assets

Advanced interactive prototypes

Supporting documentation

Basic app UX/UI design covers initial UX architecture and layouts for streamlined apps with minimal screens and straightforward functionality. Deliverables focus on information architecture and basic clickable wiring rather than visual polish.

Intermediate design includes more custom and branded screens, with a focus on core UX flows. Deliverables bring key app interactions to life via a clickable prototype.

The enterprise solution encompasses complex app ecosystems with advanced functionality and workflows. Deliverables include high-fidelity animated prototypes, custom graphical assets, design system standards, and technical documentation.

Scope scales the SaaS mobile app design cost, but even basic app design comes with critical frameworks for long-term vision. We recommend starting small while validating product-market fit before expanding features.

The wide ranges of pricing only aim to set expectations, but proposals should customize estimates based on specific feature requirements and technical specifications. Transparent conversations about true needs allow for realistic scoping of timelines, resources, and budgets before kicking off. Even still, agile iteration during development uncovers new requirements over time that impact final costs.

Additional SaaS App Design Price Considerations

While this article focuses specifically on upfront design costs, remember to account for the following aspects, too.

Ongoing Refinement and Maintenance

Plan for regular iterative improvements and new features over time. Analytics provide visibility into confusing workflows and popular functions to double down on. User tests reveal pain points in need of tweaks. Count on allocating 10-20% of the initial design budget consistently for at least the first year post-launch to optimize the product experience.

Potential Redesign Needs

While launching an MVP app now is pragmatic, significant business or technical changes may necessitate nearly full redesigns later. Shifting to new underlying architectures for access to missing capabilities or modernization requires rethinking information flows. Adapting apps for new device form factors like wearables could force layout changes, too.

In such cases of considerable product pivots, teams face heavyweight design efforts akin to new development rather than incremental enhancements. Keep 50-75% of the initial budget reserved for responding to major innovations three years in.

Research and Testing

The most cost-effective apps come from evidence-based decisions rooted in real user feedback. Conducting generative research like customer interviews, surveys, and contextual inquiries before designing offers insights into what problems to focus on.

Ongoing usability studies and prototype testing over development uncover confusing workflows, misleading labels, or missing steps early enough to rectify. Issues only compound when caught post-launch.

Therefore, also factor in 10-15% of the project budget for research and testing milestones. Certified user researchers capable of aligning findings with goals prove a worthwhile investment for the clarity gained.

Making Informed Decisions

Embarking on a new SaaS design project requires strategic decisions even before engaging a partner. Here are recommendations for setting efforts up for success:

  • Clearly detail the vision, goals, and target users in a product requirements document. Quantify the app’s purpose and define essential workflows — map customer steps. Outline experiential must-haves more than specific features at this phase.
  • Capture any technical constraints around technology stacks, integrations, and infrastructure, too. This high-level documentation is essential for aligning teams on what matters most. It also equips design partners to adapt capabilities to needs from the start.
  • Make user research the priority during the initial discovery phases. Rather than rushing to solutions, first uncover target users’ points of friction, mental models, and terminology through interviews and observations. Designers can facilitate generative studies to reveal true problems worth solving.
  • Then, engage a lean UX designer or agency early to scope possibilities before extensive production. Quickly ideate solutions, gauge effort levels across candidates, and storyboard customer journeys based on learnings. This phase clarifies must-haves over nice-to-haves and budgets accordingly.
  • With product goals and high-level solutions explored, solicit proposals from partner shortlists. To enable accurate scoping, share documentation, research findings, and priority user flows with contenders. Request itemized cost breakdowns defining effort at each project stage rather than fixed bids.
  • In pricing materials, calculate resourcing needs openly based on app complexity factors like the number of screens, custom designs involved, animation desires, and more. Budgets derive from bottom-up assessments of assets required.
  • Emphasize collaboration and transparency as preferred working styles in the vetting process. Convey openness to creative interpretations from those executing the hands-on work. Mutual trust emerges over time but starts here.
  • As explorations progress, maintain open communication channels giving teams permission to clarify priorities as questions arise. The scope will evolve iteratively; this is natural. Allow for constructive conversations about balancing spending across must-haves.

Anchoring plans in user data, phasing engagements, inspecting estimates closely, and communicating with humility set a common direction. Of course, surprises may still arise, but with less disruption and rework down the line.

Real Examples of SaaS Software Design and Its Cost

Here are some examples of real-world SaaS applications we’ve helped design, along with insight into effort and cost considerations.

Education Technology App

Features: Mobile/web dashboard, 30+ content management screens, document annotation tools, quiz builder

Effort: 2 designers x 5 months

Cost: $81,000

Customizable Automation Platform

Features: Web UI, 50+ component templates, complex integration workflows

Effort: 3 designers x 8 months

Cost: $124,800

IoT Dashboard

Features: Responsive multi-tenant dashboard, real-time data visualizations, analytics integrations

Effort: 1 designer x 2 months

Cost: $13,200

While keeping sensitive details confidential, these encapsulate how platforms for sectors like EdTech, operations, and analytics carry wide effort levels, given their depth of functionality. We optimized spending by right-sizing talent and using efficient design systems. Clear scoping and open communication remained vital, too.

Conclusion

Creating bespoke SaaS applications with slick UIs and robust backends carries costs often underestimated. By focusing on functionality needs, visual complexity, technical underpinnings, team dynamics, and scope, you, as a technology leader, can estimate and plan budgets wisely, even early in the ideation process.

Connect with our design agency to turn ambitions into pragmatic roadmaps leveraging real-world data points. Uitiop can help you minimize surprises and spending while maximizing long-term customer value.

by Ivan Klyzhenko
UX Startup Advisor, Uitop

FAQ

What factors typically influence how much it costs to design a custom SaaS application?

The scope of the application and the number of screens are major cost drivers. More complex workflows, custom graphics, and advanced interactions increase effort as well. Whether building with an internal team or an agency, projected timelines impact budgets too. Prioritizing an MVP reduces the initial outlay.

What ongoing costs beyond the initial design should we anticipate?

Plan for ~15% of the original budget annually for iterative testing and enhancements post-launch. Major upgrades like changing platforms or modernization after three+ years may require 50%+ effort.

Are there ways to reduce project costs without cutting essential features?

Absolutely, starting with a phased rollout, focusing on vital workflows first before scaling up. Using an interchangeable design system leveraging reusable shared components also economizes effort. Being rigorous about sticking to scope once defined streamlines as well.

How can we maximize value from our design partners within budget realities?

Share detailed audience data, research findings, use cases, and technical limitations with candidates before contracting. Highlight must-haves clearly upfront, then collaborate iteratively in good faith as questions arise. Treat budgets as a guide for staying accountable together.

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