Should you hire a designer for your startup?
Pros, cons and workarounds
This article explores a role that is crucial to every successful startup team: the interface designer. I think this role requires special attention. Two reasons.
- There will most likely be just one UI designer in a team, at least at the beginning, while there will often be a whole team of developers, and a team of heads working together.
- A designer’s profession might be seen as a little isolated; it does not involve a lot of communication. Most likely, your designer will be given his/her tasks, go to their corner, perform those tasks, return for feedback, go back to their private domain to respond to that feedback, and the cycle continues. While your manager will spend most of their time talking to people, a designer might get lonely and withdrawn, which could affect their work.
I have interviewed a lot of interface designers from product startups for a UI designer position in our studio. They started looking for somewhere else to work after a short while because they felt they were not growing in such an environment.
In my opinion, any designer, good or bad, with more or less experience, would show better results working in a design team rather than alone in a startup team.
Let’s explore why.
I think the reason lies in the very nature of a designer’s job.
Designers need a second, third, fourth opinion.
A designer’s job is to create and at the same time evaluate what has been created. Making that evaluation is a tricky process.
A designer needs to look at their own work with the eyes of other people, in order to envisage how the interface will be read, understood and used by them. If we designed things just for ourselves, life would be so much easier.
There will always be something that a designer doesn’t notice. A better solution that they can’t find alone.
Why not get advice from the rest of the product team? Well, many people think they are designers (and good designers), but in reality… not so much. Yes, getting advice from your fellow developers can be hilarious, but in the end, you’d be much better off having a bunch of designers and a mentor to talk to.
The more experienced the designer is, the better they can manage on their own. But even designers with 10+ years of experience still need to talk to other designers.
Designers need to learn and grow all the time
A designer must be up-to-date with the latest findings, trends, tools, processes. Of course, he or she has got to know UX, usability, a bit of user research, and all those little tricks that help you build, if not a design system, then at least an embryo of it. Something that is scalable and tweakable, helping your product grow and compete.
We, designers, use tools that are constantly improving; we design for technologies that are getting more sophisticated every day. The amount of information that a designer should process on a daily basis to stay fit is ridiculous.
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
It is essential to be in a company of other designers who are happy to talk, share experience, exchange news with you. ‘This helps to keep everyone more broadly informed
Realistically, it’s best if a designer has all those conversations at work, rather than after work. After a busy day, they are likely to want to unwind and having a good rest is also very important.
The effect that these two factors have on the quality (and speed) of a designer’s work is tremendous.
In most cases, a startup environment is not good for a designer, compared to a good studio or an agency.
What can be done about it
You should only hire a senior-level designer for your startup. There is no way even a strong middle-level one can effectively work on a product by him or herself. This is my firm belief.
Try to be more open. Make design reviews and host brainstorming sessions with guest designers. It might sound weird, but why not try it and see what insights and ideas you get.
Encourage your designer to attend events, gatherings, meetups. Don’t try to scrimp time or money on that. These things really help. Make sure she reads a lot, follows the trends and news — ask her about that. If she doesn’t read to expand her skill set, that might be a bad sign.
If you still want to hire an interface designer
One last thing that you should make sure is that there is somebody on your team capable of evaluating the work your designer delivers. Somebody with a strong eye for detail, with a practical view and with experience in evaluating design solutions.
If you are not so sure anymore…
Just hire an agency. You will get lots of benefits from it.
- You can easily scale your design team up or down, adjusting to your business needs.
- You can get a specialist for each task, while your hired solo designer would have to do UX, UI, illustrations and graphics, and even some printed marketing materials from time to time.
- You get a designer who communicates within a team and reports to a Head of Design. The quality of deliverables should be significantly higher.
- There are downsides to not having a designer in your office. You will most likely need to put a little more effort into communication, but with modern technology, it is very easy.
For any questions feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org