The India Notes
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The India Notes

Challenges of building a design org in early stage startups in India

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

Over the last month, I spoke to multiple early startups to understand their challenges of setting up design teams. A short report on the state of design in startups and potential solutions

There is a massive shortage of design talent in India currently. Large organisations like Adobe, Microsoft, Google are hiring more designers than ever. These organisations are now building mainstream product design as opposed to doing axillary job earlier.

At the same time, the rise in funding among startups has led to an increase in the requirement of senior design talent. We are seeing a massive influx of junior-level designers, but there is a shortage of senior-level and leadership roles in design. Well-funded startups attract these talents with pay raises, compensating their risk of working for a startup.

The smaller startups who have raised series A or B find it challenging to attract senior-level design talents to their organisations. The younger startups get senior design talent by promoting junior designers from an established startup with a considerable pay raise. These designers look out for mentors in the organisation to guide them to the new role. An absence of mentorship would mean a massive leap of faith on the founders and the team, which could become challenging to attract the talent pool.

The new-age startups are building first of its kind solutions in India. They have fewer references from previously made solutions to get inspired. Understanding their user’s behaviours and aspirations in depth is the only way to build customised solutions. Design research methods help the product team to understand the user behaviour faster. Hence the need for UX researchers have also seen a rise in early-stage startups. There shortage of well trained qualitative researchers in the market. The UX researchers hired in these startups are expected to handle the requests from multiple stakeholders. The research activities are fragmented and do not integrate into the product development cycle. There is a lack of research workflows.

There is a potential for a senior designer to help these early-stage startups in three segments:

Design mentoring:

  1. To help them set up the design org by drafting the roles and responsibilities for the designers and mapping them to experience levels.
  2. Set the design team for success through continuous feedback in the ideation, execution and evaluation phase.
  3. Build design systems that reduce the time to create design artefact and frees up the designers to focus on success metrics.

Your design team should help you move metrics as opposed to shipping features.


  1. Create playbooks to conduct qualitative research along with the research operations workflow.
  2. Streamline the research activities to integrate them into the product development workflow.
  3. Establish a data repository of the field stories accessible by the entire team to reference.


  1. Assist the HRs to generate a pipeline of talented designers to reach out via social channels.
  2. Prepare a strong pitch for these designers to help them understand the impact of the problem that you are solving.
  3. Create a hiring workflow that would incentivise designers with talent and culture fit to navigate seamlessly.



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