How To Hire A Designer - The Ultimate Handbook For Startups

When time and money are of the essence, what's the smart way to hire a designer?


Dennis Lenard

3 years ago | 5 min read

So you’ve decided to hire a designer. That’s awesome! With time and money on the line, it’s in your best interest to find out the tips and tricks that will help you bring amazing design talent to your team.

Thanks to my decade of experience in working with startups and going over thousands of applications from designers, I’ve put together a guide to help you navigate the process successfully.

Why Do Startups Need Designers?

Each startup is unique. Longevity largely depends on whether or not the founders know how to reinforce its strengths and address its weaknesses. If you fail to simplify overcomplicated processes and ignore usability issues this will alienate your clients over time. A talented designer can become your saving grace.

While a gorgeous UI can take anyone's breath away, don’t be fooled. Startups actually get the most value out of UX design. Great UX guarantees that your product is easy to use and highly adoptable. If you’re looking to reach a wider user base, then investing in UX design is the best approach. Credibility, popularity, and securing a spot on the market all depend on the quality of the user experience you offer.

In reality, a digital product that relies solely on its UX is still fit for market launch. It all depends on whether you feel comfortable and confident enough to organise a PR campaign for it. As a rule of thumb, you should only think about the UI after you’ve sorted out the UX.

What To Look For In A Designer

These days everyone wants to be a designer. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? The ideal candidate for the startup environment is a person with a lot of potential, but who has yet to establish themselves professionally. The thing you should look out for most while you go over their portfolio and then interview them is whether their priorities include personal and professional growth.

Another aspect that speaks volumes in this respect is whether or not they know how to justify their design decisions. A product built on whims and hunches will be blown out of the water by a competing product built on cognitive science principles.

During the interview, try to understand how your candidate solved problems in the past and what their process was. You should look for reflexive, empathic and hardworking people.

What To Do Before Hiring A Designer

This is a series of steps startups can take before beginning the hiring process for a UX designer:

  • Make sure design takes the spotlight in your company description;
  • Figure out what makes your job a valuable opportunity for someone and use those aspects to market the open position more efficiently;
  • Take time to understand what level of creative freedom would make both you and the designer happy;
  • Check out what resources designers need in order to do their job in the best possible conditions, acquire them, and mention them in your job post;
  • Demonstrate that your startup is well organised;
  • Steer clear of piling on unrelated responsibilities onto the shoulders of the designer, define the role properly;
  • Highlight the professional insight the designer will gain by joining your team.

Where To Find The UX Designer For You

I bet your first thought was recruitment websites. If this was a game show, I would have pressed the buzzer this instant. There’s no need to open your startup to a large candidate pool. Not to mention that most reputable job posting platforms cost money. Larger companies with ridiculous budgets will be there to snatch your candidates like sharks. Recruitment websites shouldn’t be your first option.

You know how they say you can only find out about the best jobs by word of mouth? It’s true! Which is why you should get the ball rolling by asking for recommendations among your connections. Feel free to approach a senior designer and ask whether they know someone. Your ideal candidate might have been their mentee.

While there are very few design communities dedicated to UX, it’s still worth a shot to search for candidates on Dribbble and Behance. Additionally, you can try contacting various design associations.

NOTE: Dribbble is more UI-focused, but if you know what you are looking for, that shouldn’t be a problem.

How To Incentivise UX Designers To Join Your Startup

Here’s a simple step-by-step list to make your job offer more appealing to UX designers:

  • Make the designer’s needs a top priority
  • Don’t be boastful. Don’t make unrealistic promises. When this happens, great designers move on in disbelief, while naive, unskilled candidates flock to you;
  • Take the time to prepare your briefs and organise your product thinking. The designer will be excited to start work. Always make sure you explain the task at hand properly;
  • Try to remedy all shortcomings in terms of tools and tech as soon as possible;
  • Ensure that your startup satisfies the learning and development needs of your designer.

How To Test Your Candidates

Your application process should be as simple as possible so it does not deter candidates from engaging. Avoid making designers fill out endless questionnaires. Additionally, prospective teammates shouldn’t have to send you several emails to get in touch with you. Show consideration for their time to start off your rapport successfully.

Before you begin reviewing portfolios, you must establish what you seek to discover in them:

  • Are you searching for a variety of abilities, or is that irrelevant?
  • Are you interested in a certain type of app exclusively (e.g. mobile)?
  • Do you want UX samples, or web design and commercial design?

Don’t be easily swayed by pretty graphics. Every time you see stunning visuals, make the conscious effort to ignore them. Ask yourself: If it weren’t for this lovely UI, would the interface even make sense? Are the graphics distracting me from the poor UX, or highlighting the value of a great UX?

You should also consider whether the UX is built based on UX patterns for a problem that’s been solved countless times before. Does the designer add their unique contribution to the UX? The answers to these questions help you reduce the candidate pool. It’s an effective first step in the selection process because it allows you to devote more time and energy to the more promising candidates.

After reviewing your applicants’ portfolios, you can organise a series of speed interviews. These last somewhere between 5 to 10 minutes, and can give you a grasp of the designer’s personality and work ethic. To avoid frustrating people, be very explicit about your process from the very beginning. Send them a detailed email beforehand to make sure they’re focused.

During the lightning interview, you can ask questions pertaining to the designer’s portfolio - these should differ for every candidate. Additionally, you can ask simple questions to see if the candidates fit the company culture. This also helps you understand which ones aren’t suitable for the job.

The most pertinent approach is to find out what their contribution and thought process is starting from an example from the portfolio. The best UX designers are problem-solvers. Try to see if your candidates fit this profile.

Follow back with the people that managed to impress you. Have a lengthy conversation about the possibility of a professional future together. You should go into more detail about topics such as:

  • What was their thought process for past work
  • What design difficulties they faced and how they moved past them
  • Their workflow
  • Their level of experience with the tasks you need them for
  • Their professional development expectations
  • Their ability to work independently
  • Their ability to tolerate ambiguity and their resilience to frustration

Wrap Up

To avoid wasting money on your quest for the perfect candidate, take the time to think about the qualities you seek in a designer. When it comes to great UX designers, you’re competing with bigger agencies for their time and attention. Make sure you can provide the proper working conditions and the learning environment they need in order to thrive.


Created by

Dennis Lenard

CEO of top UX agency Creative Navy. Passionate about embedded GUI design and medical device design.







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