I am not a UI designer. It is not my place to tell designers how to design. I have employed many designers in my time. Those of you building an app or anything that faces consumers on the web, depending on the customization level, you will need to hire a designer. This post sums up the tips and tricks I use when choosing my team.


Disclaimer 1:

In this post I describe some big hiring mistakes I made early on. For better understanding of people new to our business I cast characteristics of designers into personas. I realize this might offend some designers and artists. That is not my intention. My intention is to prevent others from making the same mistakes I have made.

Disclaimer 2:

I deal in the early stage and the fast pace in-trepanier space. I am given small budgets and expected to do big things. This is why I do not have room for UI Designers not willing to learn at least super-basic front-end development skills. In this post, I use "UI Designer" a lot and those of you with large corporate silo backgrounds may argue that I am talking about a "front-end developer". Due to my limited resources I do not hire any team member that limits themselves from going above and beyond. Not just "UI/Front End Developers" but every team member. If you are not afraid to continue to learn and grow then you should not take offence to this post. Please feel free to comment and further educate my readers on the difference.

Designers archetypes:

Here is the list of characteristics I look for in designers.

The Sensitive Artist:

Danger Level: High As kids their parents sheltered them from life's cruel truths. They take negative feedback like a knife to the heart. Some really feel that way. Others are just lazy and find it easier to pretend to be hurt rather than put in the work to get the design to where it needs to be.

What to look for:

During the interview process ask questions like "Why didn't you go this route?" and see how they respond. If they get defensive or take it personal then you might want to keep looking.

How to work with this type:

My suggestion: Don't

The Primadonna:

Danger Level: High This guy thinks he is the next Pablo Picasso. Chances are he won some design contests at school and now thinks he will be designing the next Apple product site. He views his work as art and any feedback is just nonsense coming from the uncultured that don't understand true art. He is like the actor that doesn't do second takes because he is too good for them.

Since building a tech product and using the agile/lean methodologies is all about iterating and improving this can be a death trap. No one gets it right on the first try. Not to mention, these guys will clash hard with your developers.

What to look for:

This is a tough one to spot ahead of time. Look for any sense of arrogance or entitlement. During your trial run DO NOT accept the first version without revisions, give some feedback early on just to see how it is received. Make sure the feedback is constructive and relevant but make sure you give it.

How to work with this type:

My suggestion: Don't

The Purest:

Danger Level: High Purists don't like getting their hands dirty. They believe that great UI and UX designers don't touch code. Their too good for it or whatever self-serving crap they can come up with. This is a problem, if you don't understand the fundamentals of the technology then you have no idea what you are doing when it comes to designing for that technology.

There are several libraries of code that make building user interfaces for modern web and mobile app's a piece of cake. They make prototyping simple and painless. If they don't understand what is going on behind the scenes with that, they end up designing something that will cost much more time and money to build. This will slow your feedback cycle and in the longer run making it much more difficult to maintain.

Basically, they are saying "That is the developers problem". This is a horrible mindset. That becomes "That is the management's (or leadership's) problem". In the end this problem becomes everyone's problem.

What to look for:

Ask for some if any code samples. A zip file you can download that contains .html and .css files. You should be able to click on the .html files and open them up to view. Mind you they won't really function but they will show a base competency.

Also, ask the if they have ever used any frameworks (code libraries). In the bottom of this post there are a list of a couple of the more popular ones. Use that as a guide.

How to work with this type:

My suggestion: Don't

The Perfectionist:

Danger Level: Manageable These guys are hard workers and have great attention to detail. Maybe too much attention to detail. They spend days and days obsessing over the smallest details. Tweaking small font sizes and shades of violet. This delays your launch and delays the time frame at which you get feedback.

What to look for:

This designer brings a great energy with them and a tenacity that I, personally, love. They will probably have a small stellar portfolio of great work. You probably won't see this until its getting really close to an important deadline. Feature X wont be ready for testing because the developer never got the new design because the perfectionist was trying to get it perfect.

How to work with this type:

These guys are awesome, they're just not Lean. Educate them on the Lean methodologies, try to instill that experimenter mentality. Make sure they understand how the feedback loop works. Their heart is in the right place, they want the perfection. Teach them that the perfection can only be achieved with lots and lots of feedback. When in doubt you are the boss.

Set hard deadlines when their design is getting wired in, finished or not. The thought of having a 1/2 built design wired in is often worse than the thought of one finished with haste.

The print designer:

Danger Level: Medium Though good hearted and potentially very talent, print designers are used to designing with static width mediums.

Static vs Dynamic:

"Static Width" describes a medium which width doesn't change: paper and images.

You need someone used to working with dynamic width mediums. Dynamic width describes web pages and mobile apps which need to resize and change navigation depending on the viewer's device. The industry term for designs that function well on the dynamic width medium is "Responsive Design".

What to look for:

I'm not saying it is impossible for print designers to be good UI designers.
Just keep a look out for a designer with a portfolio filled with a lot of print or fixed width graphic work. Ideally, their portfolio examples of projects they have done with multiple widths. Even if it is just a screen shot.

Best case scenario the designer will have several functional websites or apps that you can click through. To test the flexibility of their designs quickly from your desktop simply resize the browser to 1/3 width to simulate a mobile phone and 2/3s to simulate a tablet. Its not perfect but it should give you a good idea of how prepared the design is.

How to work with this type:

This type needs to get more experience in the responsive area. I would look at the other intangibles:

  1. Is this person a hard worker I can trust next to me in the trenches as all hell is breaking loose?
  2. Does this person have a passion for learning and improving?

If you can answer yes to both of those questions then you may want to bring them on and view your initial projects as an investment. Use the tips in the bottom to help guide them in their learning.

If you cannot answer yes to both of those questions then, it's probably not worth getting involved with them in the first place.

The last archetype - The Best Designers:

Amazing Level: Mind blowing Best UX/UI guy I know is the most modest. He is flexible and would mop the floors if that is what it took to get the job done; always eager to learn, always on time, under promises and over delivers. His designs are simple and functional. Great designers are out there. You just have to know how to spot them and give them the environment they need to crush it.

Tips and Tricks:

Always do a trial run first, something small. There is always a blog that needs skinning or a couple of pages that need an overhaul. Commit to something small so you don't end up contracted in a longterm relationship that would turn ugly if you tried to terminate it.

Stick with the standards:

There are a number of industury standard libraries out there such as Twitter Bootstrap or The Ionic Framework(which is more for native mobile apps). These standards make switching designers much easier if your designer gets hit by a bus or, far more likely, gets hired away.

Sometimes you're better off without a designer:

At an early enough stage in your product development if you are still experimenting you should NOT hire a designer. If you are still trying to find your customer segment and gathering numbers through tests and trapdoors then it isn't time to hire a designer. I strongly encourage you to stick with wordpress sites, Wix.com and LaunchRock.com, as long as you can. Save your money until you have a market tested focused vision where the numbers all add up and only then should you start building.

I have had a lot of luck just buying a $20 bootstrap theme from sites like WrapBootstrap or getting them for free from Smashing Magazine.

When in doubt hire passionate people:

I could go on for days and days about this but I'll save that for another post. Find people that are passionate about achieving the same goals as you and give them the opportunity to chase those goals. It is truly amazing what they will produce.


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