One of the fun things about being part of the d.school community is that I get to have a lot of conversations with folks about design. More often than not, I’m chatting with a start-up or mature organization that is looking to hire a designer. It's not easy to hire designers, but I've found answering five basic questions sets you up to hire and retain an effective designer.
1. What kind of designer are you looking for? Let’s break down three types of designers that are often confused. Visual Designers, Interaction Designers and Design Strategists.
Visual designers optimize the visual language to connect to the emotional, brand and usability goals of a product. This may include screens, user-interface elements or logos. Many visual designers also have some interaction design skills. When working with a visual designer, expect to have a period of discovery followed by time that they’ll spend working through the subtleties of a design. I find it much easier to engage visual designers on a contract basis unless you need a large volume of visual assets.
Interaction designers create the underlying structure for an experience (The User Flow). They usually do this by conducting (or consuming) user research, extracting mental models and then creating an experience that will feel intuitive to the target audience. Interaction designers usually have experience conducting user research and may have some visual design skills, but that’s not always the case. Interaction designers are are far more effective when embedded with a team since they need to deeply understand the technology, user and business constraints.
Design strategists tend to be a bit more experienced and may have come up as visual designers, interaction designers or design researchers. Some may come from a different field altogether. Their expertise is in process and how to use a design lens to address the challenge at hand. Design strategists can have a huge impact on a business because they can help introduce new ways of working and thinking, but in situations with far more short term, tactical needs, (creating wireframes, UI, design templates) a design strategist might not be the best hire unless he or she also has some of those skills.
2. Why do you want to work with a designer? If you can clarify why you want to work with a designer, you’ll be in a much better position to get the right fit. You may find that you need a designer for a short contract, rather than a full-time hire. Once you’ve got a good sense of why you want a designer, chat with some friends and or design folks and get a sense of the best way forward.
3. What level of designer do you want to bring in? This will help correctly align expectations on both sides. If you think the designer will be working on wireframes for the next year, be explicit about that. You’ll get someone who’s passionate about the job at hand and avoid the inefficiency that comes from misaligned expectations.
4. What’s your tolerance for additional tension? For technology-driven start-ups, it's a huge challenge to bring on a strong voice that comes from a very different perspective. It can be tough to deal with that tension on top of all of the other demands of start-up life. More senior designers will usually expect you to employ them to address a broader set of product/business constraints. If they do their job correctly, you’ll probably feel somewhat uncomfortable. Be honest with yourself. Are you in a position where that’s going to help you and your organization?
5. Can you trust a designer? I don’t mean to sound flip. Design is a hard thing to trust. Designers explore ambiguity. Our data isn’t exactly bulletproof. But here’s the thing: designers will see things you won't see. That’s most likely part of the reason you hired them. The most successful designers are able to create a sense of trust with their counterparts.
Tom is the Founder of Red Cover Studios and a Guest Lecturer at the d.school.