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How To Recruit A Great Designer For Your Company

I had a chance to interview Kyle Stalzer, President of ffVC portfolio company Tackk, about an issue that’s top of mind for a lot of our companies: how to recruit an A-quality designer for their company. (Update: Kyle now is Managing Partner, FUEL Strategies.) Next week, I’ll post part 2 in this series: how to hire an outsourced designer for your company.

Q: Why has design become increasingly important for companies?

In the era of the digital online startup, it’s never been easier to solve a problem with a website or app, and build a company around that solution. And with so many startups popping up everyday, solutions are becoming increasingly narrow in focus…meaning there is quite a bit of overlap in what each company is offering. Who wins often comes down to who offers the best user experience in solving these problems. The design needs to make users enjoy using the solution to the problem your company has chosen to solve. And building a differentiating user experience starts with an outstanding designer or team of designers.

The role of the designer has evolved in a big way over the last decade, and much of that is being led by the emergence of great design from digital startups. There has been a big shift away from myopic designers who spend the majority of their time in Photoshop or Illustrator, painting a picture of what the experience should look like once it goes through all the development stages. Time and time again, this led to an outcome of visually appealing but wholly ineffective designs.

With startup designers, the limited resource availability often requires the designer to also be the front-end developer. And while this usually wreaks havoc on his or her sleep, it actually makes for a much better outcome on the experience. By prototyping or developing the design, the designer can get a feel of how the design actually functions, and in the process avoid many of the pitfalls that lead to a poorly designed experience.

In a prototype design process, the designer can validate if the layout is intuitive, verify that key elements stand out or get lost, and find out if the design is even possible to build and render on all browsers/devices.

Q: What should you look for in hiring a designer…and how do you assess their skills?

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When looking to hire a designer, you need to be able to look beyond just the visual aesthetic in a candidate’s profile. Probe a little deeper on some qualities or experiences that will make sure you nab the designer your startup needs.

Here are 5 keys to look for in hiring an A-Quality Startup Designer:

1). Demonstration of Designing + Building: A great designer can show lots of examples where they both designed and built out (coded the HTML/CSS) their solutions. Even if the code wasn’t actually used in production, the designer should be able to show examples of bringing a design to life through prototyping. This is something Tackk’s co-founder and lead designer Dan Klammer does with most of Tackk’s interface designs…and it really helps him get a sense of how the design fits within the totality of the experience.

2). Evidence of User Input Into the Design Process: Designing for the end user and not to impress the design community is what often separates average designers from great designers. A great designer should be able to show where the design was built around user inputs in the process, or show how the design solved a problem. This could be from any combination of qualitative or quantitative inputs, and bonus points if they can demonstrate using both in their process.

3). Active on Designer Communities: They are confident enough in their work to post and interact on sites like and which puts their designs under the critical microscope of other expert designers.

4). Experience Designing for Complexity: Nowadays every designer should be able to show how their work accounts for the myriad of different screens, display capabilities, browsers and device functions that a user can consume content with. If a designer is simply creating work for desktop web, they are way behind the curve and at a severe disadvantage. A history of App design or responsive design usually demonstrates an ability to simplify down to only what is necessary in the design.

5). Social Design: With so many products and companies relying on growth and traction through viral sharing, a great designer should be active and aware of the social sphere (and ideally an active participant). Their understanding of how to create an experience that encourages consumers to share content will likely be vital to your company’s growth.

Finding this dynamic designer might take a little longer or cost your company a little more at the onset, but you’ll quickly realize the benefit and return when they are delighting users with a great design that is paired with a simple and intuitive user experience. 

Image: Vadim Sherbakov Just published in Forbes.


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