I recently had to cancel my engagement with a startup when I realized that the quantity of work involved was too big, and I would not be able to fit it in my schedule. Rather than leave them hanging, I decided to help them recruit another designer.
This made me realize how hard it can be to find the right hire, especially if you’re not a designer yourself. So here’s a small guide on finding and hiring the right person, written from a designer’s point of view.
NOTE: Since writing this article, I’ve launched Folyo, a service that helps companies find designers.
The three types of designers
First of all, it helps to establish what type of designer you’re looking for. Are you searching for a freelancer, an agency, or for an in-house designer? They all have their pros and cons.
- A freelancer will be much cheaper than an agency, but can generally not do it all
- On the other hand, an agency will have the manpower to both design and code your site, and maybe help you with the copy-writing on top of that.
- And hiring a designer as full time staff is a big expense, but an employee’s hourly rate ends up being much lower than a contractor’s. There’s also the added benefit that by being part of your company, your designer will (hopefully) feel more invested in your success and produce better work.
However, I assume that for most people reading this, hiring an agency or a full-time employee is simply too costly, so I’ll focus on working with freelancers instead.
Where should I look?
So where do you actually find all those designers? A couple years ago the answer would have been a lot longer, but these days you can pretty much sum it up in one word: Dribbble.
Dribbble is a social network where designers can share 400px by 300px crops of whatever they’re working on. It has quickly become the number one community for the world’s top designers, especially for icon, web and user interface designers (the small format lends itself well to showcasing icons and details of a mockup).
Like twitter, Dribbble has a follower system, so looking at a particular designer’s number of followers is a good way to gauge how well known he is.
Just be aware that not all designers on Dribbble are freelancers, and many good designers are booked several weeks in advance. So you might have to contact several designers before you find a good fit.
What about 99designs ?
Many designers will tell you that 99designs is spec work, and spec work is evil. I won’t get into the whole spec work debate, so let’s just look at it from a practical point of view. Although you can find great work on 99designs, you won’t find the best designers there. Great designers usually have no trouble finding work, and thus have no incentive to risk working for free.
So be conscious that by using 99designs, you’re making the decision to restrict yourself to the lower end of the market. Which can be a great move, or a very bad idea. It all depends on your goals and the nature of your project.
And please don’t overlook the host of other practical problems that occur with that type of crowdsourcing site.
Any other options?
Sites like elegant.ly and builditwith.me or even Authentic Jobs aim to connect designers and startups. The problem is that most good designers don’t need to look for work, so they will never even see your job posting, much less answer it. This is why I still think actively approaching someone is the best strategy.
Also, don’t forget that you might not even need a designer at all. You could do it yourself, or use one of the tons of high quality templates and themes out there. This might seem weird coming from a designer, but I’m actually in favor of trying to do as much as possible yourself, if only because this will help you understand the problem better and will help you a lot if you eventually hire a designer.
How much should I pay?
The biggest issue on people’s mind is usually the price. This can be hard to answer, because designer rates can vary drastically according to skill, experience, and location. Wages can start as low as $10 an hour for designers living in poorer countries, all the way to $250 an hour for a big design agency.
Generally speaking, if you’re paying less than $40/hour, don’t expect exceptional work. For most projects, I think $60-$90/hour is a good range. Obviously, the more a project’s success hinges on design, the more you should invest in it.
And don’t forget that you’re not just paying for a Photoshop mock-up: you’re also paying for the designer’s years of experience. Alice might charge a much higher rate than Bob, but even though they both produce work of similar visual quality, maybe Alice used her experience to fix the product’s core design flaws while Bob just took the wireframe and made it look nice.
How do I pick the right person?
But all this doesn’t address the question of actually picking one specific designer. How do you know if they’re any good, and even if they are, how do you know if they’re the right person for this particular job?
Well, there’s actually a pretty simple rule of thumb. When looking at a designer’s past projects, ask yourself: “Would I want my project to look like this?“.
This may sound stupidly obvious, but it actually helps you avoid one of the biggest pitfalls in choosing a designer: picking one with the wrong skills.
The right skills for the job
Too often, people succumb to the wow factor when seeing a designer’s work, and don’t actually stop to ask themselves if that style is the right fit for their project. Don’t assume that just because a designer creates gorgeous icons, he’ll be able to produce a great logo or a slick user interface. That would be like assuming that just because a programmer is a PHP guru, they can also develop Rails applications.
The best designers can be pretty flexible and adapt their style to a project, but unless you’re ready to pay top dollar to hire them, you’d better remember this rule: what you see (in their portfolio) is what you get (for your project).
How many designers will I need?
This raises the point that you might actually end up needing more than one designer. If you’re building a web app that also has a companion mobile app, you might very well hire different designers for your logo, site, icon, and mobile app UI.
Each of them requires very specific skills and knowledge that are rarely found in the same person. In my opinion, this is actually to your advantage. Sure, it might be a little more expensive than having a single person do all the work, but it’s worth it for the extra ideas you’ll get.
Different designers will have different suggestions of how to improve your brand or your site, and compared to understanding someone else’s code, building on someone else’s design is much easier (provided it’s good, of course!).
So what, now?
OK, let’s assume that you found the perfect designer: they’re cheap, they’re available, and they have the right skills on top of that. You’ve contacted them, and they’ve agreed to work on your project. How do you actually start working with them?
This could be a topic for a whole other blog post, but in any case here’s some advice. My personal philosophy is that you should always design from the inside out: find the core of the project, the single most important piece, and design it first. The rest of the pieces will then naturally fall into place around it. For a site, this is usually the home, for a web app it’s the dashboard, for a mobile app the home screen, etc.
However, this approach is not always possible. So another tactic is to start off with a smaller sub-project: design a single widget, a landing page, etc. This can be a great way to evaluate someone’s skills and see if you like working with them.
I realize how hard it can be to hire someone in a field different from yours, especially if you’re investing your own money, so I hope this guide made the whole process clearer.
If you still feel a little bit lost, and need some suggestions on where to look or some advice on who to pick, shoot me a message and I’ll do my best to help you out!