How to Build Your Perfect Design Team: Strategy for Product Owners

Kateryna Mayka

I guess most product owners find it quite stressful and difficult to hire a new team member, so building the whole design team (an effective one!) may seem like mission impossible.

Dealing with the question “how to build a design team?” is not a one-day task, you have to not only find candidates and evaluate their skills, but create the whole company culture and favorable environment that would attract the best people for your project and business in general. 

Eleken is a team of product designers (with emphasis on the word “team”) that has the experience of working with projects of different scales and complexity. That’s why we understand that having a reliable, dedicated, and well-structured team determines half of the project's success.

To begin with, before discussing the approach that would help you build a killer design team, let’s figure out what such a team consists of.  

Roles in design team

We can formulate the design team definition like a designer, or a group of designers with different responsibilities, whose main objective is, with the help of certain design tools and methods, to complete a design project (develop a website/web or mobile app). 

Basically, to accomplish any design project, there should be someone who can take care of UI design (create aesthetically pleasing screens), UX design (build intuitive and logical user flows, wireframes, prototypes) and UX research (conduct user testing to validate ideas, create buyer personas, track the customer feedback and so on). And it should not necessarily be three different people.

Here is the list of specialists that deal with the above duties and can be a part of your crew:

  • UX designer. Their role is to provide a consistent and intuitive user experience across all products.
  • Product designer. The duties of product designers are quite similar to UX designers, but except for user experience, product designers also make the great focus on the company’s business goals. 
  • Visual (UI) designer. They develop visual concepts based on the creative brief and turn them into layouts (choose and order images, colors, typography, and so on) of design projects.
  • UX researcher. This specialist has to identify users’ needs, design objectives, create a plan on how to reach them, conduct research (user interviews, usability testing, A/B testing), and analyze the results. 
  • Copywriter/UX copywriter. The goal of a copywriter here is, with the help of their writing skills, to help the user easily reach their goal, find a solution to their issue, and quickly navigate through the app.
  • UX lead. The UX lead mentors other designers, communicates with the whole team, presents their thoughts and ideas to the company’s leaders, and makes sure the project moves in the right direction.

Though there are numerous job positions in the design industry, very often one person combines several design team responsibilities and that’s where you start hesitating about the number of employees you need to hire.

How big should my team be?

How to choose a design team structure?
The variety of design team structures across different organizations

UX design team structure varies depending on the company and type of project. There are large corporations with dozens of designers, each in their own product team. As well, there are design agencies with 10 people that perfectly cope with their duties. A lot of startups have got only one designer, but an expert in their field. 

The number of designers in most cases only affects the project’s length. The quality of the final result depends on the designer’s skills, not the quantity.

For that reason, in case you have a great scope of work or need to complete the project fitting deadlines, it’s better to hire more employees.

Do I necessarily need a project manager? 

The need of the project manager depends mostly on the scale of the project. Of course, if there are 10 designers working on the project, it is necessary to have someone who will manage them. In case there is one specialist on staff, he or she will easily cope with all tasks without an additional manager’s help.

Different companies choose different approaches. For example, in Wix, they have 2 managers for the designer. The first is the design guild manager who cares about the designer’s personal development (helps to grow professionally and understand in which direction to move). The second is the project manager - this person looks at how the designer works on a specific project and distributes tasks.

In contrast, at Eleken, we don’t have project managers at all. We believe that having direct communication between designers and the client leaves no misunderstanding and leads to better final results.

Strategy for building a design team

Creating a professional design team is a complex process that requires hiring good specialists, correctly distributing their responsibilities, choosing the right tools and methods, and building a consistent product design process.

Here are some pieces of advice that would help you move in the right direction when building your design team: 

Define your needs and what you expect each team member to do

To get the product design team structure right, you must understand what tasks and deliverables you expect them to deliver.

Think about the product or service you are developing and the skills needed to successfully build the product. Create a list of needs and prioritize them. By doing this, it becomes clear what kind of help you require to solve some specific issues. 

The result can be the following: 

Must-haves

  • building user flows, wireframes and prototypes
  • creating UI kits
  • conducting user interviews
  • conducting user testing

Nice-to-have

  • creating content strategy

As you can see we don’t mention job titles here. Try to focus on the skills and personalities your team needs to successfully cope with tasks.

At the time you have distributed all responsibilities among your employees, they will need a clear step-by-step plan on how (and with the help of what tools) to design a product/service.

Think of an effective product design process

An established and well-organized design process will help designers move faster towards delivering the final design solution. It eliminates misunderstandings or miscommunication both within the internal team and when communicating with you (product owner). It’s because with a defined design process the designers know what to do, when to do it, and what you expect to see as the outcome.

At our organization, the product design process looks something like that:

product design process from scratch
The design process at Eleken when developing a product from scratch

Facilitate professional growth

growing a design team
Image credit: goodera.com

Think out the directions for the professional growth of each worker in your team, otherwise, your team members can decide that they have reached the limit of growth in the company and it is time for them to move forward.

The best way to learn something new is to observe the best in their field, work side by side with them, and get feedback. A mentor helps your employee draw up a clear development plan and define tasks for practicing and improving skills. A mentor can be a middle designer, art director, or another employee who has more practical experience in some specific area.

It is the job of a good leader to think about beneficial growth for both the business and the individual. 

Leave space for diversity and freedom of actions

diversity in the design team
Image credit: opensenselabs.com

Diverse designers are the strength of any organization. Each designer you hire is, first of all, a personality with its strengths, weaknesses, and wishes. They are creators and they should have the ability to create cool things (and cool projects).  

Therefore everyone has their own preferences. Some of your employees will prefer some "creative" tasks, others would rather delve into technical aspects of a product. That’s why, it is necessary to give the designer freedom of action, to allow them to make their own decisions or work on different projects to avoid burning out. At the same time, let your designers know that they can always turn to other team members for help.

Ask for feedback often

Over time your company and your team will scale and evolve. With this growth, you will have to make changes in the methods you use or even the work culture you’ve established. To keep track of those changes and be able to make adjustments in time, talk to your employees and ask for their feedback. 

A strategy for those who don’t like waiting

Everything we’ve discussed above works great, but such a strategy is suitable for those who are ready to patiently and steadily adhere to a long-term plan. But what if you have a limited time frame or it’s not profitable for you to hire an in-house team and train them?

In such a situation, think of an alternative like hiring a design agency with strictly selected personnel, no overheads, and no worries about employee turnover.

Eleken is a design agency that specializes in designing SaaS products for different industries and company types.

Our company culture is geared to creating a work environment that allows our employees to develop their ideas and fulfill their passion for creating great products. We work hand in hand with product managers and lead developers throughout the whole product design process. We help each other, look at each other’s work, get each other’s feedback, and have thorough discussions to deliver the best design solution.

Opting for Eleken you:

  • won’t have to take care of the hiring process, as we’ve already got the best talents in our team
  • will be able to change the number of designers when needed
  • will communicate directly with designers without paying additionally for the manager’s hours
  • Won’t have to pay sick leaves, insurance, and so on

What is the best design team?

There is no definite answer to the question of how to form a design team, and who should be part of it. For example, at first, Genius didn't have a designer at all. And at Pocket, the designer was the second most important employee, and designers played an important role in the development of the product from the very beginning. Someone is hiring very experienced designers with ten years of experience at worldwide-known companies. Others prefer to hire designers with a wide variety of backgrounds. Airbnb's design team includes a former librarian, mechanic, therapist, and dancer.

It's easy to manage designers - the main thing is to find cool guys and let them create. Good professionals love their job and make a sincere thrill from tasks, making the world a better place. 

Therefore, create nice work conditions for your team members, make sure they have your support, listen to their opinion, and together you will create beautiful, effective, and valuable products.

We hope that the article helped you make up your mind on what you need to build a killer design team and:

how to build a design team

Now it’s time to create a job posting, prepare solid designer interview questions, and get ready to search for a designer that will become a part of your dream team. 
To make this process shorter and more pleasant, you can just contact Eleken and get your reliable SaaS design team in the shortest time, making little effort.

Read more about SaaS design