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Design team

Design Team Dilemma: Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Decide to Hire a Designer

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23 Jun

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2023

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So the first question you might ask… Why do you have to ask YOURSELF any questions when you want to hire a designer?? Shouldn’t you just jump on LinkedIn or Behance and prepare questions to ask your candidates during the interview?

That’s a legit plan, but asking yourself some questions first will save you a lot of time when you get to find the right designer. Otherwise, you’ll be guessing blindly like policemen without an identikit.

We are a SaaS design agency and we’ve seen clients whose ideal designer’s picture was framed like the one above. So to find out whether we are a good fit for the client’s needs, we ask them to answer some questions. Here they are, feel free to use them.

What lifecycle stage is your product at?

Whether it’s hiring your first designer or extending the team to build new features, the development stage plays a huge role in hiring strategies.

Sometimes it’s possible (and more efficient) to start without a designer. Some manage to launch a demo version or an MVP without involving a product designer. Of course, a professional in UX design would probably do the job better, but many startups don’t have the budget and time needed for a quality design.

This approach allows founders to get their product on the market faster and test whether the idea is viable. In case it needs to be changed, they don’t have that big sunk cost for design.

When the product already reached the product-market fit, it’s worth investing in quality design and finding someone with relevant experience. In this case, you can hire a freelancer or an agency as long as they have the necessary skills.

If yout product is at the maturity stage and you’re looking for a redesign, the best advice is to look for an agency. People who haven’t been working on the product previously are more likely to see the situation objectively and notice the issues that need to be fixed.

What is your budget?

The prices of hiring a UX designer may vary drastically. If your budget is limited, you may consider outsourcing design work to a foreign country. In the end, modern design collaboration tools, such as Figma, allow us to work efficiently even from different time zones.

However, design is not something you should be saving money on. Bad UX can ruin your product, so always make sure that you are hiring people with relevant experience and a good portfolio.

Remember to not go all-in when calculating design expenses. The proper design process is iterative and may take more time than planned. Taking time to iterate to improve the result is a sign of a good professional. So consider this additional time and cost when planning your budget.

If saving money is the most important criterion for you, you are likely to go for an in-house designer as paying a monthly salary is typically cheaper than a freelancer’s per-hour prices or agency rates. But there are many hidden costs behind hiring in-house that include office space, benefits, equipment, HR resources, insurance, and so on. With a retainer-fee agency, on the other hand, you won’t have to worry about this.

What are the time constraints?

Design is a lengthy process (I mean, good design). Often, clients come to us with requests to do everything in one month or two. And sometimes, we do that. We can make a prototype ready in one month to present to the investors. But would this design perform well in a real market? We can’t be sure unless we do proper testing (and of course, one month won’t be enough for that).

Another issue related to timing people often forget about is hiring time. Your deadline is in three months and it seems like a decent amount of time? Then you forgot to count all the extra time you need to find the right person and sign a contract.

On average, signing a contract with a design agency would take about 4 to 6 weeks. Hiring a freelancer or an in-house designer is not fast either. Add some time for onboarding… and you will see that the deadlines are much tighter than you thought.

This time can be shortened, but it means that some important details could be skipped, and the chances are that you will have to continue with a company that doesn’t give you a 100% feeling of trust simply because there’s no time to look for another.

At Eleken, reducing the time from first contact to signing the contract was one of the most important goals. Our clients are often tight on time, so we optimized the initial negotiation process to start the work as soon as ten days from the moment you contact us.

What is the target audience and market niche?

The best bet when looking for a designer is to search for someone who has experience working with similar products. Every app consists of text, forms, and buttons, but nuances of user experience are different and depend a lot on the niche.

Once, a client came to us with a request to build a CRM system. They had seen the case study with another CRM system we made, and it impacted their decision. At the same time, they asked us not to make it similar to the former one. So, the visual solution was completely different, but previous experience surely helped us to create the best user experience.

Also, if you plan to build a product for an international audience, hiring a designer from another country and background might broaden your horizons and benefit the project.

If the product is new and you don’t have profound knowledge of your audience, look for designers with experience in user research. That way, you’ll gain essential insights that will be useful not only for design but also for marketing and sales.

How will the design team collaborate with other stakeholders?

Unlike a stereotypical member of the “creatives” tribe, a UX designer needs to work in close collaboration with the team and other stakeholders. Think of the way it can happen. An in-house designer would have more connection to the team. On the contrary, a freelancer might not be that involved in this process as they often have several projects going on at the same time.

If you want to hire an agency, make sure that their collaboration model is not just through product manager/account manager contacts. A designer needs to communicate with users to conduct user interviews, and if that is not an option, they need to be in touch with the customer success department or sales. Also, communication with developers is vital to optimize design and make it easier to build. So, if you decide to outsource these parts of work to agencies, keep in mind that communication between them would be much harder.

In any case, remember that communication is the key soft skill of a UI/UX designer. Look for candidates who have experience working in cross-functional teams and are ready to talk to everyone on the team and beyond (chasing potential users in coffee shops included).

What level of control and ownership do I want over the design process?

This might not be the most discussed factor in the process of hiring a design team, but it surely matters a lot. There is no correct answer — it all depends on your situation, product development stage, and the team organization.

If you want to have a high level of control and ownership over the design process, hiring an in-house designer is the default option. You can stay in touch directly all the time and supervise the process if you like.

Product owners who want to maintain a medium level of control often choose freelancers. While you still maintain control and decision-making authority, you can delegate specific tasks or projects to external designers, allowing you to be flexible and adjust the amount of work.

If you want to dedicate yourself to other jobs and rely on designers doing their work without much control, hiring an agency is a good choice. A good agency typically is more reliable and less likely to miss the deadline as there are managers involved. Many of our clients come to us because they need autonomous designers who don’t need to be told what to do.

Checklist for hiring a design team

Asking questions to yourself is harder than asking questions to a candidate at a job interview. But the more questions you answer, the fewer job interviews you would have to go through.

If you answer all the questions properly, you will have a kind of “hiring brief” that gives you a clear picture of the design team you are looking for. Here is a checklist for this brief:

  • What lifecycle stage is your product at?
  • What is your budget?
  • What are the time constraints?
  • What are the target audience and market niche?
  • How will the design team collaborate with other stakeholders?
  • What level of control and ownership do I want over the design process?

Once you have it all done, picking the correct design team hiring strategy will be easy and the chances of mistakes will lower.

And even if you don’t have all the answers ready, you can come and talk to us to find out what is the best fit for you.

Masha Panchenko

Writer at Eleken