Hiring A Designer For Your Startup: Beyond the Usual Suspects

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By Christina A. Brodbeck (Co-Founder & CEO, theicebreak) Good engineers in Silicon Valley are hot. They’re hard to find, even harder to hire, and it often feels like they’re worth their weight in gold.

That being said, there exists an even more elusive hire in the startup world -- a good designer. Times have changed; users are more experienced, and more accustomed to using web sites and mobile apps. This has created a tipping point in site building, where form is often equally as important as function.

To keep up with this high demand for beautiful and intuitive sites, we’ve also created a demand for good designers.

5 Tips for Finding The Next Rockstar Designer

  1. Look outside of the web world for designers in other media who have the look you’re after. This may require some extra front-end development support but can be well worthwhile.
  2. Stop thinking short-term project, and instead think long-term employee. This will immediately expand your search beyond sites that just cater to finding freelancers.
  3. Look on Twitter for design students, and if they have links to their own personal sites or portfolios, click through to check ‘em out.
  4. Be open to hiring designers still in school. Give them flexibility in their schedule to still attend classes while working. This will increase the number of people who can apply.
  5. Make connections with the career center staff at local colleges and universities that have art and design programs.

Every Startup Asks “How Do I Find A Good Designer?”

When asked this question, I like to ask back, “how do you define good?” Their answer, more frequently than not, includes looking for someone who has worked on sites at the scale and level of Mint, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Many times I have referred designers who are good, but who haven’t worked at a popular tech company or startup, and the designer never even gets an email or call back. It’s wonderful and important to be looking for an experienced designer, but those sites and types of sites are not the only places where designers gain experience.

What we as startup founders are looking for are “celebrity” designers, and in a world where most startups are founded by technical folks and engineers, it’s only natural that we would reference places like Facebook that we are familiar with. We, as startup founders, need to expand our search beyond just the “hot” startups, mobile apps, and web companies and look to other sources.

There are good designers graduating en masse from art schools, design schools, state schools, and community colleges, who can’t find jobs. These are the 99%—100% talented, but 99% unemployed. These are the not-yet-knowns who one day might be the next greats. As with everything, not every one of them is good, but a lot of them are. However, as startup founders we still complain that we can’t find any good designers.

For the companies that I mentor and invest in, and also for my own startup theicebreak (a fun service for couples that makes great relationships awesome), I advise to stop looking in the usual places. I recently attended a career fair at a local art college where our visual designer goes to school, and was surprised not to see another startup or startup founder in attendance. That same week, however, I received at least two requests from founders looking for designer recommendations. The demand for good designers is only going to grow, and both designers and businesses need to work together to close the gap.

Designers need to find a way to increase their own exposure, and companies and startup founders need to figure out a way to expand their searches. New programs like The Designer Fund are working on new ways to expose companies and startups to young designers through apprenticeships.

In the meantime -- I challenge startup founders to do this the next time you’re hiring a designer: call your local art school’s career center and ask to be put into contact with their best graduating students. The students will thank you, your company might be closer to hiring a good designer, and in the end it’s better for the design and startup ecosystem.

The more designers we get into startups as early employees for equity, the more good designers they will know to bring onboard later, and if they just happen to be one of the lucky ones to strike it rich... The more designer founders they can fund later.

All of the current design rock stars started their career somewhere -- why not launch the next generation at your company?

Meet our guest blogger Christina Brodbeck and hear her story at Women in Design on Friday, December 9 in Mountain View, CA. Tickets are available here.Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.About the guest blogger: Christina A. Brodbeck is the Co-Founder and CEO of theicebreak, a fun and new service that helps couples to create more rewarding relationships. Prior to theicebreak, Christina was a founding team member at YouTube and the company's first UI Designer. She later went on to lead UI for YouTube Mobile, is an active angel investor, and mentors at various places including 500 Startups. Follow her on Twitter at @jellyfishbloom.