02/07/12 | Uncategorized

Recruiting A Designer To Your Early Stage Startup (Hint: It's Not All About The Perks)

By Dana Rosenberg (Startup Enthusiast, Self)

For startups, the design element is becoming more important than ever. Consumers are developing an appreciation for design that is driving their purchase and engagement decisions. Simultaneously, the expanding global market for mobile and interactive web services is creating a need for designers to take on new interfaces and evolving challenges.

Startups like Flipboard and Pulse are heralded for their great user experience and sleek designs, while Massive Health and Instagram capitalize on great design to drive photo-sharing behavior and social interaction.

Design is an increasingly strategic part of product development and marketing. Creating an exceptional user experience becomes more than a competitive advantage, it’s a necessity when you’re an early-stage startup looking to get an edge on the market. Designers aren’t drawn to early-stage startups for equity or perks. So if design is so important to the success of your early-stage venture, how do you go about attracting and retaining top designers to your team?

Designer Tip #1: Highlight the creative challenges, not the startup idea itself.

For any entrepreneur, it’s essential to be completely dedicated to and passionate about your startup idea – because without it, you’re unlikely to make it through the many challenges you’ll face along the way.

For designers, the motivations at a startup are very different. While a designer may be interested in the company’s mission and vision, the designer will be more excited at the possibility of solving complex problems inherent in the user experience design:

Tracy Osborn, founder and designer at WeddingLovely, says:

“I worked [at my last startup] for 4.5 years because the solving problems part was really fascinating…How could I improve the flow of the website? How could I teach myself new techniques that would increase our conversion rate? The topic itself was droll, but the challenges within it were very fun.”

This means that you don’t have to be the most interesting startup in the world to attract top talent, but it does require you to focus on pitching the creative challenges that make your startup unique. In the end, designers want to feel inspired by the tasks they take on day-to-day, knowing that they’re using their skills to tangibly improve the product and advance the company.

Designer Tip #2: Provide candidates an opportunity to get to know the people

For any employee, cultural and team fit is an important aspect of choosing a company. Particularly among creative teams, being “in sync” with your colleagues and having a similar aesthetic and experiential vision is key. During most interviews, it can be challenging for a designer to understand how they’ll fit within a team.

To increase transparency, startups can use creative marketing materials and modify the traditional interview process. At HealthTap, we have a strong focus on team and company culture that is well integrated into our selection process for new candidates.

We use unique hiring videos and a “Tappenings” blog column to give candidates a genuine perspective on HealthTap and daily life as a team member. We also view the interview process as a two-way street, and encourage candidates to interview the company as much as we interview them, which allows us to better understand what’s important to the candidate, and distinguish ourselves from other companies.

Additionally, as part of our late-stage interview process, we provide candidates with a short sample project to perform with the product team. This helps designers understand what it is like to work at HealthTap and with current team members, while giving the company an opportunity to evaluate fit and skill in context.

Designer Tip #3: Give them design freedom and opportunities for growth

Like many people that join startups over larger companies, designers are attracted by autonomy and the opportunity to build from scratch. Most designers seek creative freedom over their visual design, and opportunities to contribute to other aspects of product development.

Grace Ng, the UX and Brand Director at Lean Startup Machine says:

“Large companies are siloed in their approach to design… I liked startups because of the ability to be hands-on, do multiple things, and see a project through to the end.”

While creating professional growth opportunities for your designers is important, it doesn’t have to be difficult.

You can enable your designers to work in close proximity with developers, facilitating a self-sustaining learning environment that is appealing to many designers. Or, you can provide designers with the freedom to attend industry events that help them expand their expertise and improve their existing skill set.

The Bottom Line

At heart, recruiting top designers to your startup isn’t that much different than attracting any other employee, except that there’s such high demand for their talent. The startups that attract the best talent will be the ones that stand out in the recruiting process and make an effort to meet the creative and professional aspirations of prospective candidates.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Dana Rosenberg is the Community Development Lead at HealthTap, where she is in charge of user acquisition and engagement, marketing, PR, and branding. Dana is also the Lead for Women 2.0 Founder Friday Silicon Valley. Prior to moving out west, Dana was a consultant at a boutique healthcare strategy consulting firm in New York, where she advised clients on target screening, acquisition and product commercialization opportunities. Follow her on Twitter at @Dana_Rosenberg.

Anne-Gail Moreland

Anne-Gail Moreland

Anne-Gail Moreland, an intern with Women 2.0, was on the StartupBus. She studies neuroscience at Mount Holyoke College, where she is trying to merge a passion for tech and the brain into a new wave of cognition-based technology

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