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Today, you’re going to learn how to build an amazing design team.
In most startups, design is often overlooked or seen as a nice-to-have instead of a must-have. But this mentality can quickly send startups on a one-way trip to the startup graveyard.
The first thing founders need to understand when thinking about the design of their mobile app or product is that design is not limited to the pixels. The design of an app is much more than pretty buttons and cool animations. The design is how the app is experienced from the moment it’s opened to the moment it’s closed. Your design can be the difference between building an app that people come back to over and over again and an app that is downloaded and never opened a second time.
Once you have a clear understanding of the important role that design plays in the success of your app, it’s important to realize that a design team’s success is determined by more than just the people you bring on board.
A design team’s success is also determined by the the roles they play, the tools they use, the culture they operate within and the structures that allow them to deliver results. Founders need to take each of these elements seriously if they want to assemble a high-quality design team and equip them for success.
Picking the right people for your design team is the most important of all. If you hire the wrong people, you’ll start down the wrong path and may eventually have to start all over with a new team that can actually deliver. Finding the right designers for your project can be challenging—but it’s not impossible.
Walk in to your search for the perfect design team knowing exactly what you need. Do you need one person who can be contracted for a short period of time, or are you looking to build a 3- to 4-person design team that will become a fundamental part of your startup’s DNA? Identifying which kind of team is right for you at this stage will be a huge factor in knowing where you should look and whom you should look for.
We’ve worked with all kinds of companies, from early-stage technical teams to startups with existing design teams and revenue. In both cases, MindSea was hired to help with design because of our ability to tackle mobile design challenges and deliver quality iOS and Android app experiences for our clients.
As you build your design team, it’s important to look at their previous work to see that they can deliver. It’s also important to take the time to speak with their past employers or clients to ensure that your prospective designers are reliable and easy to work with. If you can accomplish this, you’re more likely to find a successful design team than if you judged them solely on their portfolio.
Like any other professional team, design teams should consist of assigned roles. Each role comes with a different scope of responsibilities, tasks and expertise. The structure in which these roles operate is an important factor, as it can make or break a team long-term. A lot of early-stage startups make the mistake of creating no clear roles for their design teams and hoping they will instead design by committee. In reality, the best approach for a design team is to establish a sense of structure.
Here’s what the typical roles on a design team look like:
Design Director: Directors push their teams to answer the tough questions about their decisions and are constantly trying to ensure that design decisions are based on reason, not gut instinct. The design director has the final say on the design team when it comes to decisions about the approach being taken.
Design Manager: Managers are responsible for making sure that the design team delivers on the overarching vision and successfully executes based on strategies and plans. Design managers understand how to make experiences that matter and how to help other designers do the same.
Designers: Designers come up with and implement ideas related to how the product works, how users interact with it, how it looks and how it behaves between frames. Within this role, there are a variety of specialties, and some design teams require a vast range of expertise—designers can take on roles in UX, illustration, animation and more. Together, this collaborative group will be on the front lines of bringing the project to life.
If you’re a large startup, hiring for each role would be an ideal scenario, but for early-stage startups, that’s not always a financially feasible solution. Keep in mind that roles and individuals don’t have to match up perfectly—one person can take on multiple roles. In small startups, it’s common to hire only one designer, and that individual takes on the triple role of design director, design manager and individual designer.
Limited resources are one reason that many early-stage startups outsource their app design to a third party. Our own partnership with Glue is a great example of how a third-party team can help a startup bring their ideas to life through design:
It’s important to arm your team with the best tools of the trade.
There are a number of tools that can help designers craft a quality app, but not all designers are the same. Some designers have a preference for one tool over the next, so in the early days, you shouldn’t force your designer to use a specific tool just because you want them too. In a startup, you need to be optimizing for speed—if a designer is faster on one software than the next, let them use the tool that will take less time.
In this blog post, our design director, Reuben Hall, does a great job highlighting a handful of tools that designers use to plan and build beautiful apps. I strongly recommend that you take the time to check it out and consider these tools when you begin to think about your design process and what you’ll need to equip your team with.
When you’re building your design team, another key component of the equation is the culture that surrounds your team. The culture of your organization as a whole will have a lasting impact on how work is developed and what your final product looks like.
Founders set the company culture within a startup. If you’re committed to open communication, it’s more likely that your team will follow suit. If you’re committed to embracing ideas from anyone regardless of their title, it’s more likely that your team will be too. The takeaway here is simple: Embrace the habits you hope to instill within your team to build a lasting corporate culture.
One of the most important parts of a healthy company culture is a commitment to design. Too many founders view design as a secondary element of the product, when in reality, the design of the product is what often determines its success or failure. Founders can help create a culture that celebrates design by enforcing regular design reviews, ensuring that design always has a seat at the table and hiring the best design talent possible.
Design reviews should happen throughout the design and development process. Early on in a project, a design review could be a quick meeting with another designer before presenting a concept to the larger team for a more in-depth design review. During development of an app, designers should regularly review in-progress builds to ensure the UX and layout of the app is as amazing as it was envisioned to be. At any stage of a project, a design review is an opportunity for improvement. Teams that overlook design reviews as a part of the process are often left scratching their heads wondering how they missed key features—once it’s too late.
While design reviews are tactical efforts that have an impact on culture, a startup’s design vision is also an important piece of the puzzle. Your design vision isn’t a scheduled action like a standing meeting, but rather a set of guiding ideas that must be communicated to the entire team from day one. It should act as the foundation of all design decisions, ensuring that when tough decisions need to be made, someone at the table is invested in the design of the product, not just the technical specs.
A quality design team can help a good product become something great with just a few weeks of work.
Not sure if you need a design team quite yet? We’d be happy to jump on a quick call, learn more about your vision and give you some insight based on our experiences helping other startups. Get in touch today!