I was showing Inez & Vinoodh’s Stephanie Seymour’s photograph on Artsy to a friend. “Beautiful!”, she exclaimed and clicked on the Inez & Vinoodh artist profile. I lost her for an hour to browsing the site. She added works to favorites. And inquired for one with a gallery, which is core to our subscription business. The reason why this kind of engagement happens time-and-again is, most definitely, not an accident. It is, of course, the art, but it’s also the very deliberate work of the Artsy design team.
When do you hire your first designer and what is the most cost effective strategy around such an animal?
I think for any product that cares about user experience (all products?), the most cost-effective strategy is to have a full time designer. I don’t mean the cheapest, I mean cost-effective in the medium and long term.
Let me explain. I want to build products that people love (not just use). I’ve long concluded that a designer is no different than an engineer, if not more rare and often more valuable. Designers have UI and UX skills (often non-overlapping), but also often take a lot of product ownership (but rarely project management), which is extremely powerful when you try to deliver something end-to-end. They also are flexible and can produce visual identity, stories, clarify requirements or help with wording or messaging to your users. They make systems that are easy to implement across the board and help prevent the proliferation of one-offs that are very expensive. Designers are peers to the engineering team and often have their hands dirty in the product, working through whatever issues an engineer may have, so they are helpful every day when they aren’t “designing”. They also do a lot of upfront work, reducing the programming cost tremendously. And a good designer will wear many hats, just like any good programmer. In sum, I would hire a designer any time before a product specialist.
My rule of thumb: if you’re hiring full time developers, hire a full time designer.
If you’re not hiring full time anybody (maybe bootstrapping something yourself), I would consider a part time designer, too. Maybe pay them a retainer and have them work X hours a week. I would stay away from defining rigid requirements, much like I would stay away from defining those for an engineer. A good designer should know where to start from the “we don’t even have a logo” and will deliver all the artifacts needed for a project on an ongoing basis.