You probably have many things to take care of, and your funds are somewhat limited. Why bother hiring a designer? Unfortunately, the expectations of users are very high these days. They're used to products built by big teams that have smooth animations, cutting-edge graphics and look and feel that makes them use the app again and again.
Of course, if your app gets something important done allowing to achieve the goal that can't be reached otherwise, people will keep using it despite the moderately-looking UI or terrible UX.
However, if you’re entering the market, it makes sense to increase your chances of success. Hiring a designer will allow you to create a compelling user experience and make sure that your app feels as good as other apps your users use daily.
Who does what
There are many types of designers out there, here are some specializations you might be working with:
- Graphics designers are well-versed in producing visual graphics that can be used in your marketing materials. Depending on skills and expertise a graphics designer can create a logo, or an illustration or design the ad graphic for your next campaign.
- Motion designers can bring still images to life. They can animate graphics and illustrations to create videos, presentations, demos, and title sequences. They also create animations for the interfaces reacting to user actions (micro interactions)
- UI/UX designers are creating user interfaces and making sure that the product delivers the experience that feels good to the user. They perform the research by interviewing users and testing their designers with them.
UI and UX design
It’s common to see people talking about UI/UX designers, but really these two roles are quite hard to combine. Just like the full-stack developers, true UI/UX designers are hard to find. Most of the times they do more of the UI side.
UX specialists are those who create wireframes and screen flows based on research. UX designers are more of analysts in the design field. They don’t decide on button colors or fonts and images used. Instead, they do the preparation part before the UI design starts — interviewing users, conducting tests and creating user personas. It's an intense work in the field that rarely can be outsourced. If you’re an early-stage startup this work should be done by one of the founders.
You might think that the job of a UI designer is to make wireframes look good visually. It is true, but there’s a twist — UI designers should also think about how things work based on the user input. Work of the UI designer includes interaction design to make sure that user knows what UI elements can be interacted with just by looking at them and that the user understands the result of interaction and her further options.
User interfaces have been around for decades, and during these years plenty of patterns emerged that are expected by users. A good designer knows those patterns and doesn’t create something that user won’t understand just for the sake of the design.
There are UI frameworks that embrace those patterns that you can use, especially at the beginning of your startup. Two of the most popular ones are Twitter Bootstrap and Material UI by Google. They look quite generic, and there are plenty of apps using these frameworks, but using them will allow you to cut down design time and cost significantly by finding a designer who uses one of them.
If you already have wireframes created and you use a UI framework you reduce the work to two steps: making sure that user flow is good and arranging pre-designed UI elements in a consistent and visually appealing way. These steps still require strong design skills so I would not recommend doing this if you don’t have them.
There are plenty of themes for those UI frameworks out there. They add style variations to the pre-defined set of UI elements so that your app does not look too generic. You can find many Bootstrap templates on WrapBootstrap.
An additional benefit of using a UI framework like Bootstrap is that it streamlines frontend development, making the creation of interfaces in the actual app faster and more efficient for developers. To benefit from that make sure that the designer knows the limitations of the UI framework so that she doesn’t create additional work for frontend developers.
How to hire
Finding a designer is easier than finding a developer, but finding a good one is still quite hard. If you are at the early stage, you would ideally look for someone with good branding, UI and interaction design skills. Branding is crucial if you don't have a logo and brand guidelines for fonts and colors. Don’t expect one person to create an elegant interface and a brand book, but look for someone who can do something decent on the branding side in addition to UI work.
Another skill you want in the designer is understanding of UX. Sure, all designers who have interfaces in their portfolio state that they are UI/UX designers, but only a few of them indeed are. You can judge by listening to the questions a designer ask about your project. Does she care about user personas and scenarios? Does she have comments for your wireframes? It is crucial because the good designer can spot issues in your wireframes and propose a better solution.
Hiring is a tedious process. You will have to go through tons of portfolios scanning for the style that appeals to you and matching skills and experience to what you are looking for. Look for candidates who were already working on a similar product or at least within the same set of requirements (e.g., don’t hire mobile app designer for a web app). Agree on the tools you are going to use and how they will deliver the final product. If you want a fixed-price contract make sure to include the number of refinements you expect, it’s a common point of conflict.
Technically hiring a designer is no different from hiring for any other role. Make sure that you have set clear expectations about the communication, work schedule, payments, and deliverables.