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Ask HN: How do you go about finding designers?
33 points by pyronicide on May 21, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments
Through the plethora of projects that I work on, there always seems to be one general question that comes up: Where in the world will I find someone to make this look good?

Asking around, it appears that this is a pretty common problem. Does anyone have any tips on ways to get involved with the designer community or specific designers?

Get friends who are artsy.

In all seriousness, I like working with a designer rather than hiring one. Part of it is how one sees design. Is design something you can just purchase? If so, isn't code just something you can purchase? I think that part of the reason we're here is that we realize that you can't just buy your way out of code problems. Code is important, it takes dedication and hard work not the fulfillment of some sort of spec list.

The same is true, in my personal opinion, of design. The design and interactions that users are going to experience are of a lot of importance. It's not that hard to find a designer who will work with you on a project. The key is to treat them like a partner rather than someone who is doing some lower form of work that you don't really need, but will make it look flashier to users. Even if you don't have money, it's possible to get people to come on if they're a partner in the project. I mean, artsy people really understand not getting paid (especially if you're in the same not getting paid boat). They don't understand being belittled and unappreciated - really, who does?

So, respect, partnership and working together can go a long way on random projects that probably won't amount to much. There are lots of sites like http://99designs.com where you can get people to compete on spec. It feels a bit cold to me - as if once a design is made, it's done. I prefer a more continual improvement thing.

I'm not saying 99designs doesn't serve a good purpose. It's just not my style. I also have a lot of artsy friends so it might be easier for me than you. If you can find someone who is good at graphic design and understands user experience, data layout, etc. it's awesome.

With all due respect, that is what hiring a designer is all about. The biggest complaint from actual designers about sites like 99designs is that design is an iterative process not an off-the-shelf product.

Relying on your artsy friends for design makes about as much sense as relying on your techie friends to build a website. Maybe you can get a favor if you happen to have a connection, but it certainly doesn't scale for a long term business decision.

That said, you can look at portfolio type sites like http://sortfolio.com/ to get an idea of style. Find one to your liking and see what their rates are. It's like talking to a tattoo artist about an idea versus buying one off the wall.

I guess I was assuming that these weren't serious web sites. Like, the OP said that they worked on a plethora of projects which sounded, to me, like lots of little side projects. I think it's ideal to work with artsy friends on those just like you'd work with techie friends. If you're doing something serious, clearly it's an employment thing not a buddy thing. However, sometimes you're doing a nice little project in your spare time and it's nice to build it with a friend who has a good visual sensibility and if it doesn't take off you've both spent some hours working on something cool and if it does take off you can continue working together.

I wholeheartedly agree with you, I'm really interested in a partnership with someone that can lead the design (and not just the art).

In my world though, I don't even know how to start getting friends that are artsy. Any good suggestions there?

Check with your local AIGA chapter. The very best designers are usually affiliated with the AIGA.

You could also call up a print shop. They know plenty of print designers, though to be fair they're not always up on web design.

If you want somebody to make your website look good, then you are looking for an artist. If you want somebody to make it work well, give it an appropriate aesthetic for the subject matter, and add more polish in general then you want a designer.

The first can be found on many sites including 99designs.com. Finding the latter is much harder. Lots and lots of networking is probably your best bet. As a ui designer I can say that there are no specific designer events you will find me at. Most design events focus on print design, and multimedia design is a synonym for Flash in the design world.

If you do do a job posting don't call the position web designer. Call it interface designer or ux designer. The applicants you get should be much more qualified.

Agreed, especially the sentiment that multimedia design is synonymous with Flash in the design world.

Interface/UX design is severally un-recgonized by large organizations like the AIGA, and most 'web-design' discussion centers around designerly portfolio sites, long pages mimicking print design, and of course Flash sites.

As a designer with an interest in CS I find myself constantly torn between two worlds, since most people on the design side don't care much for the CS and most people on the CS side don't care much for Paul Rand's or Pete Modrian's.

I've tried all sorts in the past from Elance to 99designs. The problem with both is the same - communicating the idea and lack of real buy-in. Elance was difficult because of the differences in timezone and language barriers. 99designs - well, I was quite enthused by the idea to begin with - I didn't really understand the concerns of the no-spec movement. After posting 2/3 projects there I can safely say I'll never use them again. The amount of effort you need to put in responding to a bunch of people who only half get what your trying to say (if you're lucky) and who don't really share your vision or have much invested in you and the working relationship is quite overwhelming. I'd advise against spec work for these reasons, and that the quality of the work is poor in comparison to designers who listen to your vision and buy in.

I feel quite fortunate as I've since managed to find a smallish (but growing) agency not to far from where I live that I couldn't be happier with. For the past couple of projects I've met them face-to-face where we've talked over goals and ideas while they presented options and suggestions. They're not afraid to call me out when I'm being too prescriptive but they make an effort to understand. What I like most of all is the working relationship, the communication and, above all, the quality of the finished product.

I found them by searching for designers within driving distance of where I live, digging through lots of portfolios trying to get a sense of whose work I enjoyed most and whether I thought I could afford it.

If you're having difficulty coming up with a shortlist http://sortfolio.com/ by the 37signals guys might be a good starting point; you can restrict agencies by geographic location and budget.

Most good designers will reject the idea that their job is simply "making things look good." A good designer will want to work with you early on in the development process. Try looking for local design groups in your area (ixda, refreshing cities, local computer-human interaction groups, etc.). Design != art, look for designers who talk more about user interaction/experience than photoshop.

I'm a left-brained person for the most part but by observing patterns and best practices on other well-designed sites, I literally learned my way through producing (above average to good) design for my projects. See ijiny.com and ekcoffee.com

I don't suggest this if you're looking to move fast as it's not easy, takes time, and a healthy resistance to frustration but I feel good that I could produce something that looks good _and_ is functional.

Also, if you designed it yourself, it's so much more convenient to make changes and experiment. I don't have to bug a freelance designer for the smallest of changes.

Ui should be simple. And while simple is not easy to get to, once you get there, it adds a whole another dimension to your skills and expertise. Once you have the essentials down, it's a smoother ride.

I'm starting this process right now. I'm sick of being so dependent on designers. Design is everywhere these days not just on the web. This disposable coffee cup which I am going to trash in a few seconds even has fancy design on it. The coffee holder even has a advertisement on it.

Whenever I build something, no one cares about the code, features, or performance. All they care about is how it looks.

Hey, I'm a designer. hajrice@gmail.com I had a post on HN recently. Anyway, here's a few samples of what I've done last week.

http://imgur.com/KRbNx.jpg http://imgur.com/w8S4A.jpg http://imgur.com/DlHDb.jpg http://imgur.com/qfhbv.jpg http://imgur.com/KedPg.jpg

I hope this is not in poor form but I too am a freelance UI designer/developer. From the HN crowd, I did some work for raffi (designed FeedbackArmy and AfterTheDeadline). My portfolio is at http://mdolon.com/ and my blog is http://devgrow.com/.

I like your stuff. We should work together.

I'd definitely be interested, hit me up on GMail and we can discuss it further (mdolon at gmail).

I'm a UI Engineer and designer also with 3D animation and video production skills to boot. I'd love to work with fellow HN members. Check my work out at http://www.johncozen.com and let's connect. john@johncozen.com

Whoa, you make a pretty stellar UI :)

My company does UI/Design and usability testing for developers (as well as development for designers/ad agencies).

Although I tend to work more on the development side of things I can tell you that finding competent, knowledgeable designers who understand how to create usable interfaces that will help increase conversion rates and still look appealing to the target market is no easy task.

We interviewed about 100 designers before we found a few that understood that design needs to support business objectives and solve business problems (like how do we get more sign-ups directly from our home page?)

Many of the designers out there are simply focused on making websites/interfaces that look good but don't actually support business objectives or customer needs.

The best designers take a problem solving approach instead of a purely aesthetic one. So when interviewing them be sure to ask plenty of "problem solving" type questions. This will help you weed out the "artsy" types from the serious designers.

One more piece of advice: stay away from sites like 99designs etc since the only designers on there seem to be ones who are just starting out and have very little experience solving real world problems. 99Designs may be great for small mom and pop outfits (think local deli, florist, etc) but it doesn't work well for serious start ups that will need to launch with an interface optimized for conversions.

If you are looking for a rock solid design team that also understands the development process, give me a shout. We're currently wrapping up some work for another incubator.

I don't know why this is question is asked so much, really.

Ask yourself this, "Where do you go about finding programmers?"

A good answer for this is usually at local meet up groups. Programmers don't have a monopoly on such things.

Some ideas for local meet ups:


Full disclosure: I'm a co-founder of Refresh Portland (http://refreshportland.org)

http://www.ixda.org/ http://www.sigchi.org/ http://webdesign.meetup.com/

For example, we recently had Jared Spool speak for free at Oregon's chapter of SIGCHI, CHIFOO. It was free and jam packed with around 180+ designers.

I'm sure that there are a quite a few groups where designers go to gather and talk about topics that are important to them.

So, my advice is to go to a designer meet up and mingle. Even if you don't find a designer right away, just tell them about your project and they might know a friend of a friend.

This is EXACTLY what I was looking for. I didn't even know that designer meetups existed. Thanks!

I'm quitting my job at the end of the month and can mercenary out for anyone here (sorry about the plug :( i'm quitting my job at the end of the month, more as a consequence of hating it rather than having a clear lineup of shit i wanna do to sustain me)

do design/dev/ux/strat/whatever/i pet my cat


I've used elance for finding designers. Though it worked out for me, it is not guaranteed that we always hook up with a good designer. I think we've to make sure that portfolio is decent and also make sure you write terms and conditions with low upfront fee/very close 1st milestone with at least 1 web page design. If you feel that it is not going in the right direction, dont hesitate to back out. I think the first few days of design activity is crucial and you need to make sure you've interacted sufficiently with the designer, before cutting the relationship.

obviously, if you find someone good, hang on to that relationship.

I put an ad for graphic designers on a local job board for a short term web design contract and got plenty of applicants. I also browsed istockphoto and directly contacted designers whose work I liked.

Pick a designer/firm you like, work with them on a project or two and try to keep sending work if it goes well. If they're not available take recommendations. To throw out a couple of references, I've been very happy with domo (http://okdomo.com) and TwoGuys (http://weretwoguys.com/).

Seeing as Dave Browning (half of We're Two Guys) works with us (We Are Titans, http://wearetitans.net), I'll second that.

I'm also freelancing, looking to bootstrap one day. I'm an UI/UX designer. Feel free to contact me design ATpmura.com, or just have a look at my works http://www.pmura.com/labs.

Fortunately or unfortunately for you, I'm the type of guy who likes to be involved during the development process (even from the idea/concept if possible).

I'm faced with this problem everyday.

I have posted in Freelance Switch with good results.

You can check this designer for example: http://www.lorenzociglioni.com (based in Rome, really cool guy)

Other than that you can check out http://www.sortfolio.com (form the 37signals folks)

I'm sure that in HN are a few.

I worked recently with http://www.justalab.com/ - I totally recommend them !

Go through sortfolio or websites like that and pick out a style you like. Many agencies stick with one style. One of the examples is Metalab. I'm sure you all know their style. We do more of a modern minimalistic style at http://www.designvetica.com

In addition to Sortfolio, which has been mentioned by others, check out the work on http://dribbble.com/ - there are some really great designers posting their work there. Shouldn't be too hard to find one whose work you like.

Edit: Fixed the link.

There are three b's in dribbble :)


I'll say it, as long as you realize that the "make this look good" part is on equal footing with the app development and are willing to compensate them as such... you can find them on http://collabfinder.com

I'd love an answer for this too.

I asked in a post on HackerNews for a designer earlier this week and received no comments or responses. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1363053

The way I find designers is I have been friends with one for awhile so he does a lot of my work. I ask him and he gives me a list of people. So always ask designers who they know and keep a contact list ;p

This doesn't look so active, but it might hold promise: http://collabfinder.com/designers/

I'm a designer - find plenty of us on drawar.

word of mouth referral, always. If i can outsource, i absolutely will. it can save a lot of $. if i work U.S. based read proposals carefully. lots of developers charge in three hour blocks and will ding you for three hours to put a line of code from google analytics on a site -- which takes 3 minutes.

How much do you pay good designers per hour? I find many times designers are under appreciated.

Its a really tough question. I have tried many of the routes suggested above. Elance, 99design and carbonmade. None of the experiences were great - elance and 99design work well for one off projects such as logo design and both vehicles provide many cost effective solutions, but designers are often in other countries in different time-zones and may speak different languages and the result is often poor communication, difficulty setting/meeting deadlines and lack of real understanding and buy-in from the designer.

Carbonmade is higher end and really just provides portfolios of design work to peruse and contact information - I found the hit rate on making contact to be very low and ultimately ran into communication/timing/buy-in problems here too.

Short of engaging a design cofounder/partner/employee, your best bet is to use a site like carbonmade to try to find someone local and to meet face to face and establish a relationship with the designer - difficult unless you are in NYC or LA/SF or other design hubs.

I echo the sentiment that design is critical.

Good luck.

I'm a designer by day, but I'd be up to do some freelance work -- altojunk @ gmail.

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