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Ask HN: Should you have a full-time designer in a 3-4 person startup?
12 points by fndrqs 9 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 10 comments
I'm a first time founder with a backend engineering background. We are looking to improve our UI/UX since everyone on the team has an infrastructure background.

The options can think of are:

1) Hire a full time designer who only produces sketches. I think this is a bit too expensive for us at this stage (3-4 person startup) but I'm open to dissenting opinions.

2) Hire a UI/UX developer who can do design + code in our react stack.

3) Outsource design sketches to a contracting firm, and have a separate frontend developer.

Which approach has worked best in your experiences? I prefer (2) but have no idea how hard it is to hire someone who can do both design + front end code.

Open to anything right now and a little desperate, a clean UI is our main blocker to launch.






4) Have your team read and learn some basic UX concepts, take a stab at an initial UX then have feedback sessions with your pilot users.

The thing is - UX can make or break an app. It really does matter. But you can end up wasting a freakton of time trying to get it perfect on day one. I've literally seen designers take front-end teams down 1-2 year rabbithole trying to get it perfect before launch. And I've seen managers eat it up, thinking that if they just have the right UX, the market will flock to them. But no - it doesn't work like that.

You are looking for "Good enough." at this point. To get there, give pilot users something to complain about - let them tell you what they need. Let them show you where it feels painful. And listen to them. Then fix it. Truth be told, that is exactly what most designers will do anyway. The trick is to find the users who are good pilot users - ones who will talk to you instead of walking away. Not only will they guide you to the right answers as well as many designers, they'll feel personally invested in the process and help find more people to work with.


We've taken an initial stab and it's functional but I don't like it.

There is an element of perfectionism going on here, though.

Thanks for the advice on getting pilot users' feedback.


You don't need perfect UX for your initial product, get the functionality down and make it simple to use. Prove that it solves the problem your users have. You'll have plenty of time to improve the UX, and your pilot user's feedback will help drive that direction.

If UI is a blocker to launch, you should probably just solve that issue for the short term. There are many wonderful designers in the world. I recommend going towards the smaller shops that will be iterative with you - in my experience the bigger ones just want to take a list of requirements and design 10 screens while the smaller shops are willing to work with you to create a compelling design (and actually understand your use case!) for just a handful (which you can then apply the principles to the rest of your app).

In my case (startup currently consisting of just myself), I have a lovely designer who I contract with and I’m able to do just enough UI work to get by between projects with her. I highly recommend the “Refactoring UI” book for giving developers the skills to do the bare minimum of UI design (it’s relatively short and gives actionable principles). there’s no substitute for having someone who really (tries to) sit in the users shoes and figure out what a good (minimal!) experience should be.


We were in the same situation a few months ago.

Someone with a sense for design, UX and API design should

- Create well designed small components (Button, Link, Input, ...)

- Create well designed bigger components to compose small ones (List, Box, TabMenu, Expander, Modal, ...)

The rest of the team can now just build bigger components by composing existing ones. Things will look nice and consistent without too much effort. Fine-tuning can be done with an UI/UX affine teammate.

It sounds super simple and success highly depends on the quality of the components you use as the base. We have great success with this approach. It also empowers developers who don't have a feel for design to build good looking UIs by default.


Go for the second option now or over the medium term. In the short term you could pick option 3 until you can find the person to fit option 2. Generally full time designer is not necessary at the stage you describe with some exceptions.

If you use option 3, have them give you 3 deliverables,

1. the design files,

2. Output html if possible and

3. Get a style guide for the site.

You probably know this already but most of the time the HTML output you receive will be horrible adobe generated code, but I've found it convenient many times as it still gives you a way to snag all the styles without rebuilding them all right away. When you hire a good frontend person they will rework the styles anyway, so worry less about perfection at this stage and just get the site up and functional would be my 2 cents.


Is design the thing that matters most in your product? Does the product solve a problem that has not been solved for lack of good design in other products that took a jab at it ? If not, I'd say focus on what matters most now even if it doesn't look that pretty.

We have that problem in our backlog; it's an ML platform but CSS is not why most ML projects fail.

We make it do something valuable, then make it pretty.


Contact me. We were in a similar position 4 months ago.

We researched several options, took a stab ourselves, and eventually found an excellent firm to build our brand/style & more. They can do brand design/app design/implementation. Additionally, we found an excellent frontend engineer that knows great design. I have a couple of design resources I can share as well. Email in bio.


I think designers who can code are a bit rare. Unless you're bottlenecked by design or it's a market differentiator, just outsource it (whether that's 1, 2, or more contractors). Also there's no shame in rolling with Bootstrap, Bulma, etc until you're ready to invest more in to design.

I am available for UI/UX work full or part time. I can code too. rwoodall dot com



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