Hire two designers, not one
If you can’t hire a designer it’s probably because you don’t have a design culture.
Right now the market for designers is C.R.A.Z.Y.. Across all industries, across all disciplines, everyone is looking to hire designers. Every single one of our clients is looking to hire production designers. At least four of our clients at Rocket are looking for design directors. In fifteen years I have never seen design so much in demand.
And there are more designers than ever on the market. But, counter-intuitively, many companies cannot seem to hire even a single designer. Why is that? The answer is simple: Firms can’t hire designers because they have no design culture to begin with. They have no design environment to attract designers with. When companies say “You are our first designer and we want you to come in and lead Design” they believe it’s the pitch that designers want to hear. But they are really asking designers to work solo, without other designers, and without support. Without someone to review their designs. Without someone who understands the politics of design. Without someone to kvetch with. Without someone who understands fully what they do.
This designer will report to someone who is not a designer. They will present their work to stakeholders who work in a company *without designers*! Think about that…if you do not have designers already it says volumes about how you value design. If this is the case it is likely that your company does not have a healthy relationship with design. If you do not have a design team then you cannot, by definition, have a design friendly culture. It does not count that you have one or two non-designers who fancy themselves design-minded. (and it’s not in your interest to talk about yourself like that if you’re not a designer…designers recognize someone who will overrule them)
Designers typically don’t want to work alone. Yes, being the *lead* is great. But what designers really want is to grow and learn from other designers. It’s that simple. If you cannot give designers the opportunity to learn from other designers then your environment is not ideal.
Relative to what I’m seeing in the market, I have an easy time hiring designers. Why? Because when I bring in a potential hire I introduce them to a team of a dozen designers they can learn from! Designers immediately see this support network they didn’t have before and they know at the very least they will improve their craft, have others to learn from, and work with people with similar interests. One of my initial goals when introducing a recruit to the team is to find a specific designer who I think they will get along well with…if I can do this quickly then the hire is half done.
If you already have a big design team you know this…you know that merely introducing the new recruit to the team is the most powerful thing you can do. This blog post is not for them…this is for the product team who is struggling building a design team in the first place.
So, here’s a crazy idea: hire two designers instead of one. Don’t start off with a single designer. Hire two at once. Don’t hire that lone person and expect them to perform miracles alone. And don’t wait until you have a years worth of budget for two people. Invest! Invest in design by kickstarting your team with two people. They will have support of at least one other designer. They will have some feeling of being on a design team. They will likely start doing design reviews outside of regular product review meetings. Encourage this! Designers want and need other designers to push them in a safe space…before the work is shown around the company. They want more than anything to become better designers so set up an environment where they can do so!
There is a lot of advice out there about how to improve your recruiting process. Are our interview questions right? Should we do a design exercise or not? What order should things be? How do we assess a design portfolio? Etc. Those are important things to think about, but none of those things matter if you do not have a design culture to hire someone into.
Tactically, I realize this will be hard. But designers know designers. Start building a relationship with a single designer whose work is up to snuff and tell them that you have an amazing opportunity for them and a designer friend. Pay them well and see what happens.
(N.B. Even though I constantly talk about this with clients I’m publishing this on my personal blog b/c it is not official Rocket advice…)