In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to work successfully with designers.

Working with a designer can be quite challenging, especially when you’re not a designer. From choosing one to giving them feedback on their work, to actually getting feedback from them. Managing your interaction with a designer requires some sort of skill.

In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten dive into how to work with a designer when you’re not a designer, the importance of interviewing designers you want to work with, how to give feedback to a creative person and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:43 Why this topic was chosen.

03:03 How to work with creative people.

03:17 The helpfulness of a portfolio.

03:52 The importance of interviewing designers.

04:13 One of the biggest challenges of working with designers.

04:54 How to give feedback to a creative person.

05:41 How to treat designers at work.

06:00 How Hiten works with designers.

07:53 How to approach getting feedback from a designer.

3 Key Points:

  • The good news is that designers tend to have portfolios.
  • With creative people, you need to figure out what their requirements are in order for them to do their job.
  • What do they need from you to produce good work?


Steli Efti:
Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah:  And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: And today on the startup chat we’re going to talk about how to work successfully with designers. Heaton when I just proposed this topic to you about 11 seconds ago, you were like, ooh, this is a fun one, yes, let’s do it. There was a lot of enthusiasm there. So this obviously is focused on founders that maybe haven’t had a lot of chances to work with designers and that aren’t designers themselves. We’ve done some episodes prior, that makes you look it up real quick. Boom, there you go. So we talked about how to work with like a technical co-founder when you’re not technical yourself or how to work with an engineer when you’re not an engineer yourself in episode 277. So we thought today might be fun to talk about how to work with a designer when you’re not a designer, kind of do’s, don’ts and all that. So what comes to your mind at first when it comes to avoiding mistakes? The way to think about this? If you’re not a designer, you’re starting a startup, let’s say it’s something technical, how do I choose who is a good designer? Who isn’t? Then how do I work with somebody that is a designer when I myself don’t have experience designing things?


Hiten Shah: Yeah. So the good news is designers tend to have portfolios. The other good news, unlike a developer is like far relatively inexpensive, like $500, $1000 dollars, sometimes less, you can get them to do some work with you. Well, engineering is a lot different and it takes usually lot more money than that to figure out whether you like working with the person or not. That means that even if you’re looking to hire a designer or even like, let’s just talk about the entryway. Like you’re hiring a designer, you’re looking for one, you can try this with three or four different designers and see who you like and assess them in appropriate manners around like quality of their work, timeliness of their feedback, how much input they need. Because I think what we forget is that, when working with creative people, they have their own requirements of what they need in order to do their work, and we need to be able to provide that as people who are wanting something done. I think it’s a lot more straightforward than hiring and working with developers except that creative people, you need to figure out what are their requirements in order to do their job, and how can you get them what they need. Do they need wire frames? Do they need a writeup? Do they need examples? What do they need from you in order to create the work that you’re looking for?


Steli Efti: I love that, and I want to underline this a little bit because, you said designers have portfolios, you can look at those kind of the pass work they’ve done. And because it’s visual, it’s not just pure code, you can as a layman look at it and say, do I find this visually pleasing? Do I find this intuitive? Or practical or whatever it is. And based on your taste and what you’re trying to accomplish, you can make a probably a much better assessment than just looking at somebody’s coat, but he is right in deciding if they’re a good developer or not. But one nice thing that you can do on top, what you brought up is like what do they need to work well with you or to produce good work. And that’s a question oftentimes we don’t ask, like what does this person need from me in order to do the best work they can? One little hack around this is to just look at their best work or the work that you like the best and just interview them about that, hey, out of your portfolio, these two things stood out to me, can you tell me a bit about the process on how you develop these designs, who you work with, what they provided you with? And if they say that, typically they like to have a writeup or wire frames or usually a lot of times creative people like this when they work for clients or they work with somebody else, one of the biggest challenge will be lack of clarity or lack of directions. The person told me to do X, I did X, and then they told me they expected something totally different, something they never brought up before. That was important. So ask them who worked particularly well with them and what they did. Maybe you could even ask them to share the project writeup or the wire frames that this other kind of theirs or other prior coworker had shared with them, to see a good template of what they need to do their best work.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I think that’s great. I love your question of asking them how, what they needed in order to produce the results that they got. I think that’s really great.


Steli Efti: Beautiful. One other thing that I wanted to bring up with you is the, how do I give feedback to somebody that’s creative. Two, things that have popped up in the past is kind of like, I worked with a designer, typically I really like their work, but then this thing I think is really ugly or terrible. How do I see these things? How do I give really frank feedback without hurting that person’s feelings? And the other question is this thing that happens often I think with creatives in general and with designers in particular sometimes, is that sometimes particularly great designers, they might just be a bit looser on the deadlines. They might be a bit late with their work. Do I let that slide because I like the designs? Do I push them to be super hard on the deadlines but maybe then frustrate them or burn them out on that relationship? Do I have to treat designers differently from other coworkers basically because they are creatives, and particularly in the way I give feedback or how firm I am on deadlines and timelines and things of that nature?


Hiten Shah: I like to always no matter what focus in on the other kind of person to like the designer and have them set their timelines and dates for me or for them. That way I’m very much focused on what they say they can do. Sometimes you might have a deadline and you can ask can you do it by this date? But my typical process, and I might be a little different than other people like that, is to understand what they can do and in what amount of time. Because sometimes you’ll be surprised at how fast someone can work. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how slow something is going to be, and that allows you to have an opportunity to discuss it. I tend to not like the relationship where I’m dictating the timeline, and then the person feels pressured to get it done in that time, or the person is like, that’s easy, I can take my time doing it. I’d rather figure out what they think.


Steli Efti: I love that. In terms of feedback, again, we can loop this in back to some of the things that we said prior. Again, I would ask just the designer, what kind of feedback? How do you like to get feedback? What happens when there’s strong disagreements? When you design something and somebody is very critical feedback, what’s the way that you typically like to receive this? Is it better to have kind of a virtual audio video call to receive feedback? Is it better to have it written up so you can like marinate on this? Just ask them how they’d like to receive feedback and just pay attention to, if they’re the type of personality that needs more positive encouragement to do the greatest work. Or if they are the type of person that just, when you have something critical to say they just want you to say it really kind of directly, because if you dance around it, it kind of insults their intelligence or whatever. Because they see through it and they might get upset about that. Just ask them what kind of feedback they need to do their best work and then see if you can adjust to that, and see how they respond to the feedback that you give them. If you give feedback and every time you give feedback to the designer, they don’t respond well, or the work they do afterwards is still not what you needed, obviously the feedback loop isn’t working and then you can choose to get frustrated with a designer or you could choose to be flexible and try to adjust and change the way you give feedback and see if that’s gonna work out. But that’s it I think for this episode, these are some kind of very simple things that we shared, but I think everything that you need to get rocking and rolling, and then I think the same tip that we’ve given prior in other episodes in terms of working with other people, applies here. Just because you’re not a designer, this is somebody that’s doing design, you shouldn’t constantly doubt yourself and second guess yourself. These are also just people like you, they want to do great work, you want them to do great work. When you have opinions or you have directions just give them and just create a culture where they can give you feedback as well on your style, on your feedback, on your direction, so you can improve and grow versus constantly being endowed, well I’m not a designer, I don’t like this but I’m not a designer so I’m not sure if I should change it. Well, I’m not a designer. You know what you need to accomplish, you know who you’re trying to build things for, hopefully for your customers. And so, don’t over second guess yourself and dug yourself just because you don’t have 20 years of design experience.


Hiten Shah: Right.


Steli Efti: I think that that’s kind of a big thing that we want to throw out there to people. Just encourage them to trust in your gut and your intuition and try to just learn and improve as you accrue more experience working with designers.


Hiten Shah: Get better every day.


Steli Efti: There you go. That’s it from us for this episode, we’ll hear you very soon.


Hiten Shah: See you.