on finding a designer

We recently posted a job looking for a designer for our startup.

We wanted a design geek who could banter usability theory on the phone, then hang up and make magic happen in the code.  Not an easy person to find, and ultimately we posted this job twice to find the right person.[1]

We received over 250 applications, and going through them was an adventure.  As they came in I checked their portfolios and sorted applications into “oooh”, “maybe” and “no”.  This worked well enough, and I could move applications from one category to another as the process went along.[2]

Along with all the generic “I want a job” applications destined for the trash, we heard from a diverse crowd.  One email might be from someone in New York requiring $120/hour, and the next from a small team in Poland competing on price at $7/hour.

We heard from print designers, web designers, illustrators, several programmers and a project manager at Microsoft.  Twelve people ended up with a the label “interesting”; not right for the job but I’d love to have a beer with them someday.

In the end, Roben Kleene impressed the heck out of us and is already doing great work.  Welcome aboard sir!

Hopefully this review will help other small startups when hiring a designer.  Happy to answer questions in the comments.


Results by site

Cost “Oooh” $/”Oooh” Notes Rating*
$185 1 $185 Not sure why we didn’t get more applications here.  I think they’re quite popular in the UK, perhaps time zones got in the way.
$200 1 $200 I had some initial trouble posting the job (my fault), but Michael Arrington took care of it right away.*

(Authentic Jobs)
$250 2 $125   Designer found here!
5 $110 Great quality, very targeted.

$100 2 $50 Posted in Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles ($25), San Francisco ($75), Boulder, Austin & Seattle.   Craigslist reaches a lot of people, but the average application isn’t very good.
$52 1 $52 Many applications, slightly more qualified than Craigslist.

(Joel on Software)
$350 The designer jobs section is tiny but I tried it anyway because of their guarantee.  Indeed the response was small, and I got a prompt refund with a smile.   Impressive.*
free Posting process was frustrating.

(Programmer meet Designer)
free Neat concept and targetted to designers. Medium volume.
Totals $1,312 12 $109.33

*Ratings are based on both the quantity and percentage of high-quality, targeted applications received.  Some of my favourite sites didn’t rate highly, simply because they’re not targeting the design crowd.  I expect the ratings would be quite different if we were posting a programming or marketing gig. 

[1]  In theory, if you can’t find the perfect person you should walk away.  Hire no-one.

In the real world that’s not how it works.  Even if there are no candidates that make your heart race, you will hire someone.  The solution is to manage the process with this reality in mind, and attract as many qualified applications as you can.

Volume is the answer.

[2]   Next time I’ll use a separate email account to receive applications.  That way they’re not mixed in with all my other email, and it enables sharing when appropriate with relevant team members.


51 Comments on “on finding a designer

  1. Aaron, so what was it about your final pick that got him the job?

  2. There were many designers who could make beautiful graphics, but Roben’s really good at the theoretical stuff as well. Talking about why this image should go here, that text should be shorter so it’s not so distracting, that sort of thing.

    • I don’t see how a number can be put on how much trfiafc a certain position gets over the next. Even if you personally own all ten positions for any given keyword the actually sites design could either keep the user on the site or makes the user leave the site. A well designed site with the product/service the user needed will have a higher ratio then a site ranked #1 that’s been designed badly. I have two sites (my client) ranked in position #1 and #2, I do seo for both but I designed the #2 site, that site received twice as much trfiafc from long tail keywords but the average time on the site was about 5 minutes while the other was 1 minute. I think that should go into the factoring when debating the true value of #1.

  3. Pingback: Brain Handles » Blog Archive » Finding The Right Designer

  4. Hi guys,
    I’m the person behind ProgrammerMeetDesigner. You’ve got an interesting comparison here. I just wanted to point out that you don’t need to keep checking the site to see offers on your listing. You will automatically receive an email whenever a new offer is made.


  5. Hi Kasra,

    Thanks for commenting, and congrats on building something so neat. I probably overlooked that feature somehow, is it on by default? I’ll update this post.

  6. Aaron, thanks for sharing this great information!

    Readers of this article may also be interested in one that Smashing Magazine put up today- “47 good starting points you could begin your search for new IT job opportunities from” [http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/03/08/ittech-job-boards/]

  7. Tim, that is a great list of job sites, definitely useful next time we’re hiring. Thanks!

  8. Thanks for the detailed break-down, guys. Of course, I’m a little biased, but it’s certainly interesting to see how each job board worked (or didn’t) for your opening.

    Most importantly, congrats Roben!

  9. Nice tips…..it seems like we could get a longer list going though. Maybe somebody else has posted something like this and we could compile the data….there’s a diamond in every rough so who knows.


  10. Cameron: Fore sure. I’m glad it’s been useful to people. The rankings didn’t end up where I would have expected going into it, but I suppose that’s the point.

    John: When we post another job, I’ll definitely add some more job boards to the list and write an updated and expanded verison. There are many boards I didn’t cover, simply because we didn’t know about them yet. If you know of other lists I’d love to know about them.

    Suzanne: Liz Danzico mentioned AIGA last year at SXSW, but we didn’t post the position there (I don’t remember why offhand, sorry). Do you have any results from posting a position there?

  11. Can you please explain the costs table. I don’t get it because I never used sites like this. Do you pay per advert or per CV you get in your mail inbox?

    • This is getting a bit more sujebctive, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like Mixview’ that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you’re listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of neighbors will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune Social is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose.

  12. Valent: Sure thing. The costs table is listing how much it cost us to post the job there.

    Chris: We ended up finding a designer on Authentic Jobs (the one above with the little gold cup in the notes column.

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  14. Hey Respiro,

    Sure thing. Initially I was impressed by the spare design and careful copy choices in his translation app Lingos.cc. More importantly, we clicked right away when we got on the phone and talked about design and building web apps.

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  16. Aloha from the other side of the Pali,

    Awesome comparison chart. Wasn’t really surprised to see the quality on Craigslist to be on the low end. And, like you, would have expected more from Vitamin.

    Regarding your idea for separate email accounts. You may already know this, bit if you use one of your Gmail accts, you can add a “+whatever” to the left side of your address. So, for example, let’s say you have “aarond@gmail.com.” You could register at TechCrunch with “aarond+tc@gmail.com” or “aarond+techcrunch@gmail.com” and then easily filter messages based on the “To” field to be tagged appropriately.

    Then when you’re done, you just filter messages with that “To” address to be rejected to go to the Trash.

    Other nice thing about using these “simple alias” Gmail addresses, if you start to receive spam, you know which site has a spam bot or harvesting problem.

    Looking forward to the new design.

  17. Thanks for the comment Shane, nice to hear from you!

    I agree, that’s a great gmail technique, the only trouble in this case was that the applicants were all going to one page, so it could only list one address.

    Anyways, great point though, and very useful day to day.

  18. Hi Aaron,

    I just bumped in you guys at 37signals [sunspot] post and I definitely going to grab your rss..
    Loved your writing and your personal approach in your post and comments.

    We (Clirities) recently started our own thing – diligently develop our own first product (which I cannot reveal at the moment, I can only tell that it’s going to ease business-client relationships).
    Making long story short.. we’re in the middle of reckless searches after good designer, with great verbal qualities that speaks web2.0 (not necessarily mother tongue), but as opposed to you we cannot “cash” the guy/garl, we can only offer percentage on future revenues.
    Do you think we have a chance to find any good designers that would take that chance? Or should we open “Photoshop” book(s) and postpone our launch date to 2020 :-)?
    And if so where do you recommend us to look for her/him?

  19. Hey Oren,

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve never tried to hire someone with a percentage of revenues instead of cash, but I’d think it would add some additional hurdles to the process.

    I would imagine that since it’s unpaid, it would mean you’d be looking for someone to work with you part-time, outside of their main focus (work, school, etc). And I would assume that your primary way of attracting them is going to be passion and opportunity rather than cash.

    Keep in mind a percentage of revenues might feel like a big opportunity to you because you know and believe in your idea, but to someone on the outside cruising a job board it might be a different story.

    I would emphasize the opportunity for public recognition, a chance to work on a bigger more exciting project than perhaps they’ve worked on before, a flexible working arrangement if you can offer that, and if you’re just starting off (and haven’t done a lot of work already) you might want to consider making them a full partner in the venture.

    Hope that helps, and all the best with it!

    – aaron

  20. Hey Aaron. Did you get any people through referral? I realize you sourced your guy through a searchsite but the theory goes that if you are a nice guy people tend to refer their friends to you. Did anyone come through that way?

    Did any of the applicants want to work F/T in toronto as a Web Developer? (I sound like a broken record sorry..)

  21. Hi Joshua,

    On this job search we got maybe 10 people who said explicitly that they were referred by someone (we offered a $500 bounty) but there are probably others who heard about it but didn’t mention that.

    In the lifetime of the company we’ve hired many few folks through referral though, friends of friends. Because no-one wants to vouch for someone who doesn’t work out, people are usually careful about who they recommend…

    I don’t know if any applicants were looking to work in Toronto, but maybe leave your contact details and designers seeing this thread could get in touch.

    – aaron

  22. Hey all,

    wouldn’t it be a good idea to contact some webdesign company, and ask for their assisstance? Most tof the companies have skilled proffessionals and experts, who have dealed with for years… Of cource such services in most cases will be costly, but will you be 100% sure in quality of work of a freelancer?

    Hmmm….. just thoughts in my mind…..

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  24. Check out this better craigslist alternative: squibers.com you can view classifieds by photo, and get SMS alerts when things you want come for sale. Its SO awesome I never have to use craigslist anymore! craigslist alternative squibers

  25. Did you try Behance’s Design JobList? http://be.net/jobs ?
    I’d be curious to hear how their site compares. In my experience it has been most effective or tied with the top in some cases.

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