The design and user experience of a site is often a make or break experience. Users, company hires and investors are heavily swayed not only by how neat a site looks, but how well thought out it is. Simply put, if your site is bad on the experience or design front, it makes it look like your team can't execute, which is about the worst thing you can say about a startup.
Finding the right people to do this is incredibly hard. Agencies generally are way out of the startup budget and can have stifling timelines, freelancers are not full time or necessarily committed to your product and hiring full time is a very lengthy process. One of the most core competencies to a startup is an industry-wide bottle neck.
"Finding quality user experience and design is a problem almost every startup I've ever talked to has had," says Natty Zola, founder of travel journal site EverLater.com. "The position is part artist, psychologist, team therapist and designer. Someone that is both creative and analytical. It is a very rare."
The golden case study for excelling design and user experience in a startup is Mint.com. The lead designer of the project was Jason Putorti (who is now at Bessemer) has had quite a bit to say about the importance and process of making these hires. In reaction to this problem, he launched elegant.ly, which aims to match startups and designers.
"Elegant.ly is a network of creatives who believe in designing with empathy, elegance, and emotion to create a better user experience for new products and services."
The site is very light right now but features a beautiful integration of LinkedIn's API. Designers are currently matched to leads on startups by the staff of elegant.ly on a one-by-one basis, although a more robust site is being built out to automate the process. You can look for work in visual design, UX design/wireframes, icon design, identity design/illustration, motion design, Web development, experience/product Strategy or user research.