10 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring an In-House Designer

Bringing creative employees in house usually means good things for your company — and less hassle. But beware; expectations from both parties will shift during the transition, especially if you are used to working with freelancers. Startup founders from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) suggest 10 helpful questions to ask yourself before you bring on full-time talent.

Do They Understand Your Brand?

Your designer is going to be one of the most influential people you hire. They shape your brand in the eyes of your customers. If they don’t understand your brand, you have a real problem. They need to have a solid eye for who you are, who you aspire to be and what your customers need you for to meet their needs.

Don’t waste your money on talented artists who don’t understand branding. Art and branding design are two entirely different beasts.

Seth Talbott, CEO and Startup Advisor

Do They Fit Your Needs?

Normally people lump designers into multiple categories—user interface, user experience, graphic design, and web design. But there are very few people who can do all of those things very well, so you need to be clear right off the bat about your company’s needs, what you’re hiring for, and what you are trying to achieve through the design role. If the role exceeds reasonable expectations, you may need to break it up into more specific positions.

Luke Skurman, Niche.com

Are They a Good Culture Fit?

We hired our second designer four years into the company’s life, and I wish we had done so years ago. There are three things we learned in hiring.

First, like with any other role, the first thing you need to focus on is cultural fit—does the designer care about your team and your mission? Second is pace. If you’re not a design shop, you shouldn’t care so much about perfection as you do about speed.

Finally, find a designer who can communicate directly with customers or users. You want for this person to represent your brand and tell your brand story well. Having a direct line between the designer and the customer will ensure better design.

Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

Do They Think Like You Do?

We waited too long to build a great design team in-house. As a tech company, design needs to be a core competency and your designers need to understand the brand and the product, and really care about it. Also, design is never “done.” It’s continually tested and iterated upon, and it needs to be consistent across your site.

Jordan Fliegel, CoachUp

Are They Post-Production Savvy?

A designer’s experience working with post-design vendors such as printers and advertising outfits is just as valuable as his or her design cues. Hiring a candidate with demonstrated experience collaborating and negotiating with these vendors can save you both time and money.

Sam Saxton, Salter Spiral Stair and Mylen Stairs

Do You Need a Designer, or a Team Player?

First and foremost, with cash ruling the day, you need to make sure you have enough work. However, it’s easy to look at potential “work” as designing your next product interface.

In reality, if you find a team player, most designers can also be very helpful on the marketing and branding side. Real team players are often willing to jump in and help on just about any cross-functional area. For instance, our interaction designer has worked with several of our teams to help them redesign and map out a few human processes, not because they are experts in operations but because she thinks through personas and the mental model so well that she can translate that into something the average Joe can understand.

Tracey Wiedmeyer, InContext Solutions

Can They Manage Their Time?

I’ve been down this road and I have to say that there are so many talented designers out there with amazing work … who take forever to design the simplest thing. You don’t just need a talented designer with the right eye—you need someone who can deliver in a reasonable amount of time.

When hiring a designer, you need to make your expectations crystal clear: “We will expect about X amount of time for a logo.” “We will expect X amount of time for an email.” That way, expectations are set from the get-go and they’ll either hack it, or they won’t.

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media

Do You Understand the Job You’re Offering?

When looking at a graphic designer you really need to understand the position that you are offering and how it might look in the future. Many of the best graphic designers are free thinkers and that is part of their value—they don’t like to do the same thing every day. That is what makes them great creative thinkers.

But if you are hiring a designer to work on PowerPoint presentations and sales brochures all day, every day, you need to make sure you aren’t hiring somebody who will be bored after three months. On the other hand, if the position requires print, digital, video , social media, you need to hire a designer that feels comfortable working in all areas and will be excited (not flustered) by switching hats and routines daily.

Tim McHugh, Saddleback Educational

Do They Communicate Well?

When it comes time to hire an in-house designer, be prepared to take a trip back in time to think of what led you to the current design of your brand. Be prepared to communicate your heart out. Designers need to know what you want and what your client needs better than you do yourself in order to deliver an effective solution.

An in-house designer has a much longer term relationship with your brand than a freelancer does, so they have even more of an incentive to delve into the psychology and personality of the company. Call it therapy, compare it to teeth pulling, but be prepared to talk.

Alex Lorton, Cater2.me

Do They Understand the Development Process?

Far too many designers don’t understand the development process or at a minimum basic HTML and grid techniques — it helps immensely when designers know that at a base level. Hire a designer who understands your brand messaging and works with you on it instead of just designing something.

And require lots of communication between the designer and team — you need to make sure everybody is on the same page. This prevents scope creep, delays, budget problems and hurt feelings too.

Chuck Reynolds, Levers

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