Designers... How?

almost 9 years ago from , Staff Software Engineer

I work at Neustar Inc and we want to hire designers, but wowzers that's a tough task. So instead of posting another useless job post. I want to hear from you guys (designers) on ways to actually reach you.

I'm a software engineer, doing UI, and have been somewhat involved in our hiring process.

Here is why we think designers won't come work with us * We're not sexy.. i.e. Design is brand new to us.. (scary, right?). Also, we're super data heavy.. So you'd have to love data vis. * You have a lot of options (in my mind the sexier companies are picking up all of you) * Design thinking isn't quite in our DNA... Yet.

Here is why we tell designers to come work with us * Being a part of shifting a companies entire culture is exciting... There is clear executive and company wide momentum for designers to have a VERY loud voice. * We are so stinking committed to the evolution of your ideas. Seriously. We want you to take over. * (Not a real reason but..) Our new office is pretty dang shwanky.

General advice... For me, getting an email from a real human, not a robot, Saying.. Hey saw this project on github and loved it, let's chat. Makes the world of difference. What is it for you? How do we pursue you well?


  • Aaron GitlinAaron Gitlin, almost 9 years ago

    Hi Tim. I entered a small VERY dev-heavy company a few year years ago as their first and only designer. To be honest I wasn't heavily vetted. But I ticked the technical boxes, had a contact within the company, and began as part-time contractor. I ended up successfully growing within the company because of my passion not just for sexy design stuff, but for technology, products, and process. These are less sexy things to love and I think necessarily detract from that slick stuff you might see on dribbble and behance.

    My guess is you guys are a bunch of nerds. What you need is another nerd, just one with a different skill set. Bringing some super slick high level designer into the nerd cave will probably end up making for unhappy nerds and unhappy designer. If you DO need some of the sexy stuff (maybe marketing collateral, redesign, etc) I might suggest freelance/contractors. For an integrated member of the team, make sure they are nerdy enough to fit in, but still have the design chops. I think this is more important than them being an award winning dribbble super star.

    13 points
    • Tim Schiller, almost 9 years ago

      Aaron... Hammer on nail.

      We are nerds. Absolutely. And we all love that. We are pretty big however, so I can't speak for the whole company, just us engineers :)

      My biggest take away from what you're saying is to have real expectations... Not necessarily higher or lower expectations... But right ones. There is part of me, that so badly, wants Mrs. or Mr. Dribbble. I think it's cause we are so far from that, so it makes it seem like that is what we need. However, you are right, that is definitely not the case.

      Basically, you're saying... We're not going to bring Lebron James to the San Antonio Spurs... ;).. That is, the right person is going to continue the design shift that's been happening, in a way thats encouraging to us engineers and the broader company. Not a clashing tension, but a healthy tension.

      Thanks for your thoughts Aaron!

      0 points
      • Aaron GitlinAaron Gitlin, almost 9 years ago

        No problem Tim! Apologies if I wasn't super clear with my suggestion, but yes you interpreted correctly. I worry that a professional typographer with an obsession for style and order will simply not find his or her place at your work. I've found success with people who have visual backgrounds but have shifted focus towards technology and possibly/probably even coding.

        The LeBron metaphor is not exactly accurate, in that you shouldn't sacrifice overall quality. But you need to focus on substance over style. This is obvious in most cases, but not always with designers (style is our substance... right?). Dribbble is the ultimate expression of style over substance, and that is why it may not be the best reference point for your process.

        Good luck and feel free to reach out.

        1 point
  • Account deleted almost 9 years ago

    I agree with what everyone else is saying here, but here are a few more things that are important:

    1. Compensation. Are you offering a truly fair salary for the role? If this is a less sexy company, be prepared to spend a little larger to potentially "excite" people a bit more. To be fair, compensation isn't just about salary though... What what kind of vacation do you offer and how solid are your benefits?

    2. Existing culture. A story about how things might be in the future is fine and exciting, but how it is now is the reality... And what a designer will have to assume is the norm until change actually happens. This is the tough part... Once you get one great hire on board it becomes easier for every one after that. Aside from that, does your company have regular outings or happy hours? How do people work together? Is there a beer fridge, a football table, a place to let off steam? How is the management structure. At some level all these things are factored in whether the employee is hyper aware of it or not.

    3. The product. If what you are doing isn't all that sexy, it's going to be pretty much impossible to get sexy designers interested in it. Consider looking at different places for talent. Poach from competitors, look at really well designed B2B and enterprise level software applications and try and poach people from there. Basically, look for great examples of well designed products that have more business-minded designers. Once you have a couple of those and the bar is raised, it will be easier to pull in different designers with varying strengths. The other benefit is that for designers like that, they may already have experienced similar challenges your company might only now be facing... Plus there is significantly less risk of them bailing after a short period of time because the working environment wasn't exactly what they thought it would be.

    5 points
    • Tim Schiller, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

      Dang Benjamin. You absolutely killed it. This is awesome.

      1. I hear you. I can't speak to knowing what we offer pure salary wise. Only that we compete with other tech companies in SF. Vacation, location, health, all that stuff is solid. Although, I will say there aren't any extravagant benefits. Just really solid normal ones.. Ha.

      2. This is the tension I keep coming back to. Obviously it is not the most designer conducive culture. Or we wouldn't be experiencing this problem. There are some seriously cool things about our company though, and some seriously awesome people. I'm more than confident in what is today, and the people there, to be enough to get people on board. However the design component still isn't there. People are 100% committed to it. We just need the head. Someone to steer the ship.

      3. This is a great point, and makes it a little easier to think about the demographic we might appeal to. I'm obviously not a recruiter myself, and so how the heck I'd poach from other companies seems completely a bit scary, and actually kind of fun.

      If you were the one being poached, are there any specific things that would catch your eye, that aren't annoying? Dribbble comments, or things of the like? Something like the github example I gave in the post...

      0 points
      • Account deleted almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

        (1) Cool. In SF, think of something to make yourself stand out then when they come in to interview. It can be as silly as talking about how you had a tequila tasting a few weeks ago or how you had a Mario Kart tourney last month. If your company isn't doing small things occasionally, go to HR and see if there is a way to do some fun stuff on the cheap. In the end, it's these little things that give your company some character and help to make it appealing in the long run. A happy hour every 6 weeks at Tres Agaves drinking pitchers of margs never hurt anyone!

        (2) I can speak from experience when I say that a company saying they are 100% committed to design... and what the reality can end up being are VERY different things. Why? Lots of reasons... from a design-by-committe mentality that slows things down, executives who always have to have their mark on something (or bring in priority items their wife or 12yo son told them), lead engineers that start feeling threatened about only executing on designs and then fighting changes, etc. Sometimes upper management simply can't let go... they fancy themselves as designers or people with great taste, etc.

        Anyways, it's easy to tell a story, but unless the company culture and management structure are truly aligned for "design first"... as a designer I would be very hesitant to buy into the story 100%. I've heard a few stories where companies feel the need to be "design first" because it's trendy and then later get uneasy about how much they have to change, re-write, or be guided by it. This is especially true in start-ups where a small engineering team has spent a year or so building something. A lot of times at this point, the only reason design or usability is even brought up is because a potential investor or trusted confidant told them the product was a great idea, but looked like shit. I'm not saying your company is any of these things, but most designers know friends or have heard stories that might make them timid.

        (3) Almost all my best designers at one company were poached from others. It's usually easier than you think, and never offensive in in way. In fact, 80% of them were DYING to get out once I reached out to them. Sometimes these designers have been at a place 2 years, maybe 4... and have hit a wall in advancement, salary, enjoyment/challenge or all of the above. They're usually amped that someone recognized them for their skills and are super excited to help another, greener company get stuff done. Its an opportunity to further their career, work on some new stuff, and truly be looked at for advice/input, etc... on a more critical level than the current company.

        So, how to get a hold of them. I reality, an email can get lost. Talk with other people in your company. Look at their LinkedIn. Did any come from a competitor or another great company? It could be your accountant, your CTO, your server-side engineer, whomever... but utilize them as the conduit. Walk over to them one day and be like:

        "Hey, I saw how clean the work was when you were at XYZ and I was wondering if you know who did it. Any chance you'd reach out to them and see if they'd be interested in meeting up for a beer after work one day? Did you like working with them, were they legit?"

        This can be especially fruitful if referral bonuses are involved, but if they are, be VERY careful... sometimes the conduit can care more about their potential referral bonus more then culture-fit. In this situation, if the person meets up with you and then eventually comes in for interviews, be VERY cautious and sure they are the right fit and don't rely just on the conduit's word. Be sure it's the right fit for the company, not the conduit.

        If nobody can network for you, I'd try looking at LinkedIn and sending InMails yourself. I've have some really intriguing people reach out to me this way.

        1 point
        • Tim Schiller, almost 9 years ago
          1. Frankly, Tres Agaves once every six weeks is not nearly enough! ;) I hear you on this. I think there is plenty of this within the company. Things that prove, hey, not only do we all love solving problems together, but we actually really enjoy one another and like spending time together. Whether it's board game night, a scotch event, or trips to the exploratorium. What I'm hearing is you value knowing these things exist in a culture, and they're definitely worth communicating.

          2. Makes a lot of sense... What I'm hearing is... "Look.. Tim... You guys may need design... And you may think communicating how desperately you need it will attract folks... But you're actual losing attractiveness when you take away the humanness. Be real. Cool you're going to value what a designer is doing, a lot, but it's not going to be utopia, it never its. So just be honest."

          I definitely think we've erred on the side of "selling" our story... Which makes it seem fake. Instead of telling our story, like humans and not sales folk :)

          1. It's encouraging to hear you have had success poaching. Maybe I just need to start going for it, and learn the art, instead of being intimidated.

          You also bring up a great point with the in-house, do you have any ex-colleague esk poaching. I don't think we've totally dried our in house well, and it is something worth digging into more.

          Noted on being weary of greed infused recruiting! Fortunately haven't run into any of this tension yet... But I see how if we start digging around in-house more, this is something to be very cautious of.

          Benjamin, thanks a ton for everything you've been saying. Plenty of folks at the company are looking at the responses this post is getting, and it makes a world of difference to hear from actual designers like yourself!

          0 points
          • Account deleted almost 9 years ago

            No problem home slice... I spent way too many nights at Tres. My office used to be on King next to AKQA, so it was a regular haunt.

            0 points
  • Sean LesterSean Lester, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    I know that I, personally, would be afraid to work somewhere where design is new. I would need to feel confident that design is appreciated at your organization - not just "window dressing" or an "afterthought". I need you to realize that in doing design, I'm using my education and knowledge to create visual solutions to business problems. Not playing around and making art. I need to know that I'm being hired for my knowledge and expertise in a field, and not to be a hand to operate software for someone in a suit. While I know it's a designers responsibility to explain the logic and value of all of their work - some designers early in their careers and particularly in organizations that have no existing design team it can be difficult to, in addition to designing well in the first place, also professionally sell and explain your work to higher ups who think they know everything and don't respect you or your profession.

    As far as reeling me in, I think the idea of really owning a position and shaping it's future sound promising - and it's sounds like that's what you're offering. This may be intimidating to some designers, but not the kind of designers you want!

    5 points
    • Tim Schiller, almost 9 years ago

      Sean, I absolutely agree. It feels like the crack in the ice is there (people recognizing how desperately we need great design and how much value it adds). It just needs someone who is passionate about breaking the ice all the way through.

      Until then, it is ice. Unfortunately.

      Also totally hear your point about window dressing. The BS we all hear from recruiters is.. just, blehhh.

      But I'm definitely learning how hard it can be to communicate honestly and transparently without making it seem like window dressing, when you have very little idea about a certain field.

      0 points
  • Aileen NguyenAileen Nguyen, almost 9 years ago

    I wanted to add some perspective as a product manager on the Aggregate Knowledge product at Neustar. I'd love a UX designer to partner with who could influence the product design and usability at all stages of the product lifecycle. We're seeing a lot of candidates who are are familiar with website design and are trying to move to a UX role but I feel like for our data and analytics platform some actual application design experience is necessary - would that be a fair statement? We have great analytics but very little workflow and need help tying everything together. What happens now is that the dev team implements my mockups as-is. I'd like to think I have decent design sense but it's definitely not my forte. ;) Help!

    1 point
  • Jonathan YapJonathan Yap, almost 9 years ago

    Getting the first designer is almost like getting the right CTO in for the first time, I can imagine how difficult the task can be!

    Well I think its being not sexy and data heavy could be a challenge draw for designers, I know I wouldn't see that as a deterrent to some designers. This could be an actual draw to some because of the ability to create something new; oh and how we love to create!

    I think having conversations and speaking to people beyond the email is a very crucial step, because I think the insight you'll get from that is what really reels people in. Although difficult for companies to admit a weakness, it does show good signs and better appreciation for change to happen. That shows a human aspect of it, and it would be a good thing to know that you'll be working with people behind a data company :)

    If you are struggling to find designers, perhaps going to a local meetup could help? I met tons of designers at my last local meetup, and there were quite an interesting mix of people.

    All the best in getting the first design hire!

    1 point
    • Tim Schiller, almost 9 years ago

      Hey Jonathan,

      Human to human follow up to email is so refreshing isn't it? I agree that that's a crucial step in the process.

      I wish I could say I've been going to local meetups. Obviously being in SF, this seems like a go to way to recruit. However, it's been tough to find the time. Hearing your success with it is definitely encouraging and perhaps I'll make it a bit more of a priority!

      Any meetups you know of in the bay area that you'd recommend?


      0 points
    • c kizerc kizer, almost 9 years ago

      My best advice:

      Find a talented designer you know or someone can recommend to you to interview your potential hire. You probably know a designer you like who isn't interested in a new job. This is kind of person that should be interviewing your potential candidates. While your team needs to interview this guy to see if you are a good fit, you ideally need somebody that can vet a potentially candidate and make sure he can do what he says.

      1 point
  • Diego LafuenteDiego Lafuente, almost 9 years ago

    Hi Tim.

    As a designer, both passionate of design and code, I value these things:

    1. Team and company professional level overall. I like to work smart, open people. I don't like to work with "mercenaries". I like to work with people who like what they do and they accept things as challenges.

    2. Compensation. I value these companies who compensate accordingly.

    3. Critical Thinking. I value teams who work with scientific method, and they have a great critical thinking approach. I don't like teams who only depends of assumptions and management assumptions. I like to work with data and stick to it.

    4. I value remoteness. I like to work remote. I love meetings, but sadly I prefer to work remote in my own space, rules. Yet, I'm open to travel with a schedule.

    0 points
    • Tim Schiller, almost 9 years ago

      Hey Diego, thanks for your thoughts.

      1. Definitely similar values to myself. People mark a happy work place first and foremost (In my opinion) And if you can couple that with solving awesome problems, things are great :)

      2. Of course. As you should and I'm sure, deserve!

      3. It's cool to hear this is so high on your value list... I feel like sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, designer stray towards only meta high level thinking. Which is a very good thing. I just think it ought to be coupled with critical think, like you mentioned.

      4. I think there is a bit of a spectrum here... We all value it to some degree and I think finding someone who isn't black or white about only being remote or on-site, but sees value in both, is crucial.

      0 points