Finding & Vetting A Design Co-founder

I’ve written before on why it may be important to add a designer to your founding team. But how do you go about finding and vetting one?

If you’re an engineer you may think it’s hard to find design talent (designers think the same thing about engineers!). That’s probably because you surround yourself with like minded people. That’s other code slingers and uber nerds who’d rather discuss unit tests and OOP instead of typefaces and white space.

To start, here’s a few rocks worth overturning:

With a little effort you should be able to build a list of potential candidates. Now you’ve got to qualify a few of them and see if they’ll be a good talent fit.

4 tips for validating a potential designer

Of course it goes without saying that you should use these tips in addition to asking all the tough questions you’d ask of any potential co-founder

  1. Are they a clear, effective written communicator (via email, IM, etc)? This speaks volumes about their ability to solve design issues succinctly. Plus, having a great writer on your team is always an asset.

  2. Give them a spec for a micro feature or idea and ask for a potential solution. Can they turn text and ideas into ‘functional’ wireframes and other low-fi mockups?

  3. Can they back up their design decisions with thought processes or testing and usability evidence? Because it looks good is not the answer you want to hear.

  4. Does their portfolio consist of fully implemented features (interactive HTML, CSS & JS)? Someone who can implement their own ideas is incredibly valuable to a resource starved startup.

Lastly, one of the best ‘tests’ you can do is to ask to work with them on a small, single weekend project. Build the worlds simplest, single feature web app or product. How they communicate, brainstorm and take criticism should help you see what working with them on larger projects will be like. How someone handles (or doesn’t) criticism will tell you a lot.