3 Mistakes To Avoid When Hiring UX Designers

Jan 12, 2022Mikenzi Ross

It’s time to take your MVP (Minimal Viable Product) to the next level. Your team is excited to add new features and functionality—but more importantly, the interface has to be streamlined. It must be impressively and fundamentally usable for your customers.

To accomplish this, you’ll need to hire a UX designer.

In this article, we’ll cover what to look for in a UX designer, as well as pitfalls to avoid in your search. That way you feel confident and prepared when the time comes to hire a UX designer for your startup.

What To Look For When Hiring A UX Designer

There are a few crucial standards that startups should adhere to when hiring a UX designer, like wireframing, user research, technical skills, and so on. But the exact list of qualifications you should look for in a UX designer will depend entirely on your current team—and the list of product priorities on the agenda.

The good news: you don’t have to wait for a magical UX designer unicorn to appear. As long as you’ve taken the time to clearly outline your priorities, and the requirements your specific project needs, your search for a UX designer can begin with the best chances of success.

(Oh, and be sure to pack some sandwiches, wear proper footwear… and maybe bring some unicorn treats—you never know, right?)

Now that you’re prepared, we’ll help you on your UX expedition by pointing out 3 potential roadblocks between you and the perfect UX designer—and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Hiring someone without a startup skillset

The startup world can be a dizzying whirlwind. Product iterations fly fast and furious in an effort to boost user numbers and attract more funding.

The overall instability and ambiguity of the startup universe can be disorienting (and a little maddening) to a UX designer who’s unfamiliar with this type of fast-paced environment.

While you might list “experience with startups” as one of the preferred qualifications for new candidates, there are more efficient ways to look for designers with the right skillset.

Try this instead:

Ask specific questions during the interview about how the UX designer handles:

  1. Stressful situations
  2. Unclear or shifting goals
  3. Fast-paced deadlines

Take note of candidates who show enthusiasm for trying new things, as they may adapt better to a startup environment.

In all cases, make it clear that your team must navigate shifting goals and stakeholder expectations on a regular basis. Flexibility and adaptability are critical.

Ask the designer how they’d manage these challenges while ensuring that the original vision and priorities for your product stay front and center on their to-do list.

Mistake #2: Getting distracted by pretty portfolios

Aesthetics matter.

But that pretty color palette can only get you so far. If your eCommerce app is full of glitches and complex clickstreams, the user won’t complete the purchase regardless of how visually appealing your product may be.

Unfortunately, the same way that attractive visuals can distract from the underlying functionality, eye-catching portfolios can also do as much harm as they do good. It’s not to say that a beautiful portfolio is a red flag—not by a long shot! It just means you have to look beyond the portfolio, too.

If you only focus on portfolio examples, you might hire someone who can polish up your branding, but ultimately falls short in designing fluid and effective user experiences for your product.

Try this instead:

Keep the UX requirements front and center during your scouting, interviewing, and hiring process. It’s critical to mindfully separate the UI displays from the actual experience flows because UI design and UX design are not the same.

When in doubt, ask the potential hire to explain their UX process separately from the UI results. This insight will give you a better grasp of how they tend to approach user research, analytics, and testing wireframes.

Mistake #3: Assuming a long-term commitment from the freelance world

With impressive CVs and gushing testimonials, a freelancer can be an attractive option for bringing UX talent to your startup quickly.

Except that nothing is ever “quick” when it comes to working with this new designer. This is usually how the process goes:

  1. A few weeks/months spent finding, interviewing, and recruiting a UX designer
  2. Then comes the onboarding, training, and account setup
  3. And then learning each other’s work styles takes time and patience

The effort absolutely pays off if the hire works out for the long term.

Unfortunately, the freelance world is not designed to support long-term commitments. Workloads vary, and your ideal new hire may suddenly require less (or more) hours than originally planned. Or they might land a full-time position elsewhere, leaving you back at square one.

The cycle begins again.

Try this instead:

If you’ve already found the right freelance UX designer to hire, that’s awesome!


If you haven’t had any luck finding the right freelancer (or are tired of the hiring cycle to replace freelancers who find full-time gigs), you may want to consider expanding your search to include design agencies.

With a UX design agency, your startup gains more stability because they take on the responsibility for sourcing talent, so you can focus on getting your product up to speed.

The Design Project (just as a totally unbiased example) is a boutique agency of talented, experienced UX designers. Our process is specifically designed for the fast-paced world of startups, where agile development and proven processes are critical to a successful product.

Next Steps When Hiring The Best UX Designer For Your Startup

Step Number 1: Celebrate

You’re at the stage where you’re able to bring on a professional designer to take your product to the next level. That’s a really big deal!

*throws confetti*

Step Number 2: Be honest

You have to be honest about where you need the most support from your UX designer. Goals and milestones should be clearly communicated from the very beginning of your working relationship.

Step 3: Work smarter not harder

When you are ready to bring on a UX designer, take the leap and go for it!  If necessity is the mother of invention, then inaction is the mother of “Coulda,” “Woulda,” and “Shoulda.” (And we all know how most folks feel about those three.)

If you want to make hiring a startup-ready UX designer as effective and easy as possible, then give The Design Project a call!

We offer a free 7-day trial for you to test drive!

PS: Don’t forget to subscribe to the TDP Vault—a UX newsletter chock full of tips, insight, and inspiration!

Mikenzi Ross
I'm that weird little copywriter your mother warned you about

Mikenzi Ross

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