I work for a small data management/warehousing company that also focuses heavily on web applications. We are looking to "beautify" our existing web apps into something along the lines of mint.com or sifterapp.com or any of the 37signals sites for example. We are a .Net shop so whatever framework used on the front end would need to play nice with a .net back end and also use asp.net. All of our development team thus far have been strong .net developers and we've sort of made do with what we could on the front end, so we're looking to change that.

My question is what skills should we be looking for and what is the proper title for a person that knows how to create very nice looking web applications like the ones I've mentioned? I think having some experience with photoshop is always necessary, but it seems like a lot of the design patterns can be done using css and/or other front end technologies, or am I off base here? Basically, what skills should we be looking for in a candidate if we are looking for them to have skills in creating beautiful web apps that are both very nice looking and also very usable and what is that position called? Web developer? Designer? UI Engineer? Web Experience Designer?

I am also aware of some UI oriented frameworks like YUI, is this something that we should be looking for in a candidate, experience with this? Is a likely candidate going to be someone with a graphic design/artist degree or will it be someone more programming oriented? Is this actually a task for 2 even 3 separate people with different skillsets, one doing the graphics and another doing the user experience and even a 3rd that knows css/jquery/xhtml? It just seems very confusing to figure out what exactly we should be looking for so the interviews have been rather hit and miss so far.

  • Similar question: What's the best way to find candidates for UX Designer? ui.stackexchange.com/q/2429/249
    – Rahul
    Nov 17, 2010 at 10:39
  • The above question was where to look for them and this question is a criteria for what to look for. There is my 2 unnecessary cents.
    – John
    Aug 25, 2011 at 16:43
  • "Nice Looking" doesn't necessarily mean "Well Designed". It may look good, but unless you're willing to go beyond superficial decoration, you're not going to become a mint.com or 37sig product.
    – DA01
    May 21, 2012 at 18:41
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the hiring process.
    – ChrisF
    Nov 12, 2013 at 14:48

2 Answers 2


I run a design agency and have helped countless startups designing their websites and products. Here is my advice whether you get someone from India, China or locally to do it.

1. Figure out if design is part of your overall strategy or whether you simply need a presence.

With this I mean figure out how important design is to whatever you are launching. Many startups put too much time, money and effort into making their website perfect only to find out 6 months later they need to pivot or change their communication efforts. There are generally 3 situations where it's going to be important to spend time and money on a good design agency or designer.

If you have developed a technology that is complex in nature and needs to be productized and communicated to lay people.

If your design is going to be a differentiator to the rest of the market. I.e. in markets where there are many competitors but few of them (or most of them) have spent time on making their design really stand out. For an example of such a market see the time-registration market which is huge and diverse. You do though need to

If you have a clear vision and know you won't be changing that vision anytime soon. It's rare but it does happen. But just as with 2. you need to be clear in your mind yourself about how you want to stand out. I.e. create principles. You might want to read http://000fff.org/beyond-aesthetics-design-tips-for-startups/ for what I mean with that.

2. Always get a portfolio and have them explain what parts they did.

You will be surprised how many times designers show some work they have been involved in but not necessarily done everything off themselves. It's fair enough that they do that, but you should just make sure that you figure out whether you are appreciating the right designer.

3. Hire them in phases

Instead of getting one price on the entire project, hire them one phase at a time (UX, Visual Design, Front-end programming, development). This will benefit both of you. You will figure out if are a good match without having betted your entire budget in one basket and they won't be stuck with this stupid client they hate if it would come to that. It will also give them something to work for (next phase) which means they will often put more effort into the first phase (again a benefit to both of you).

4. Pay them 25% upfront

This might sound weird but since you are a startup they are running a big risk taking the job. I know many stories (and have experienced them myself once in a while) companies getting a lot of work done without having the money. So to get that insecurity out of the way do this. Many agencies will ask for it anyway (some even more) because they have burned their fingers too many times. There is a huge advantage to doing this by paying 25% upfront you are putting the pressure on them to work those hours as quickly as possible it also removes any argument internally in the agency about whether they should put their best people on you or prioritize bigger clients.

Work on getting an internal team Whether you have hired an agency or a team of freelancers work on getting your own people. Outsourcing means paying for their time this is beneficial if you are trying to get started and don't have the capital or is in a position to hire your own people. But once the main project is over you will be better off having someone in your own stable rather than having to pay for an agencies time. The second you start having ad hoc assignments, changes which where not part of the agreement etc. the agencies will down prioritize you since you aren't bringing in the big bugs anymore and you will loose most advantages with regards to their cost. As an alternative this might be where you outsource to China or India as they majority of conceptual work have now been done and your tasks are less complex.

If you can afford it get a copywriter Unless you are a savvy writer yourself you will benefit greatly from getting a good copywriter to help you communicate your product as clearly as possible. Good copywriting is half of the design experience, this is why advertising agencies often have teams with one art director and one copywriter on each.

Hope this helps.


Here's a quick list of roles as i've come to understand them (an ongoing process):

User Experience Designer: the conceptual stuff. Will do the initial prototyping for interfaces, and will make user cases and usability testing to monitor the effectiveness of your app/site. Not a coder nor a designer, but should be familiar with both workflows, as well as the marketing team, and be able to provide you with hard data behind interface decisions.

Interactive Designer The person who makes your app look beautiful. This is a peron who can both produce design elements using graphics programs, as well as code html and css, with a little javascript. In general graphic designers that learnt a little code.

Front End Developer The code person. takes the prototypes or comps that the interactive designer produced and fleshes them out in quality html, css and js. Knows his/her way around graphics programs, but not necessarily a designer.

-- that list is a bit of dream scenario, often one person fills two or three of those roles, but i recommend you have at least one of each.

i hope that helps you, and like i said, its an evoving notion for me as well, so if anyone has input, i'd love to hear it

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