User Experience Design · Design

UX design talent and roles

Jia Jiang Entrepreneur, Author and Keynote Speaker Who Turns Rejection On Its Head

November 20th, 2012

I wonder if you have an early stage tech startup, do you have a dedicated UX designer?

If so, what employee number is your UX designer? And what type of role does she play?

If not, who takes up the design role?

Jia Jiang
Twitter: @jiajiang

Ian Lyman Chief Product Officer, Co Founder at Validated

November 20th, 2012

I don\'t see how it\'s possible to build a successful product without a lot
of thought put into the UX. In some ways, with all the quality frameworks
and off the shelf bits available, many products ARE the UX. Now, does this
mean you need a dedicated UX designer? I\'ve seen developers with great UX
chops and ones with none. If you\'ve already put your team together and
nobody has the time or skill to push the UX forward, you\'ll need to bring
someone on. How large is the scope of your product? There are a lot of
great freelancers and contractors out there - a few thousand dollars might
buy you enough of a UX designer\'s time that you can get a prototype built
without adding someone permanently to your time. So many other companies
end up skimping on design that you can often make a stronger impression
with VCs or the public then more advanced or later stage competitors just
by having a more polished or clever UX.

Granted, I\'m a UX guy, so I\'m incredibly biased.


Eric Rogness Technical Product Manager

November 21st, 2012

In a two or three person startup, user experience (UX) deisgn will probably fall to your product guy, who doesn\'t earn that qualification if he doesn\'t have a good handle on how users will flow your application and integrate it into their lives. If you do not have this person as part of your team, yes, you do need someone like this.
However, because you used the word \'DESIGNER\', I\'m guessing your talking about a person dedicated to the visual user interface (UI) design, who will make the site more than functional and usable, but indeed a delightful, beautiful experience with character. And for this position, as much as I\'ve just raised expectations in my last sentence, *it depends*. It depends not on your industry, but upon the nature of your innovation -- what makes you different.
If you want to launch a recipe site, and the problem you see is that existing sites is that they\'re unattractive and a mess for discovering cool new food, you need a designer, and they\'ll deliver a experience to wow the socks off your visitors. If you want to launch a booking site, and the problem with existing solutions is that they are only querying 70% of possible routes and therefore missing out on some of the best deals, then your team might not require a designer up front, and you\'ll get
For a business like Kayak, a dedicated visual designer probably came way down the road. Priorities were probably engineering, growth hacking and partner acquisition. But following lean principles, their MVP didn\'t require more than a $2000 contracted design.
~Eric 297-7126

Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2012 11:38:19 -0600
Subject: Re: [FD Members] UX design talent and roles
From: jonat

On Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 9:49 AM, Jean Barmash <> wrote:

Jonathan Bowden Digital Product Design at Theresa Neil Strategy + Design

November 21st, 2012

Great dialogue here, thanks everyone who has jumped in so far.

Eric, it\'s interesting you mention, as I was watching kevin rose
inteverview mark horowitz (of andreeson & horowitz) this morning, and they
talk for a minute about the importance and emergence of design in startups,
and horowitz brought up two rising companies that they are investing in,
hipmunk for travel, and airbnb for lodging, both of which require heavy
search / browsing, and booking functionality, much like

check out the video here:

On Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 1:17 PM, Eric Rogness <>wrote:

Jonathan Bowden Digital Product Design at Theresa Neil Strategy + Design

November 21st, 2012


I would have to agree with Ian, but I need to give a broader definition of
"UX" as well.

As a designer in the industry for a number of years, I have found the term
"ux" to mean something different to virtually everyone I have worked with,
whether at one of the top advertising shops in the world (crispin porter +
bogusky), contract work with startups and small business, or working in
house at a large corporation.

In my experience "ux" is shorthand for user experience, kind of a broad
description ;)

But that broad definition is the most accurate one in my experience, as
both a consumer and creative professional. As steve jobs said, "design is
not how something looks. it\'s how it works". UX is not limited to just site
maps, wireframes, personas, taxonomy, pixel perfect comps, animations,
industrial design, or any other one (or two) things. What makes a good
product is the whole experience.

Let\'s look at an ipad for example. It starts with the user becoming aware
of the product. This could be through advertising or pr, but it is most
likely hearing about a friend rave about it, or seeing someone using one.
Next the user either goes to an apple store in person or online. They are
greeted by a humane and respectful interaction, and have no pressure to
make a decision one way or another. If they do decide to buy, they don\'t
have to wait inline, but rather are able to pay quickly on a sales
associates handheld cash register, and the reciept can be emailed to them.
They can even arrange a personal shopping appointment ahead of time, to
ensure they get the one on one help they need in making the decision, on
their own timeline.

For brevity, i will stop going through the ipad user experience at this
point, but hopefully you get the point. "UX" goes FAR beyond pixels and
swipes, though it certainly encompasses them. User experience starts the
moment the user has a need that your product or experience meets, and ends
whenever the user is able to easily and responsibly dispose of it.

As for the argument "some industries are in more of a need for ux than
others..." I have to disagree to a point. Sure, maybe a well thought out
user experience isn\'t as NEEDED as others, but it will ALWAYS be a
differentiation point.

As for examples, think of your favorite products, services, and
experiences. Would you rather shop for groceries at your local ralph\'s or
whole foods? Did you buy an ipod or a rio? Do you get your coffee from the
gas station for 50 cents, or get your starbucks brew for $2? Would you
rather use instagram or flickr? Would you rather shop at Target or Kmart?
The list of design centered companies that are killing the competition
(across industries) is growing daily.

To be direct, if you have the exact same product as your competitor, in any
market, but you put more thought into the entire user experience, you will
win over customers every time. It\'s an essential competitive advantage.

As always, I would love to hear more dialogue about this topic from this
startup founders centric group!

Jonathan Bowden

interface design & creative direction

On Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 9:49 AM, Jean Barmash <>wrote:

Jean Barmash Engineering Program Manager at Tradeshift

November 21st, 2012

To me, early key hires have to do more with what the business needs and how
you\'d need to compete. If the area you are thinking of hiring is going to
be a key differentiator, then having a person in that role early on is

To give an example, if your startup needs to do manufacturing, then you
want to have people with that expertise early on. Same if a key activity
is partnerships with brands, etc. If you are competing, say, in eCommerce
of high end fashion, then amazing graphic designer is a must, but perhaps
you can outsource your technology initially.

If UX is one of the ways you differentiate, then it\'s hugely important,
like in B2C or mobile startups. There are a lot of businesses where other
things are more important than UX. This does not mean you don\'t put a lot
of thought into UX. It just means you can afford to have it less than the
absolute best money can buy, because having the best UX will not help you
win relative to other factors.

Having been part of two B2B startups that were in new markets (and thus
less competition), at least in those domain expertise and industry
relationships was much more important than having amazing UX. You feel a
bit bad about not having the best product you know it could be, but if it
ultimately won\'t help you win, then you don\'t have to invest in it as much.


Jean Barmash
Co-Founder & Organizer,, an NYC meetup for startup technical

email: | skype jbarmash

Eric Rogness Technical Product Manager

November 21st, 2012

Jonathan, I was thinking about Hipmunk after I sent my 2 cents along. That\'s an example of a design based innovation, similar to Gojee, where the problem with the market they observed was that current solutions were spartan, without character. Thus, they needed a designer.
A really cool startup that came out of a recent StartupWeekend in Toronto, on the other hand, is It being Startup Weekend and all, they had a designer on their team, but really their innovation is more functional and if they had carefully selected their two or three person founding team, a visual designer probably would not have been the priority. 297-7126

Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2012 13:33:42 -0600
Subject: Re: [FD Members] UX design talent and roles
From: jonat

On Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 1:17 PM, Eric Rogness <> wrote:

Jean Barmash Engineering Program Manager at Tradeshift

November 21st, 2012


Great discussion!

When came to market, the core technology of searching multiple
carriers was a competitive differentiator. Now any new entrants into the
space need to meet a higher bar, and some are using design as a

IMHO kayak had very good user experience from the very beginning,
especially with their main search results page with all the different
ability to filter. So in my mind they chose to compete both on tech /
functionality AND design, but at that point the market was arguably already
fairly mature, with Expedia, Priceline, etc.



Jean Barmash
Co-Founder & Organizer,, an NYC meetup for startup technical

email: | skype jbarmash

On Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 2:33 PM, Jonathan Bowden <>wrote:


March 28th, 2013

If anyone is still interested in this topic another similar discussion is happening here : 

Rob G

March 31st, 2013

I can't design or UI or UX my way out of a wet paper bag therefore i know right from the start that i need help in all things design related.  But i would have to agree with Jean and Eric - it depends on your business.  if your entire business is a mobile or tablet app then UI and UX is huge.  If your business is a fashion or food or photography or art then design is everything.  If your business is green building, big data, some tech utility or delivering packages for example and, like most startups, you have limited funding they you need to put your $$ only where you have to and UI can wait...may have to wait.  I can't think of a business that would not benefit from great UX and UI so if you have the $$ then by all means hire or at least contract for a great UX professional. we are getting ready to launch our 1.0 web app. Basic functions, reliability, and business dev. were our 'must haves'.  when our RoR developer was finished the product was, quite frankly, ugly - not just 'not pretty', but ugly.  So in the interest of speed we've decided to take a Bootstrap template and tweak it to put a pretty face on our app.  Is it the best way to go? No, but it fits our need for time to market and 'not ugly'.