How do Designers Fit in Startup Culture? [VIDEO]

Startups need good designers. That’s the main takeaway I had from being at SXSW Interactive this past week. In one panel I sat in on about recruiting creatives, everybody seemed to just rely on Carnegie Mellon graduates for all their designers-with-digital-and-UX-experience needs. 

But CMU can only churn out so many designers. As is custom at SXSW, I hung out with some random people—Chris Anderson of startup website builder Breezi (not that Chris Anderson, though he does get into a lot of parties) and Wyatt McGuire of prediction market Correctnicity—and we had a really great conversation about how badly startups need designers. In an attempt to recapture the Austin magic, we did a Google Hangout, in which we discussed what it’s like for a designer to work at a startup and the qualities of a successful web designer:

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6 thoughts on “How do Designers Fit in Startup Culture? [VIDEO]

  1. Chris Anderson

    Great discussion, let’s keep it going in the comments! What are everyone’s thoughts on…

    -What role should designers play in a startup?
    -Do designers need to know how to code?
    -What skills are most important for traditional graphic/print designers to have when considering joining a startup?

    Would love to hear other perspectives on this. And for designers who don’t code, check out and let me know what you think!

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  3. Jose Caballer

    Great discussion!

    My experience over the last 10 years working with start ups is that most designers don’t have the language perse needed to collaborate with the tech, business and marketing stake holders at at start ups.

    Some do, and some simply adapt quickly, but most are scared and avoid it and go to more traditional design studios. I think there needs to be a “cultural exchange” program among the industry to allow people to acculturate to the foreign cultures of tech and design respectively.

    The big question for me is why don’t design schools have more foresight into the future and start embracing start up culture?

    Again, great dialogue. Lets keep it going.
    I would love to have you as a guest on This Week in Web Design –
    Maybe you can share Breezi too.
    It looks quite impressive, I am very curios to see it in action.


    1. Chris Anderson

      Thanks Jose, and sorry for my delay in response back. Regarding what design schools should be teaching, I totally agree that it would be helpful to learn about start-up culture and how design plays a key role. But in broader terms, I think budding designers should be taught about business in general, so they know where their value lies and how their contributions can really effect tangible business outcomes. For example, understanding that any website’s objective is to cause the visitor to take one or more actions (i.e. sign-up, join a mailing list, click an ad, do a free trial, start a subscription, comment, buy something, etc.), and learning how effective design can really cause a big change in how many of those actions are taken, taking into account the carefully designed user interactions & experiences that lead up to a conversion points. And also it’s key for designers to know that, in most cases, designs are subject to change based on performance data. For example, there’s all sorts of ways to do A/B and multi-variate testing to see what designs effect the most optimal results in terms of conversions. And it’s critical nowadays to be proactive about split testing designs. So, with that, designers should be flexible and able to modify designs, with the common company-wide goal of improving results.

      Thanks for the offer to be a guest on TWIWD – I’d love that! I’ll follow up with you on that separately.

  4. Nando

    I got involved with a startup for the first time four months ago. The experience has been great, with opportunities to explore identity and branding, ux and interface, packaging, the works. All this, while considering, and really, designing the business itself. A holistic experience that as a designer I’ve only had with my own projects, and I love it.

    No sooner I get involved in this these two articles popped up: (Sorry HOW, don’t mean to send people away)

    Silicon Valley’s New Secret Weapon: Designers Who Found Startups

    Could A Change In Business Model Win Designers A Place In The C-Suite?

    They’re both about this growing trend of designers being an integral part, and partners, of business development. Of course, if it’s a bootstrapping startup, this means all work and no pay (until the big if), so other work needs to produce the cash flow. And this I think may be one of the first major stumbling block for many designers. For one thing, the practical matter of generating income, but a second thing is that this kind of agreement walks a fine line between legit, and spec work.

    Maybe more education is needed for designers to learn to evaluate the business, and the cultural shift from purely creative to entrepreneurial creative.