GroupTalent’s Andrew Kinzer on Finding, Picking and Hiring Designers

Folyo is by no means the only company that helps you find a designer. On the low end, 99designs has conquered the “get it done for cheap” market.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for higher quality work, Scoutzie is targeting the same market as Folyo and seems to be doing well too.

But keep climbing up and increasing project scopes and budgets, and you’ll find GroupTalent.

As it names indicates, GroupTalent is all about assembling teams of highly qualified designers and developers to take on challenges that would be too much for a single person.

I recently got together with GroupTalent co-founder Andrew Kinzer to compare our approaches and get a few tips for startups looking to hire designers.

In this great interview, Andrew shares his perspective on:

  • What makes GroupTalent so special
  • How they decide which designers to accept
  • Why companies pick one designer over another
  • Why you should stop looking for “unicorns”
  • Why there’s a designer shortage, and what to do about it

Note: it might seem weird to you that I’m highlighting a direct competitor on Folyo’s blog. But even though we might compete for the same market, the real “competitor” is simply the fact that most people are not aware that sites like Folyo or GroupTalent even exist.

So rather than fight among ourselves, I would rather try to make the pie bigger for everybody.

Introduction

Can you introduce GroupTalent?

Absolutely! GroupTalent is a service we’ve been building for the last year that makes it really easy to find and work with developers and designers to build software (applications). That really means anything from Web applications, to Android and iPhone, and even desktop software.

Like Folyo or GitHub, we have a gigantic pool of designers and developers to pull from – but the service we provide is significantly different because we’ve focused well beyond that initial piece onto the next series of critical steps.

All of the normal work a client would have to do just to get started – sifting through talent for folks relevant to their app, trying to figure out who’s available when, managing proposals, coordinating legal documents and structuring payments – is streamlined by our service.

I wish Folyo had a cool intro video too…

We’ve deliberately focused on making it easy for clients to gain perspective on their options, and make good decisions with a small amount of effort.

Part of achieving this about being exceptional at keeping track of who is good at what, which we do through our profiles, our admission process, and a little behind the scenes magic.

The other part is about bringing transparency to the process so it’s a lot easier for clients to feel confident that their app is going to be built by somebody who really knows what they are doing.

The budgets we deal with are typically in the range of $5,000 to $80,000 (some much higher), and our customers understand how critical it is to make the right decision is when you’re spending significant time and money to produce an important piece of software.

Picking the Right Talent

What criteria would you look for to evaluate if a designer is a good match for being part of GroupTalent? And how do you match them up with the right projects?

Ah, yeah I’m glad you asked those together because they are intimately linked.

We realized early on that just because somebody is amazing at something like web application design, doesn’t mean they know their way around mobile design just yet. Or, just because they know mobile design doesn’t mean they are efficient or skilled at creating marketing pages.

Our clients depend on us making good suggestions, so a good deal of our platform is the stuff behind the scenes that allows us to evaluate and categorize developers and designers for different types of work.

GroupTalent profiles

The central piece that lets us do that is actually directly in the designer or developer’s control: their profile. We’ve designed these to contain specific information that helps us (and clients) understand what they have done in the past as evidence of what they’re good at.

The second piece is something we call “marketplaces” which lets anybody apply to receive a category of software projects. If you want to have access to a particular marketplace, you need to make sure you show examples of work you did there on your profile.

We’ve got a great back-end tool that lets us manually review each profile to determine whether or not a designer or developer has tackled the challenges inherent in the projects you’d receive from a specific marketplace.

We know conclusively that if we can’t see the evidence they can perform on a type of project, the client won’t be able to see it either, and isn’t going to risk their time or project budget to find out. That’s how we think about whether or not to let somebody in.

The Client’s Choice

How do clients make decisions on who to hire?

Clients have tons of criteria, and the key points are the usual suspects: location (if that’s important), price vs quality trade-off, when the project needs to start and finish by and many others. By far the biggest piece is whether or not the person they’re looking at already knows how to do the thing they need.

That sounds simple, but I’m not talking about somebody who is broadly skilled in UX, or in UI. Nobody is looking for something as broad as that.

Clients (both technical and nontechnical) come forward saying things like, “I need somebody who has designed the interface for a consumer marketplace with a female demographic” or “I need somebody who has done gesture controlled data visualization interfaces” or “I need somebody who can make me new marketing pages that have the same aesthetic as website X”.

[Sacha's note] This is interesting, because a recurring debate among designer is whether you should develop a specific style/focus or not. The argument against this is that truly good designers should be able to adapt to any situation.

But although that sounds nice in theory, Andrew’s comment show that clients feel it’s safer to hire someone who’s already done the type of work they need, and I have to say I tend to agree.

At that point, clients are looking for something extremely specific and unless they can see the work, no amount of talking on a phone will convince them. The reason we have such high conversion, even when being pitted against larger agencies, is because we’re really good at showing them the best options based on what they need.

Hunting Unicorns

A lot of companies are looking for designers than can do it all: interaction design, visual design, and even front-end coding. Is this a good idea, or does it restrict the field too much?

Ah yes, the so called “unicorns”. I think that from a talent perspective, as well as an employer’s perspective, more versatility is always a good thing.

The question is whether or not as a company you can actually get it. I have this feeling that a lot of people are chasing something they don’t actually need rather than making headway with what they can get and focusing on what’s important.

The “talent” part of GroupTalent really is appropriate

Typically what I see is that everybody says at the outset that this is the person they need, and within a few months realize they’re having a hard enough time finding designers who are even decent at one out of the three – and that’s when they realize how dang special it is just to find a person who is exceptional at one or two things.

At that point, they think a little harder about what their team is already good at, and what they really need help with, and then they start a more realistic journey finding that person.

Don’t forget that your team will make or break you, so you better find folks who are more than just average at whatever you’re paying them to do. They had better be awesome at it, even if it means their range isn’t as broad.

The Great Designer Shortage of 2012

Something you hear a lot (at least in Silicon Valley) is that good designers are very hard to find (even harder than good engineers, it would seem). Have you noticed this too, or do you think people are just not looking in the right places?

I totally agree they are harder to find than engineers. I think it has a lot to do with how long it took schools to stop focusing on print design with posters and logos, and start focusing on teaching what the industry really needed.

If you’re trying to hire full time, you’re going to have to steal somebody from another company by being the brightest bird in the forest, or you’re going to have to find somebody young with aptitude, and teach them how to be great.

I don’t think there’s a magic source of designers that hasn’t been discovered yet. Dribbble is certainly a popular fishing hole, but it’s also suboptimal as a resource because the form factor has attracted far more visual designers and illustrators than skilled interaction designers. In my experience, it’s the latter who is in the greatest demand.

[Sacha's note] Again, I have to agree. The single most common demand I get is for designers who get the big picture of how a product works, and are more than just pixel-pushers.

Of course, there’s value in crafting beautiful icons too, but interaction and product design skills are just much more in demand lately. 

At the end of the day, if you’re asking somebody to quit their job and work for you, you’re asking them to choose between what they’re doing now and making a significant change.

I think the new source of talent we’ll be seeing more of is what’s called “fractional use” of somebody’s time. That’s just a fancy way of saying that somebody can have their full time job at Airbnb but mix things up on the weekend by designing a simple iPhone app for a nonprofit in the midwest.

Or they can freelance for 3 or 4 days a week, and travel the rest. That can only happen with efficiency in the market, and that’s what we’re working hard to bring to bear right now.

[Sacha's note] I’ve noticed the exact same thing with Folyo designers. A lot of them keep on freelancing even though they hold day jobs, just for the fun of it (and the extra income doesn’t hurt either!). 

Maybe this means companies should start hiring designers part-time, to leave them more time for their own side projects?

Conclusion

Startups keep asking me where to find designers, and how to pick them. I usually point people to Folyo, but GroupTalent is another great option for larger scale projects, especially if you need a whole team and not just a designer.

And if you’re a designer, you should definitely check them out…

…as long as you stay on Folyo as well, of course!

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  • http://superkinz.com Andrew Kinzer

    Thanks for taking the time to chat with me about the industry, Sacha. I’m always impressed by your efforts on Folyo, and really look forward collaborating more!

    • http://www.sachagreif.com/ Sacha Greif

      Thanks for all the insights, and by the way I’m very impressed by the new GroupTalent site, great job on the redesign.

      • http://superkinz.com Andrew Kinzer

        Thanks! More goodness coming soon. =)

  • http://www.tedgoas.com/ Ted Goas

    This is one of the most interesting interviews I’ve read in recent memory, thanks for doing this guys!

    So when someone creates a profile and lists their skills on Group Talent, someone verifies this on the back end? To make sure they can walk the walk? Interesting idea!

    • http://superkinz.com Andrew Kinzer

      Hey Ted, yeah we have a manual review process and we either ask people for more examples, we let them in, or we pass. And we do a bunch of other stuff that adds a little magic =)

      Your work is beautiful by the way.

      • http://www.tedgoas.com/ Ted Goas

        That’s awesome Andrew. You’re the first I’ve heard of doing manual intervention like this on designer (or any job) listing sites.

        And thanks for the kudos!

        • http://www.sachagreif.com/ Sacha Greif

          What do you mean, he’s the first? So now I don’t count? ;)

  • John Nelson

    Andrew makes a great point, why take a risk on a designer without your specific project type in their portfolio? With a large database of talent you no longer have to compromise