Every website is first judged by its looks and then usability second. Sloppy or bad taste when it comes to design can ruin the brightest of web projects. That’s why the design team should be the cornerstone of every web agency.
The question is how to find the right people in this vast field of art and design specialists? And more importantly, how to mold them into a creative and efficient team?
Olga Shevchenko, Art Director at Vintage - multiple Awwwards winner - shares nuggets of wisdom on building a geared-up, prize-winning web design team.
1. DEFINE YOUR CRITERIA
When it comes to art, taste is subjective. A good designer is one that maintains a perfect balance between imagination and the customer’s needs. “Creativity must sell”, Shevchenko insists, “bright design solutions are only considered such if they are attractive to the client”.
From this perspective, there are three main criteria you should look for in your candidates:
- Flexibility. A designer will generate ideas but he must be willing to see them altered or re-shaped completely if the circumstances demand it.
- Dependability. Generating new ideas is not enough - a designer must possess the desire and skill to finalize or refresh existing artwork. “Drawing a concept is an easy part”, says Olga, “the hard part is joining the dots”.
- Inspiration. Most projects seem “boring” to a creative mind. But the very core of a web agency’s job is to turn boring into attractive, and your designers should never forget that. A good designer does not need to be inspired - he accepts the task and draws inspiration from it.
2. SELECT YOUR PEOPLE
Finding good designers on the labor market will not be the main problem. Every industrial design university produces hundreds of young designers a year, not to mention freelancers and home-grown digital artists. Your main concerns will be choosing the right ones and retaining them. “You will never experience a lack of job applications”, assures Olga, “but you’d be surprised how few will actually meet your requirements”.
The two most common tools used in candidate assessment are test assignment and interview. The test assignment should only measure practical skills - the less room for creativity, the better. The interview on the other hand must focus on how good of a fit the candidate and their skills would be for your team.
A pretty graphic design artwork tells you little about the person who drew it. “Look at the skill on test assignment, but focus on personality at the interview”, Shevchenko suggests, “The initial 5-10 minutes is usually enough to form the right impression; if the candidate is ‘ok’, use the rest of interview time to look for possible flaws”.
Remember, if the knowledge and talent are impeccable but you are not comfortable with him or her as a person then it will most definitely not work out. Don’t be afraid to let go off candidates that you feel uneasy about - it will save you a lot of time and stress in the long-run.
3. DISTINGUISH BETWEEN ARTISTS AND CRAFTSMEN
The main problem for an Art Director is to separate creative minds from executionists, and then build an environment where they can symbiotically coexist. “Today’s media art is half inspiration and half skill”, Shevchenko says, “you can never rely on artistic talent alone if you are to complete a 100-page project”.
Creative minds keep the flow going but executionists get you the end result. Keep the proportion fairly close to 1:3 - few concept generators, many follow-uppers. “It takes a few to generate ideas but a lot to bring the ideas to life”, Olga comments.
4. BECOME A COACH
“A good coach is a formidable athlete - yet he never actually enters the pitch”, Shevchenko says. The most common mistake of Art Directors is that they tend to manage projects and not people.
А good Art Director must embrace the following:
Be an authority: make your staff look up to you. Show the newcomers what you can do but never do their job for them.
Avoid assuming the role of lead designer. Each project has a person responsible for it and that person should have the final say. Mediate questionable aspects but don’t play judge, jury and executioner at every stage.
Never stop learning. Being a guru of graphic art design does not mean you’ve got nothing left to learn. If you improve then your team will follow you to catch up with your raised standards and expectations.
5. BUILD A TEAM
So, you have picked several designers that you really liked, hired them, and you think your design team is all fueled up and ready to go. Think again.
The first few months will be a living hell for you as Art Director. It took Olga Shevchenko nearly a year of thorough selection, hiring, firing and team building until her team started to show both creativity and efficiency.
Here are the basics of what she had to implement in order to achieve the final result:
No mercy for the freshmen. “Enroll your junior team members in the process as soon as possible so they can learn from practice”, Olga insists. If they keep up the tempo they will integrate into the team quickly. If not - better to part ways sooner rather than later.
Balance the workload. Tasks should be distributed among team members accordingly, not evenly. It requires efforts on both sides. You need to know what each of your designers is capable of and select relevant assignments for everyone. At the same time, the designers should be aware of their roles, accept assigned tasks, embrace natural strengths and avoid weaknesses.
The power of goodbye. Don’t be afraid to part ways with people who don’t fit in. “Sometimes it is worth hiring 10 people to be able to keep one in the long run”, Shevchenko says.
Create an amicable environment. Work shouldn't be a daily 9-to-5 chore. It should be an enjoyable and fulfilling process. After all, designers create things and a sense of accomplishment must not be shadowed by a pressing deadline.
Building an effective web design team structure is like carving a sculpture. Flaws and cuts are inevitable in the process, but they will never be visible on the statue’s final form.
Experimenting with different people and managing approaches may require effort but in the end, it will shape your team of designers according to your business needs.