Deciding to hire your first start-up designer is not easy, but it’s only the first step in the hiring process. With product design going far beyond “making things pretty” and even “making things usable”, how do you find the right person with the right skill set to help your business grow? From user research to UI design and coding, here’s a short explanation of what to look for in design candidates.

“Just make it pretty”

You can play safe and aim to hire a strong generalist, but with everything that is normally required for a typical design vacancy, this will decrease the chances to…


Let’s start with an example of communication skills: they are important for any profession, and you expect any professional to have a decent level. However, excellent communication skills won’t make up for the lack of core expertise. Imagine a plumber who is a great communicator (just look at his sense of humor!), would you still hire him if he was a terrible plumber? Nope.

The same goes for software and visual design — it’s good to have your app looking great, but it won’t make up for the lack of core functionality or bad experience. If I’m comparing two products…


Since the introduction of 5 whys, we know how effective asking “why” is to uncover root causes behind a problem. While in theory everybody agrees it’s important, in practice, it is tempting to jump straight into fixing the problem instead. And when you do that, things typically go wrong in two ways: treating symptoms without addressing the root cause or treating a wrong root cause.

Treating symptoms without addressing the root cause

Asking why allows to move from symptoms to immediate causes to underlying issues
Why Iceberg

While it can be immediately helpful, it’s not sustainable long term. If you have a headache, taking paracetamol once is a good idea. …


Ever Given container ship is stuck in Suez canal
The Ever Given team knows a lot about being stuck | Suez Canal Authority via AP

While going freelance at the beginning of 2020 turned out to be an absolutely horrible idea (thanks, pandemic), it helped me notice two things about my work. More of my design work happens in Google Docs than in Figma, and I spend more time communicating ideas than coming up with them. The conclusion was inevitable: I need to get better at writing.

While learning, I realized a few things can be borrowed from design practice. One of them — how to deal with getting stuck. The two common ways of being stuck are: being unsure how to express a specific…


As the spectrum of design skills grows — from only visual design 20 years ago to data analysis and user research now — so do the design portfolios and the case studies needed to showcase these skills.

Thousands of near-identical portfolios with near-identical case studies arise. Bootcamps emerge to teach more designers how to stand out less.

This is bad for candidates as it’s almost impossible to stand out with your unique skills; this is bad for employers as it’s impossible to distinguish between candidates anymore. …


Last year’s work with six products at the same time made me realize one thing about feedback. A lot of times it helps, but there’s also a dark side to it. Sometimes it’s just too much. Even excellent feedback can be damaging if it ignores context. Even the most horrible feedback can take a lot of effort to dismiss.

That got me thinking — where am I, too, a part of the problem? Can I apply the same logic to day-to-day life?

So I started this simple experiment and quite happy with the results so far (of course need to…


Here’s a thing no one tells in design schools:
If you’ll choose a design career,

Every day

For the rest of your life

Everybody will have (and probably share) an opinion about what you do.

Feedback might be constructive or not, you might learn to benefit from it or get paralyzed in indecisiveness, or you might grow a thick skin and ignore it completely. But the fact is, everybody will tell you what they think of your work.

Feedback is a gift

“Let me share some feedback”

Creating an open culture of giving and receiving feedback is at the core of building exceptional products. …


I spent 2020 in design hiring — first half as a candidate and second as a hiring manager, and went from trying to fit to “industry standards” to realizing how little sense they make to assess product design skill set.

Twenty-thirty years ago, when most of the designers were graphic designers, assessing design work was as easy as judging its looks. In most of the portfolios, you’d see the design itself, a brief if you’re lucky, and some community appreciation, whether it’s an award or number of likes on a platform.

With the growing complexity around digital products, it became clear that a lovely image is by far not enough to know if the work is good. We need to know how well it serves customer and business needs, and is it the best solution to customers’ problems in the…


Product decision-making scale
The two extremes of product decision-making

Out of all the cultures out there, I’ve had the luxury to experience (and survive) both extremes of the decision-making spectrum:

  • Decision-making driven by opinion (mostly HiPPO) — a big boss decides what a team (department, company) is going to do, and good luck dealing with it if it doesn’t make any sense. Working in this environment isn’t very pleasant unless you’re the one making the decisions.
  • On the opposite side of the scale, there is decision-making driven by data. Sounds great since supposedly anyone can propose a change given the right set of data (and very often they can)…


Imagine this: you’re presenting a complex, well thought-through design (which was just updated based on feedback during a usability test). Five minutes into the presentation someone noticed that you used an old 4px border-radius on a button, where he thought everyone agreed to use 5px… Half an hour later you’re still trying to steer the conversation back on track.

Sounds familiar? Apparently, this is so not uncommon that there’s a term for it: meet bike-shedding.

The term is coming from an example of (an imaginary) committee who needed to approve plans for a nuclear power plant and spent the majority…

Elena Borisova

Product, data, decision-making, philosophy| Learning from everything that went wrong | Digital Product Designer | elenaborisova.com

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