Market update 2019: Design

As the demand for design talent in the Bay Area shows no sign of slowing down our team here at Robert Walters continues to grow, and we recently welcomed Jocelyne Liu and Anna Shokareva to the team.

Throughout 2018 the most difficult position for startups to hire within the design org was the individual contributor product designer with at least four years of experience. This was especially the case when the need was for the candidate to remain comfortable being hands-on and without an immediate path to management. The main reason for this is that the number of opportunities for product designers outweighs the number of relevant candidates in the Bay Area and they frequently receive multiple job offers during their search. In a bid to attract talent and compete with other offers, companies are awarding ‘Senior’ titles more easily. It’s not uncommon for designers to have this title a year or two after leaving school, whereas previously they would have needed 5-6 years experience. As a result, companies are finding their design teams to be top heavy with too many ‘senior’ product designers who want to move into management rather than IC designers who want to continue doing hands-on design work.

Whether or not a company values ‘design thinking’ can play a big role in attracting product design talent. Designers are quick to rule out opportunities if the design team is viewed more as an ‘internal agency’ with little input on product direction, rather than a true partner to product management and engineering. The reporting structure in the company is also important to product designers and it’s something we’re frequently asked about. It’s becoming necessary that the most senior people in the design, product management and engineering teams are peers.

The strongest product design candidates are the ones who not only have a highly thoughtful and attractive portfolio, but can clearly articulate their design process and how they chose specific solutions to design problems.

Interview processes for designers are becoming more streamlined. The ‘take-home assessment’ is increasingly frowned upon by the design community with many designers refusing to complete it if it involves working directly on the product of the company they are interviewing with. In fact, if a homework assignment does play a part of the interview process, we’re finding that designers will spend at most 2-3 hours on it. In lieu of the ‘take-home assessment’, many companies are opting instead to allocate a portion of the onsite interview to a brief design challenge. We’ve also heard that this provides a more rounded experience on both sides as designers can explain their thinking in real-time.

As companies mature, they usually make a hire on the creative direction side. Often, this is because they want to re-brand or feel that their brand needs to iterate and evolve so it makes sense to bring someone permanent in-house. We have also experienced an increased demand for creative direction and visual design candidates, however the volume of these roles is lower than the demand for product designers. Early stage startups generally opt to engage design agencies to create their brand and visual identity. Alternatively they look to hire product designers with visual design experience to work in a hybrid role as producing the product itself is a higher priority.

Investment in UX research at an earlier stage is becoming increasingly common among startups. Another notable development in this space is how more and more start-up’s are having a Head of UX Research as a peer to cross functional leaders and embedding UX Researchers in product pods with PMs, engineers and designers.

While the job market in the Bay Area is hot across all areas of design, demand for talented product designers is at boiling point. Roles that offer the opportunity have input on product development and to build something ‘impactful’ really attracts designers. Whether that’s at a mission-driven company, consumer or enterprise, they need to feel that they are creating something with real value for the end users.

To discuss the current market, or get help with your hiring, please reach out to:

Mary McKinley, Manager - Design

Dir: +1 415 549 2009