If I'm looking to create a mobile app for my startup, should I first hire a designer or a developer?

I have a business plan with a wireframe of the mobile app product. I'm not sure who I should hire first between a (UX) designer and a developer. They will charge on an hourly basis, and I try to optimize their time so that I can manage my budget more efficiently. I understand that I will need both to talk and collaborate at the same time, but would it be better to start with a UX designer first?


Designer. Specifically a UX "designer" as you say, who doesn't just draw screens, and won't draw any for weeks or months. They will not just use their knowledge but will go out and talk to users, observe how they solve the same problem today, and help create the scope of work, and design the basic functionality.

If you hire a developer first, they will build stuff that may or may not be of any value. If the company survives the first few rounds of building the wrong thing, you are still spending a hell of a lot in rebuilding, re-marketing, etc. etc.

Answered 7 years ago


First a disclaimer - I have a lot of experience designing/developing large web apps - less with mobile apps but similar principals apply for sure.

The service you need first is someone to help you to define the functions your app is going to perform. So I'm not talking detailed screens and I'm not talking detailed tech questions. But I am suggesting you work with someone to get very clear on how the functionality of your app relates to your business plan. ie what features are most important on launch, which ones you are planning to develop soon after.

This is a consultant you're looking for although plenty of developers/designers will be able to do this job quite effectively if they also have business experience.

Once this information is clear then you would probably want to contact a developer for rough estimates on development costs/timeframes for each module you are building. They'll make decisions about which pre-built components to use in your project. Then you can weigh the estimates for each function against their projected financial value.

With this information you can get the UX guy to create detailed schemas for how the first release of the app will look from the outside. And you won't be wasting any time/money because the broad areas you're working on are already costed approximately with the developer. Then you can take the UX guy's output and send it to the developer to get much more precise estimates and you can make your final choices before pressing 'go'...

You will probably find that from a development perspective there will also be 'known unknowns' - no matter how skilled/experienced the developer they will not necessarily know off hand how long tasks will take. So often you'll need to pay them to explore these areas to get a proper costing. It depends how big/complicated your app is. Sometimes the developer will be keen to learn or to impress you and get your business so some of this they will absorb themselves.

Lastly, when the UX guy has done his job, make sure you get from your developer a proper costing for each module of the app. So we're talking something like:
First Screen - 300usd
API connection for 3rd party integration - 800usd
Video display page - 800usd
...and maybe even a break-down within each section.

Then make sure to get your developer to define a timeline with verifiable milestones for payment. So there may need to be advance deposits at some points depending on how your developer's business is structured but make sure that there are points where you can say 'when I can do X and Y and see for myself that it works' then 'payment is released'.

Sometimes the budget and the timeframe/milestones data will need to be revised but at least this can be a collaborative process between client and contractor. The better you communicate the more successful your working relationship will be.

With the best will in the world there are still often budget overruns but you can minimize these with the practical systems I've defined above and also by being as unambitious as possible with the technology within the bounds of what your business demands. So you can be as ambitious as you like with the business but always build the minimum sized tech solution you can because I guarantee you, the day your project hits the public, your plans will change and you'll be glad you've got time and money left over to respond appropriately:-)

I hope that helps, if you have further questions I'd be happy to help.


Answered 7 years ago

I'm a UX strategy consultant with significant experience working with developers and startups. In most cases, yes, you should hire a UX designer first.

In my ebook, I’ve written several reasons each for hiring a UX designer first and for hiring a developer first. Here are the ones which apply to what you are describing.

The case for hiring a UX person first:

1. They can help you validate or create the requirements for your product. They do rigorous research, focused on how your potential users would use your product - as opposed to a market researcher’s research, which focuses on what they will buy.

2. UX designers are good at imagining the world as it can be (as opposed to the world as it is), based on your users’ goals. So that helps you to truly move ahead of your competition.

3. A UX designer can build a prototype that helps you raise funding without requiring any code to be written. You don’t need to write code in order to have an MVP. Even a fake door pretotype (not prototype) can gauge interest in a new product or feature.

4. This is rarer in the mobile app world, but for website projects, companies may have already decided on a no-code platform.

The case for hiring a developer first:

1. You may have a solution to a complex enough problem that just getting a functional prototype built will be a huge win. This may be a good path for getting your first check from a big customer.

2. You may have already committed to a ship date and “can only get it built”. A UX designer works most effectively when there is time upfront for user research. If you need someone to jump straight into design and development, you may have to live and learn.

3. If you yourself have both deep expertise in UX - as opposed to just knowing how to use a prototyping tool - and the time to do UX work, you may be able to just hire a developer.

I know you already have a wireframe, but you should expect your wireframes to change after working with a UX designer. UX (as opposed to visual design, often called UI/UX) is more focused on problem-solving and research than on making an existing wireframe pretty.

Work at a fixed price rather than hourly if you are concerned about going over budget. Expect UX consultants to charge per project phase and/or per iteration to work well within this framework since a big part of their work is discovery. Fixed prices are a better arrangement for both client and consultant because it moves both of you away from micromanaging the work process and scrutinizing timesheets.

Let me know if you're interested in a call to discuss further.

Answered 7 years ago


You need to hire a business analyst first who will define what goes into the app and breaks it down to a point where it's granular in terms of workflow, features, functionalities, integrations, algorithms, etc.

This is what sets a foundation on which the wireframes and design is drawn up on.

Secondly, UX is not a standalone function. It's what a UX designer and the lead developer together define in an app, in an ideal situation. I would have the two working together, but only after you nail down the Functional Specifications with a business analyst.

Answered 7 years ago

Hello Hustler..

There are 2 kind of problems that people solve. Aspirin or Vitamin. The product road-map (from an engineering point of view) depends on this.

If you building something that is so unique and solving a crazy problem (E.g app that tell's what is your girlfriend thinking now capturing her brain waves from distance !!) you don't need to concentrate on the UX. UX is expensive and in some cases very important. In this case, the feature (MVP or minimim markatable product) is the key.

If you are building another burger joint or calorie tracking app or ride share, the UX is a big make/break factor .

Best is to hire someone who has more programming (engineering) experience and have enough understanding of the design aspects.

For your design needs, get it freelanced (cheaper)

Validate your MVP and and if there is $$$ coming, put it on improving the quality and experience which includes
- better UX
- scalable backends etc...

Call me if you need any help.

Answered 7 years ago

You need to hire a designer first. But a service designer. Who will design the application from the point of view of the customer, but with the technical background of a business analyst.

Answered 7 years ago

As a Designer and Developer, you should hire a designer first.

They should start with design discovery–looking at your business goals and target users to determine how the app should visually tie back into that.

Then they should work closely with you to create wireframes of the layout and content hierarchy. From there you can move into doing mockups. A good designer will also be able to prototype the animations and interactions you want your customers to experience as well.

Answered 7 years ago

If you are on a budget and you are wanting to save real money considering using a mobile app maker like GoodBarber or Shoutem. There are many services out there with really cool templates to get you going for a very low price. Once income starts coming into your company then you may consider redoing or having the big app companies customize it to fit your needs.

Keep in mind that 95% of all businesses fail so saving as much money up front could be the key to lasting longer.

Answered 7 years ago

My job & passion is to help mobile first-timers. Dealing with limited resources (or efficiently leveraging existing ones) is extremely common.

Building a working prototype to test the market is quite quick nowadays. The foundation of an app, especially before it is well-established should be clean UI and efficient task execution.

Considering (among other things):
- Apple likes when their native UI elements are used
- users like something they feel comfortable with upon first use
- there are many available apps you can use as a style/design reference
- you should avoid "stuffing" your app with additional features
- there is always room for UI/UX improvement but first, you need data/analytics to know what to tweak
- you mention "business plan", which makes me think the business itself might need some real validation

My advice is to hire a developer to release an MVP.

Answered 7 years ago

Designer first. You say you have a plan and wireframe, so can we assume you've talked to a dozen perfect customers (the exact type of person who will buy it)? If so, then you proabably are close to functional technical requirements. Giving an idea life by giving it a face gets your farther in the early stages when pitching for customers or investors.

Answered 7 years ago

The real answer is... hire no one and go Lean Startup! You need to de-risk the opportunity by formulating your key assumptions and validating them with the least amount of time and effort and expense.

An example... I helped a woman with an app that was going to provide a luggage free experience for travelers by sending them an entire wardrobe for their trip that would be waiting at the hotel.

She didn't need to make an app or hire anyone at first, she needed to validate that people actually wanted the service and validate she could deliver on the promise that 1) the clothes would fit 2) people would like her choices for them 3) She could execute the logistics 4) People would pay for it.

In the end, she used basic free tools and surveys to test each assumption in the assumption tree and went from idea to revenue in 8 weeks with NO development and NO hires.

She has made the risk minimal because now she is automating the experience with a designer and developer.

I have helped 50 founder do this same thing... works like a charm!

Answered 7 years ago

Actually what it would be useful to you is a Product Owner, or Technical Producto Owner to help you design your MVP (Minimum Valuable Product).

The MVP would be the first iteration of your project, and it would help you validate your hypothesis about the value and market of your product.

A developer is a good profile for this job, but at least with 5-7 years with experience in mobile apps and web apps.

I also recommend coaching with some CTO of a similar company or somebody who has been a succesful CTO for ask her or his opinion.

Answered 7 years ago

A developer, the First step is never to create a product.
Step 1 is alwasy
Test market acceptance:- Create an MVP, you would need a developer for it and try selling to people unrelated to you.

If 20 people are ready to pay for it and you have some revenue rolling in. Then invest in UX.

For now, check out similar products and get inspired by their UX and most developers should be able to do a satisfactory job of creating a UX from a sample.

For developers or UX designed just go to something like TopTal and pay by the hour.
Pro Tip:- Listen to Mixergy, a podcast. They tend to give out coupons for Toptal. This should also help you as far as your budget is concerned.

Answered 7 years ago

Honestly there is no right or wrong answer here. Its all about finding the right tech partner that you have confidence in. I have worked with developers that are great with UI/UX and designers that understand development. Either way find someone who has an understanding of the other side.

Personally I have both done UI/UX designs myself, whilst also managing teams of designers. The key is understanding the technology. The person who steps up first must have a clear understanding of mobile app industry standards, the features you want to build and a firm knowledge of how to represent those features in a design. Always look through their portfolios and find examples that are close to or inline with what you want to build.

The best course of action from my perspective is to get a software development company onboard that has specialists in both design and development. They should communicate and ensure that the UI/UX is inline with the tech.

For example my company, LaunchPadD, operates with a team of specialists from UI designers to native mobile app developers. Our team will support you even before we are engaged to ensure you are on the right track and not wasting your money.

You should be able to get any developer to go through your idea for free and give you a fixed price quote for design and dev. I would avoid having open ended hourly rates. Some will take more time and be more accurate than others so expect at least an hour or two of questioning for them to understand your idea even with the wireframes and then a day or two for them to come back with a figure (and breakdown).

If you need any further advice please feel free to get in touch.

Answered 7 years ago

To answer this question, you must understand the difference between the web designer and web developer. A web designer makes your website look good. They focus on the style and overall feel of the page, using software like Photoshop to customize the website’s visual elements. They also use code like HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to create their designs. Part of a web developer’s role is to build the a web designer’s concept. Like we said earlier, web developers are similar to those who build, and web designers like the visionaries. A developer usually specializes in designing website apps – a web designer focuses more on what the user will enjoy doing. You now know the differences between a designer and developer. This is important stuff to know because knowing when to hire each one will make your website-related life much easier. Let us now look at which are the projects that require a designer and which are the projects that require a developer.
1. Design a new homepage layout-- Web Designer
2. Build a new contact form-- Web Developer
3. Create a mobile app-- Web Developer
4. Conceptualise new website branding-- Web Designer
5. Fix server/hosting issues-- Web Developer
6. Edit photos and videos-- Web Designer

Besides if you do have any questions give me a call:

Answered 4 years ago

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