We need to
talk about
design hiring
process

Experiences, checklists
and some smart talk

 

Let’s start: what is the role of a designer?

Have you ever thought that in all objects, furniture, cars, houses, smartphones, apartments, in any structure made by humankind, there was someone who designed it? In other words, a person who decided that an object was going to be like that and not like that? Scratchy and not smooth? Light and not heavy? Gray and not red?

This person was a designer. 

That’s why the design position is not just another position in the product development pipeline. It’s a position responsible to guide those around him/her whether designing a simple form, projecting a stool, or conceiving long term product vision.

As designers, we also push teams to think forward . We grab, as a dog grabs a bone, the user interests and pains.

We seek to solve the whole problem, not only looking to aesthetics, but also to what strikes the origin of the pain. 

“Design is also the process we undertake to solve a problem. It fucking hurts to catch a baseball with your bare hand. A mitt is the solution to that problem.” Mike Monteiro, 2015, Medium article “Why you need design” 

It’s also our responsibility to look beyond functionality, hierarchy, consistency, usability, aesthetics and accessibility. We want not only the solution that works well, but the one that works for everyone. 

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer - that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Steve Jobs, 2003 New York Times article “The Guts of a New Machine.” 

Quite a responsibility, right? That’s why hiring a designer suck.

Hiring a designer is fucking hard

Anyone who has ever hired designers knows how difficult it is. Who are them? Where they live? How to define if it is a good hiring? It’s almost a treasure hunt to find a good fit in the cover letters and portfolios. 

And it’s not only because of the portfolios, but also because of the lack of standardization to evaluate the candidate and the few documentation of good hiring practices in the market. 

This means that, at the end of the day, each company uses its own methodology and it’s not clear the criteria for who recruits, much less for those who apply.

My experience

I’ve been working in the design industry for the past ten years and I had the opportunity to help in the design hiring process several times. In the last months, I changed my job and the application experience made me think about how I could improve the hiring process at Worldpackers, the startup I used to work. 

I applied and participated in interviews with Itaú, Nubank, Loggi, Eventbrite, Spotify, Catho, Globo.com, among others. They were all cool and with excellent experiences to share.

Boas referências

I gathered my experience with some cool references: Lindsay Mindler, designing the team; do Michael Owens, designing the hiring process; and an interesting discussion by Tiffany W. Eaton, in the Identifying design company fit. If you want to know more about the debate, just go ahead and read those materials. It’s all there.

In this article, I summarize and show a little of what I experienced to reduce the stress for hiring designers, in addition to bring some insights to those who are looking for a new job in design industry.

Deciding what the team needs

In order to perform a good hire, first, it’s important to understand the needs and goals for the project or the team are. It’s crucial to have clear the expectations, gaps, kind of seniority and what skills required for the job. 

Nav Pawera, Buuuk’s head of design, says that a good exercise is to explain the role and expectations of the job in just a few lines. 

“A designer who knows the basics of visual design and is looking to learn and migrate to design interfaces” or “a designer with 2-3 years of experience in delivering well-validated projects in usability testing”.

For this, questions like the following may help to define the expectations of the company and to align with the team: 

• Why are we opening this position?

• What does our area need?

• How will the everyday activities of this designer be?

• What are the objectives that we expect in the short, the medium and the long term?

What the team needs to learn

Another way of looking is to ask yourself as your own team: what do we want to learn? After all, bringing some designer with specialty in points that the team needs to develop is an investment not only for the project, but for the whole company.

In this case, we start by listing strengths and weaknesses. For example: 

Strengths: Prototyping, Interaction, Visual Design.
Weaknesses: Research, Metrics and Data Analysis.

“One simple way of finding what your team actually needs, it seems, is to look at where you are contracting out the most work. Start there. Next, look at where your gaps are as a leader. For example, I am trained in interaction design, but not as much in UX. For our next hire, we are filling that gap by looking for a designer with that UX background.”  Lindsay Mindler, 2014 in Designing the Team. 

Defining these points not only leaves all of the team and company on the same page but also helps at the time of the job description. 

Attributes to rate the designer

When we think of evaluating designers and their work, we can consider a number of criteria.  Michael Owens and Jonathan Lieberman, in their article, designing the hiring process, bring some important points to the evaluation process: 

Beyond the interface

Yeah, we know how important the look and feel of the product. However, the story ends there for lots of designers, which leads to a problem of misunderstanding, ignoring the complexity of its implementation or skipping the reasoning that resulted in the interface.

To be clear, Dribble and Behance are great to look for references. We know how important those things are to instigate our design community, but business goals and product, brand, or service experience are not born of pixels, but from interacting with your users and other areas. 

Communication

Spreading ideas and knowledge are also daily tasks of a designer and they become easier with clear, rational and objective communication. 

Identifying these points at the time in the interview of hiring is fundamental. How do designers present and sell their work and their role in the projects they participated in? How was to spread the project and get buy-in of the other teams? 

“The most important thing is how candidates present their work, describe the challenge and their role in it, and sell themselves. This allows us to evaluate not simply the quality of problem solving and design skill/knowledge, but also their communication skills and whether they truly want to be part of a collaborative interdisciplinary team, rather than be a highly-specialized individual contributor.” - Erika Hall 

Problem solving

It’s also important to understand how designers move from pixels, software and interfaces to business problems, metrics and empathy with the user. 

It’s important to identify in the interview how deep the candidate tried to understand the problem, especially at higher levels of seniority.

“Interesting to see how people approach and dig into a better understanding of the problem, constraints, business objectives, success metrics, context of use, current solutions, use cases, general empathy for the user” - Dave Young

Passion

It may seem abstract, but identifying people who don’t just want to be hired for the job, but that are passionate about what they do on a daily basis is critical. If designers don’t have this passion, they will hardly be 100% involved in their work.  

There aren’t many things that adversely impact a team’s dynamic more than having a designer who isn’t passionate about what they’re working on.” - Jonathan Lieberman

Ownership

Nothing is worse than a project born without an owner. How did the designer take responsibility for what was delivered? How did the project grow? Which paths needed to be changed to make this happen? How were these decisions taken? 

“The absolute worst thing is when they blame a decision on the client without being able to articulate the client’s POV that led to the decision.” - Bob Baxley

Guidance

Sharing experiences, inspiring and guiding junior designers also play an important role in the designer’s position. In addition, understanding how they orchestrated collaboration of other designers in the previous project also tells a lot about how they’ll deal with the next. 

“For a manager how they guide design (how they ask questions, what they focus on, do they know the craft as well as people? How do they give feedback? Can they see poor ideas? Can they move them forward?).” - Stefan Klocek 

Of course, not all of these criteria are evident right away. We’re able to extract some of them through the portfolio, others in the face-to-face interview and some only when designers presents their work.

Finally, there are circumstances that we can only notice them on a daily activities.

How to identify in practice?

At Worldpackers, we created a checklist as a flow that helped me to make the evaluation criteria more tangible: 

1. Ensure good job descriptions.

2. Have the right questions in the application form.

3. Absorb the maximum of the first interview, usually a remote one.

4. Choose the appropriate design test.

5. Cover the last points and doubts in the final interview.

6. Provide feedback to those who did not get the job.

I’ll cover the first two topics in this article and in the next we will talk about the others.

1. Ensuring good job description

Clear descriptions are the initial step to avoid doubts and make sure that designers identify whether that job makes sense according to their career momentum, skills and level of seniority. 

Moreover, it’s crucial to consolidate the need for that job opportunity, as discussed above. As a designer, don’t let yourself go through confused job opportunities or being unclear about the team’s need, company maturity and expectations about the designer. It’s very common that confusing descriptions results in confusing job opportunities. And no one wants to work in a position that neither the contractor nor the designer knows what to expect from each other.

Here follows what we used as a benchmark to create our description: 

1. Presentation and purpose of the company.

2. Team challenges.

3. Technical need.

4. Cultural match.

5. Benefits.

6. Link to application form.

2. Application forms

While in the job description the goal is to ensure that the designer knows more about the company and its challenges; in the application form the objective is the company to know more about the designers. It’s important to take into account the evaluation criteria such as clear communication skills, problem solving, ownership, guidance, etc. 

To cover these points, we organize ours as follows:

1. Basic information.

2. Why work here?

3. How is your design process?

4. Describe any project you are proud of. What did you learn from it? What could have been better?

5. What is the last content related to your work that you read?

6. Have you ever written a text?

7. Portfolio link; LinkedIn, Behance, Dribble.

8. Additional Information.

Now let’s talk about each of the topics:

Basic information

It’s important to ensure that bureaucratic information as a contracting regime, work regime (remote or face-to-face) and where the company is located are clear. We even did checkboxes to ensure the candidate read the information. Contact information is also welcomed.

Why work here?

This is the opportunity to understand if the candidate is aware of the company/segment and which drivers guide its career at the moment. Is it a career change? Do you want to design new products? Do you wish to work with larger or smaller teams?

How is your design process?

Less than a checklist of theories, the focus here is to understand how the designer deals with the demands of everyday life and what his perceptions are about:

• What’s your working framework?

• How close they are to the users?

• How do the insights of other teams impact your work?

• Where do you look for references?

• How do you run or design your interface?

• How close are you to the developers?

• How is the iteration process?

• How do you cross the areas?

Of course the answers vary according to the designer’s profile, and skills, and maturity, but at the moment it’s important to check if the designer’s process makes sense for your team or how to add and improve them.

Talk about a project that you are proud of. What did you learn from it? What could have been better?

In this moment, it is important to talk less about the specific characteristics of the project and more on the contribution of the designer in it.

• What was your role?

• Who was important in the execution?

• What do you see as an opportunity in it? What are the next steps?

• What were the results or impact?

What was the last content about your area that you read?

It sucks when designers stop in time and don’t acquire knowledge anymore. Design is an industry that always changes. When we don’t have constant access to this knowledge, we are put behind other colleagues – even more considering the easy access to incredible content in Médium, LinkedIn, blogs and books.

In addition, this is the time to understand what issues within the vast design world are of interest to the candidate.

Have you ever written an article?

It is not mandatory, but it is a differential when you have something written and consolidated by them.

Portfolio link; LinkedIn, Behance, Dribble

It’s important to let everything organized and with easy access. It includes: LinkedIn updated and Behance with the latest jobs. In one of the applications of Worldpackers, the designer had works of 2006. 

2006? Really…?

Before applying to a job opportunity, it’s important to ensure that your portfolio doesn’t only have final screens or results, but also the whole process of developing the project. What was the initial scope of the project? What was the challenge? What has changed? Bringing this to the portfolio enriches the material and gives a nice insight into the process that the designer followed.

Your hiring process is also a product

Guys, this was the first part of the subject! In the next moments, I will cover about the design tests, the remote interviews, the face-to-face ones and the feedbacks even for candidates who don’t get the job.

But the bottom line is that no matter what part of the process we’re talking about, it needs attention and iteration in the same way we do in our sprints over time.

“Just like a product, your hiring process needs attention to detail and careful consideration.” Mathew Owens em Designing the hiring process.

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