July 26 2019
Experience designers design great experiences. So why do they throw their trade out the window when it comes to hiring other designers? From a candidate’s perspective, the interview process is completely broken, ineffecient and frustrating to say the least. It also leaves you with a lot of negative emotions. The resounding irony for me is that the process is designed or run by people whose very job is to actually design delightful, efficient experiences.
Now, this got me thinking. I haven’t really done much hiring. But given the chance how would I design an interview experience that would help me identify a talented designer, not waste their time and not hate me and my company? An interesting thought experiment to whittle away my commute hours. Here's what I came up with.
To start with I set some expectations for myself.
Perfect candidates don’t really exist. A much more realistic expectation is to hire someone who would own the role and grow into it. This means evaluating for potential and experience equally. I would also prefer that they have most of these qualities Be humble and self aware. Have designer DNA. (Explained below) Demonstrated history of self learning and have independent thought. (No yes men) Potential in, if not proficient in design. Ready and able to work with their hands. Balanced in work and life. Smarter than me.
Unless they are total freshers, most candidates are people with full time jobs and commitments. If they can take the time to interview with me, I can spare a few minutes to answer their queries. (This is something I have actually done in the past)
You are expecting a person to invest a large part of their life in your company. Ensure they are absolutely certain what they are getting into, and it’s something they will enjoy being a part of. Talk to them about worst case scenarios, and the growth they can expect.
The worst part of an interview for me is getting rejected without an explaination. The frustration is directly proportional to the amount of time you spent interviewing. This is where constructive feedback on why a candidate was rejected, closes the loop, and may allow candidates to improve their interviewing techniques.
Now the actual interview process. The major lenses of selection would be, passion, enthusiasm, and self-initiative. I firmly maintain that skills are something that can be taught really quickly to someone with the aforementioned qualities.
Obvious. Designers spend a lof of time curating their portfolios, and ideally these should be the starting point of the interview. If I find something I like about the portfolio, I would ask for a first call for portofolio presentation. I would prefer to see self initiated projects and passion projects, and not necessarily a long case study. I really don't know how to evaluate case studies.They all look the same, most of the times they are protected by permission issues, and many follow the same process, rattle off a plethora of UX jargon, have unfathomable nebulous diagrams and we have only the candidate's word that the end product made an impact. Your passion projects however showcase that pure spark of creative enthusiasm, and speaks volumes about who you are as a designer.
I personally hate design tests. But I see their value in identifying potential. They also provide a platform for less experienced designers to prove their chops. In my test however I would ask the candidate themselves to identify any problem they are passionate about. Then take two days to break down the problem and work out a high level solution for presentation and discussion. What I would like to see is how did the candidate identify the problem, how did they scope the requirements and how they defend their rationale for the process they followed to arrive at the solution. The solution need not be perfect, and it doesn’t need visual design.
My rationale for this ask is simple. Whilst contemplating, how to identify a good designer or artist or anything, I realised something. What do driven, passionate people do when they are not working...the answer is they do almost the same things they do at work. Animators draw. Developers code. Musicians play instruments. And designers design. It’s the designer DNA. As a designer I would expect the candidate to have contemplated designing solutions to challenges they've identified in their lives. It may help me understand what are the values that drive this person. Egs, I want to create a food delivery app for organic vegan food at lunchtime to companies…. Boring and fuck off you hipster. But, I want to create a service that can recycle unconsumed food from corporate cafeterias to orphanages… it may not be an app but… ok sounds great! Go for it!
This is a specific item, for non coding designers. I would encourage them to provide a small design in HTML CSS. The intention is to gauge their ability to self learn and resourcefulness. (Designers should have certain proficiency in code. Period.)
This article was informed by discussions with colleagues, my own experiences interviewing as a designer, as well as interviewing other designers. It's an attempt to outline a more humane, practical and realistic interview process. I believe it would work best for smaller, scrappier companies, that still need to maintain relationships in the talent pool. I mean wouldn't you rather prefer a candidate say positive things about your company even tho you eventually decided not to move forward with them?