An Interview with 6nomads’ Design Expert Igor Gott

Why most of the designers think of themselves to be twice as good as they actually are?

6nomads
6nomads
Jul 25, 2019 · 15 min read

We spoke to our expert Igor Gott, product manager at Alfa-Bank. If you want to know what designers will do when AI dominates the workforce, how remote work can be optimized to be the best it can be, and why young designers believe in miracles, read on!

Design is a lot more than logos on a colorful background, or a user interface on a device’s screen. It’s a whole experience that forms in a client’s interaction with the service. Design is the tip of the iceberg in the client’s associations with acquired experience along the way of coming to the department, calling for help or talking face to face with an employee. By 2020 the lines between branding, marketing and the product itself will be completely blurred. They will be more closely related than anything we could have ever imagined. A designer’s job will once again change and require even more expertise.
Igor Gott

Specialty: Interactive and Graphic Design
Education: Automated Control Systems, Software Development Engineering
Current job: Product Designer at Alfa-Bank
Hobbies: drawing comics, photography, and writing music
Portfolio: igorgott.com

Denis: Igor, I’m very glad you’ve decided to join us as an expert. You’ve brought forth a few completely new ideas: you’ve selected each designers’ best piece and explained exactly why it’s the best. But, I’m interested in a different topic — “A salary worthy of the candidate, based on their portfolio”. Tell me, do people underestimate you, or is it the other way around?

Igor: Thank you, Denis. I’m very happy to be a part of your project. Your service is unlike any other, it’s full of “designer spirit”, in the best sense possible. It specializes in designer selection, not just experts of any profession. It is because I’ve submerged myself fully in this idea that I was able to implement new ones, which, in my opinion, will help find the most appropriate candidates more accurately.

Now, as for your question. We designers are not painters, we can’t demand money just for our unique style, and expect someone to be ready to pay. The designers’ job market has been established for some time and there are a few certain skills that determine their level of professional skill and, consequently, the average salary.

Having looked through 100 designers’ portfolios I can safely say there’s a clear pattern — most of them think of themselves to be twice as good as they actually are. Why is that? Young designers, who’ve only been waving their sketching quills around for a few years, jack up their prices, hoping for the best. I’ve interviewed a lot of designers like this. They all hope for miracles, gifts from god, that, with as cool as they are, someone will just hire them and pay them a huge corporate top manager’s salary. Right now, the demand for designers is the highest it’s ever been and there’s a firm belief in the industry — “Designers get paid a lot”. That’s why many young and ambitious people over confidently double their price, which was too high to begin with.

The thing is, “luck” is more common than you think. A lot of companies, realizing their obsolescence and that they as employers offer jobs that are not the most interesting to designers who are available in the market, consciously up the ante because of greed. Most designers unwillingly fall for it, thinking they are the best, because they are being offered such a high amount of money. Next time they change their job, they end up in an even grayer office, with even less “designer work”, all for a slight increase in their salary, because it will be hard for them, both in ability and practicality, to do the difficult job of a designer, which requires attention and expertise which they simply don’t have, not to mention willingness to do it for less money.

Fun fact: there were a few designers who valued themselves at exactly the amount I was willing to pay them. And all of them were juniors. Looks like only a few beginners can realistically estimate their value in the market.

D: You’ve looked at 100 portfolios. Tell us, how much time that took and what’s the verdict: are we all going to hell in a handbasket or is everything going to be okay?

I: I have looked through 100 portfolios, every portfolio contains a few pieces — sometimes there’s two, sometimes there’s twenty. I’ve looked through around 1000 pieces. That’s around 17 hours, so two full-fledged workdays with no breaks. The mean level was average or below average, honestly, many weak pieces.

No, we’re not going into oblivion. Good designers are in the minority, but they usually feel good where they are and don’t change jobs too often.

These experts’ employers aren’t always treated fairly: designers are hunted, insistently poached, lured away with unimaginable carrots on strings. This is the designer’s chance in the spotlight, where they can name any price the new employers are willing to pay.

Young designers (who are not always young people), whose creative hearts have not yet matured, and with a quality of work leaving much to be desired, are the majority. There are three ways their designer career could go.

Path one: they truly burn with passion, try to be part of every adventurous project, carefully listen to their more experienced colleagues’ advice, read lots of professional literature, and actually try to use everything they learn. They quickly level up their skills and salaries, moving on to great companies.

Path two: they stay where they are way too long, nothing about the industry interests them, think of the bakery around the corner that really needs a website. After learning Photoshop, these specialists stay in this world for quite some time, where design exists purely for the sake of design, none of their pieces ever shine. Their skill level decays, and they consistently put out weak results for eternity

Path three: they honestly think you get the gist of the profession as soon as you can graphically replicate the feed of a popular social media website or draw up another concept for a dating app. After their first, second, or third test task, they still can’t find work, so they leave the profession, go on to be consultants at stores or pizza delivery shops.

So everything will be okay. The people who are not needed will leave on their own, but those who carry around gray portfolios, for the time being, will very soon get to the needed skill level and will produce the best products.

Obtaining knowledge nowadays has gone to a completely new level, when compared to what it was when I was just entering the field of design. There are a lot of opportunities to be a better designer now. It would be dumb not to take advantage of them.

D: By what standards did you rate the pieces. What did you pay attention to?

I: In my time working as an art director, I’ve reviewed tons of designers’ portfolios and resumes before hiring candidates. Understanding a person’s level quickly, but carefully, is a skill on its own that helps decide which people you want to call in for an interview, and which you don’t.

First and foremost, I look at the designer’s taste, the “feeling of wonder”. It’s a combination of the author’s skills, which lets them mix the unmixable, or the other way around, use standard, but proven tricks.

Most importantly, the drafts need to look whole, modern, and generally aesthetically pleasing. A quick look over a few of their works should be telling of the presence of taste, while sometimes just one piece is enough. If the candidate has a file with logos, that’s where I’d go straight away, even if they present themselves as interface designers. Especially, if they present themselves as interface designers, because this is where all those mysteries can easily be solved: their taste, how they think (what thought was put into the logo), ability to work with color, typography and composition, ability to work with many objects, with white and black, ability to present their work (slap their logo on the first mockup Google gives them or draw up something unique).

Long story short, you can judge about 90% of a person’s skills by their ability to design a logotype. When looking at websites or interfaces after looking at logos, most of my expectations are usually confirmed. I don’t need to look deep into the details, they’re all already laid out for me, and I know what I need to pay attention to with this particular candidate. I save a bunch of time.

Then I look at the consistency of quality in different pieces. When looking at a good designer, the quality of their work should increase with time. Overall, you should be able to see the author’s pattern. If you can’t see one and the quality jumps all over the place, then the designer is probably highly affected by external factors: an art director’s level of involvement, the buyer’s overwhelming comments, or the designer doesn’t think on their own at all, simply copying someone else’s drafts.

Next, I look at the designer’s ability to create interfaces. On a global level, that is not something that can be learned from a portfolio. Even if everything is drawn well and there are no logical mistakes, you can’t always know if the piece is actually of good quality, because you need to understand what task was given to the designer, and what parameters you could use to see if it was actually fulfilled.

Nonetheless, there are a great deal of details which could help judge the basic interface creating skills. Firstly, there are existing patterns for separate elements of desktop and mobile interfaces, when a designer starts doing something new with them, they either make the interface’s job harder by thinking up some useless innovation or just don’t understand how the pattern works.

Secondly, in order to see how a custom feature that a designer thought of would work, it’s enough to just imagine yourself as the user and try to accomplish the needed tasks. If everything is tied together, then the interface will most likely be easy to use in real life. If some elements’ work is questionable, I like to take a closer look, try to understand what the designer meant, what they tried to do. The designer’s ideas can sometimes be unclear and lack skill.

Sadly, there are a few important nuances you just can’t judge based on a portfolio, for example, the designer’s ability to argumentatively defend their choices or the ability to analyze the task and think rationally. You can only find these things out after meeting someone personally. Yet, a portfolio is still an irreplaceable attribute and the absolute starting point to getting a good job.

D: How would you rate yourself on UX/UI? Give a rating and explain.

I: Looking at a designer’s portfolio, the only thing you can judge accurately is UI. UX requires deeper analysis. I’ve talked about that earlier. Basically, when I was rating designers’ work, I was looking at their ability to correctly display different elements of the interface on screens or websites and do so logically. Having said that, UX is not at all about drafts, it’s about forming an experience, forming whole processes. Designers could draw up the most complicated interfaces, display everything correctly and make it look good, but all of that will have been pointless, because the best way to go was to just change the process itself.

I’ll give a short example. Instead of using an interface with a questionnaire for the buyer, the designer could think of a solution, where the buyer wouldn’t have to fill in anything at all, a salesman would call them and get all the necessary information. Here, a UX rating wouldn’t exactly be valid.

Going through those portfolios, we can only judge the ergonomic display of the elements and the ability to use them logically, so not just the small specifics of this huge field. What was the designer’s task? Why did they decide to draw up the exact screens they did? What are the users’ characteristics? How do they get onto the interface and what happens next? All of that remains behind the scenes. Some designers take the time to add slides about that into their projects, and that’s great. I don’t do that. And that’s not good. Maybe I’ll devote more time to talking about the processes in more detail in my future projects.

On a scale of 1 to 10, like the one I used to rate others, I’d give myself an 8 for UX and an 8 for UI. There’s room for improvement!

D: Employers often talk about how it’s not just pretty drafts they want to see, it’s also a description of the problem, the process of finding the solution, and the end result. So which format is the most promising?

I: This format has been around for a long time. For example, Artemy Lebedev Studio has been telling us about their projects in great detail: what the task was and how exactly it was solved. However, it’s a very hard and expensive process. Being responsible for a portfolio in such a format is not a job for just anyone, not to mention if you want it done well… Not every designer can afford to spare so much time. Many are lazy. So, if a designer’s portfolio talks about how they solved different problems, it most likely means they’re not afraid of a little extra work.

Although, that’s not our main concern. We live in an era when designers draw with their hands, a job that soon will be done by AI. Designers will be left to influence more global projects. Then there will be nothing else left to do, except for describing problems and solutions.

D: I, as an employer, fully believe in remote workers. I see only upsides to interacting with someone who works on a remote basis. However, many employers don’t share my point of view. In your opinion, what’s stopping productive companies from establishing effective work relationships with remote workers?

I: There are a lot of tools that help us cooperate nowadays, which solves a lot of problems, the biggest of which is someone’s physical presence. Some tools help us to not waste time with regular work meetings and make it possible to solve all our problems online. Some allow us to work entirely remotely without the need to physically connect.

Here’s a good example: many modern bands and groups write their music while being in different cities or countries. Musicians can release popular albums, never having met in person. We’re talking about a team of 4–5 people, which, of course, you can’t completely compare to a corporate team, where there are hundreds of thousands of workers.

Now, if we’re talking about a small design team of 5–10 people, then with the right organizer, you could establish a pretty solid working relationship. To use myself as an example, in one of the companies I was an art director, I had a team of nine designers. Only two of them worked in the office, the rest were scattered among different cities. Keep in mind, those were respected designers, not some freelancers. They were available whenever they were needed, and worked on Moscow time. All of our meetings and dealings were handled remotely. The designers completed their tasks effectively.

So what’s stopping many product companies from incorporating these processes into their work? Most often, it’s the managers and their mistrust. They are afraid of their workers slacking off. That is, first off, their own fault as employers who don’t know how to orchestrate and mitigate work schedules.

Another possibility is the designers’ inabilities to solve problems that they have neither the expertise nor the decisiveness for; they sit there, waiting for a nanny to change their diapers. Or, they don’t wait around, take matters into their own hands, but, with a lack of expertise, leave much to be desired. So you could presume the problem of switching to remote work to be either the incompetence of the manager or the immaturity of the subordinates. Mind you, this is only applicable to small teams. It’s a whole different story if, instead of a team of five or ten, you’re a team of thirty or a hundred.

In theory, nothing’s stopping anyone from establishing the preferred hierarchy. Split these huge teams into many small ones and work in the exact same way I’ve already described, but I’ve never encountered such things in my own practice. I’d be quite interested to be faced with such a challenge in the near future.

D: We at 6nomads really want to implement universal test tasks for certain industries. We think there’s no point to every company having their own. Tell me, did you adopt a universal test task for any bank or a specific one just for Afha?

I: “Universal test task for certain industries” sounds like a standardized test. I think the idea is extremely positive, if a bit utopian. There are a lot of hoops to jump through for this to be a thing.

Within in a single industry, in my example, banks, there’s a colossal difference between the different fields: designers, those who work with regular people, have a completely different set of attributes, when compared to designers who work with lawyers and other professionals, which can be divided into three separate segments. These are completely different segments which require designers of different levels of involvement and abilities to learn. It would be difficult to think up a universal test task in this case, just for separate segments, not to mention separate banks.

Honestly, I don’t yet understand how you’re planning on implementing universal test tasks. Judging by myself, I don’t give every candidate a practice task, only if there’s something specific I’m looking for, because a candidate’s skills are often obvious after looking at their portfolio and talking to them. If there’s something left to shine a light on, that’s where practice tasks come in.

Here’s the thing you need to remember about practice tasks: if a company doesn’t even consider candidates without them, then that company a) over values itself and/or b) is trying to immediately disqualify applicants who are not completely set on that company and have sent out dozens of resumes to different companies. If it’s a big company, different departments will have different level practice tasks, despite them being in the same industry. You have to be really careful when implementing your idea.

D: And now a lightning round. 3 of the strongest product companies, in your opinion

I: Let’s go! 1. Facebook 2. Airbnb 3. Uber

D: You draw illustrations, name 5 illustrators who are global trendsetters

I: I can’t stand trends. It’s one of the reasons I think of dribble as a useless bin of pictures, that look too much alike. If we’re talking about interactive design, then it’s visual development tendencies that are supported by technological innovations and functionality. Whenever someone on Facebook starts posting things like “This year’s color trend is purple”, I immediately mark those as spam. After reading posts like these, most designers start following the advice, and their projects become uniform. We don’t work in the world of high fashion; we don’t need to make up trends just for the sake of making them up.

As for illustrators, only those, who try to copy off of someone else’s success start to copy more successful authors. Illustrators are artists, and every one of them strives to achieve their own personal style. I will name five illustrators, whose works trigger pure emotions in me. Maybe they set a style others try to parallel, but what I like them for isn’t their discernable style, it’s their genuineness.

Unomoralez

I first encountered one of his works in 2008, and it immediately excited my mind with its darkness, surrealism, and technique. He’s one of the best pixel-artists. His pieces tell baffling stories. You don’t have to look at whole comics, even single pictures are stand-alone art, which have a million details

Otto Shmidt

Draws the coolest characters in a comic-book style

Simon Stalenhag

Really well-known guy, you’ve probably seen him on social media. His work is breathtaking

Kyle Lambert

I love his 80’s style movies posters. You could endlessly stare at the lovingly worked-in details under a microscope.

Lazy Square

Draws and animates the most complicated frame-by-frame animations with humor. I’m happy to be personally acquainted with Lesha.

6nomads

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6nomads

6nomads.com — a new kind of recruitment service focusing on remote tech companies.

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