The wrong way to hire designers (and the right way)

Adit Gupta
Jan 9, 2018 · 5 min read

Hiring a good designer is tough. You’re competing in a fierce market with a shared understanding that a bad hire can cause substantial damage to your company. No, I’m not exaggerating anything here. Given that you just have a few seconds to hook a user, it’s essential to get your design right.
So, how do you go about scouting and hiring a designer? Chances are that you’re doing any one/all of the following in addition to posting a job listing on your site and job portals:

— Shortlisting candidates based on their Dribbble or Behance profiles.

— Hiring a job consultancy firm to scout for designers.

— Once a candidate is shortlisted, you do a telephonic round followed by a design assignment that can last from a couple of days to a week. If everything goes fine, you give an offer.

Sadly, you’re doing it wrong.

Let me first begin by accepting that I am also guilty of following the above process. And I’ve burnt my hands. So, what’s going wrong here?

The very first mistake is having a poor understanding of the job role and the skills required for designing your product. Ask yourself if you need a visual designer/ interaction designer / graphic designer / UX researcher / UX developer or a UX generalist (this is rare). I’ve seen numerous companies hiring pure visual designers and then asking them to lay out the interactions and information architecture of the product. Conversely, I’ve also seen interaction designers working on banners and logos. This is inefficient and will likely produce sub-standard results.

The design assignment

The second mistake and the one that is most common is related to the design assignment. I’ve seen numerous Indian startups giving a “live project” as a design assignment. The designer usually has to redesign the product or perform a UX audit on it. Just about everything is wrong with this approach. First of all, expecting a redesign of a product within a couple of days is illogical and irrational. You can’t get a good design without a proper understanding of the business, problem, product and target users. The most you can get with this assignment is a nice visual layer. It’s only after understanding the real issues that you can go on with the iterative approach of product design. And all of this takes some time. To quote from “The Design of Everyday Things”:

Engineers and business people are trained to solve problems. Designers are trained to discover the real problems. Good designers never start by trying to solve the problem given to them: they start by trying to understand what the real issues are. As a result, rather than converge upon a solution, they diverge, studying people and what they are trying to accomplish, generating idea after idea after idea.

Another issue with the assignment on a live project is that you’re expecting your job to be done for free. Redesigning or a UX Audit is bread and butter for designers. Asking them to do it for free is simply wrong and unethical. Pay them if you want work on a live project. Some of the bigger companies hire designers as consultants to work on a live project. They work with them for a considerable time and give them an offer if they like the work. This is a better approach. Everybody wins.

Let’s fix it!

So, is there’s a right approach to hire designers? Though the word approach is itself subjective, we can improve the process that I’ve mentioned above. To avoid all sorts of ambiguity, confusion and dilemma, you can ask a bunch of questions to yourself and the candidate to make things more transparent and understandable.
Ask the following questions to yourself, the product/project owner, before you write that job description:

— Do I have a good understanding of the problem to be solved? How will it help my business?

— Is the problem related to product discovery and adoption? Or usability? Or is the product not visually appealing to my users?

— Do I already have team members with the required skill set to solve the problem? If not, how will this new hire work with the team?

Answering these questions will clarify the requirements for the job and will help you in better focusing your search for the right candidate.

When it comes to the interview, give a good amount of time in analyzing the candidate’s portfolio. Ask questions about existing projects:

— What was your approach towards designing this product/feature?

— Did you do any user research to arrive at a particular design decision? How was the research conducted?

— How did you collaborate with your product managers? Was there a situation where you had to convince about a different approach?

— What bottlenecks did you face while working on this project? How did you work through them?

— How did you collaborate with your development team?

— How did you collaborate with your design team? In case of remote teams, ask some questions related to their work process.

— If the job role is focused more on visual design, ask more questions related to the choice of palette, layout, illustrations, and accessibility.

Based on the project and the job role, you can ask more specific questions related to interaction design, information architecture and the design process.

If there’s a need for a design assignment, consider a case study that will test the candidate’s design thinking and the approach towards problem-solving. One of the best ways to do this is by adding some constraints to the problem. These constraints can be related to device/medium type, market, target population or even business strategy. You can test a candidate’s skills and creativity by the way these constraints are handled to approach the problem.

Every business has a different set of problems, and there can be no single set of questions that can help you in hiring the right candidate. That said, you can take the process mentioned above as a template to frame your own for hiring in the right way.

I hope this helps you in getting some good designers for your company. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section!

Adit Gupta

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