D. Jameson
Published in

D. Jameson

Product design hiring tip

The 2 design mindsets to look for in building a winning product team.

A theoretical framework for non-designers to get a better sense of the product design world through two fundamental differences.

Hiring designers is never easy, and there is no straightforward path to this. In my quest to find answers on ‘how to hire designers right’, I have come across a recurring theme from different advises and it can be summarised to this — identify the ones with the right ‘design mindset’.

If you are hiring designers in the year 2022, beyond skillsets it is important to find what drives them, what keeps their enthusiasm high at the job to be done. Because, no matter how great the competencies are, great milestones cannot be achieved if people do not bring a genuine enthusiasm to work with a reasonable intent of performing to their best. It is even more paramount for those who are involved in the key areas of problem-solving at different stages; for which one must believe and develop a true sense of belonging.

Of course, there could be countless internal motivations for designers to be in the profession. But at large, most designers who really enjoy being in this trade, by and large, gravitate towards one of the two fundamental mindsets with which they operate. In the early days of their career, it might not be very apparent to many. However, with time, most designers find themselves moving towards one of the two metaphorical tribes where they truly belong: the Hunter or the Farmer.

Illustration courtesy: Owen Davey (Instagram, Website)

Let me start with a story about two people who lived near the jungle. Both have their families to feed and they take unique approaches to bring food home. One is a hunter-gatherer and the other, a farmer.

The hunter finds joy in bringing home the rarest of the treats for their family but with some risk of not succeeding in every attempt, as expected. But whenever they do, it is always a big feast, and everyone in the family celebrates it.

On the other hand, the farmer is iron-willed on not letting their family go hungry even for a single day and have built a farm for their staple food. It does not matter to them how rare the food is, what matters is to consistently provide nutritious food for all through all seasons, come what may. Farmers too have risks like unfavourable climate, natural calamities, or wild animals destroying their farm. But, they prepare themselves towards overcoming these challenges to ensure that there is food on the table, every single day, and the family is thankful for that.

While the hunter ventures into unknown lands in the joy of discovering something new and exclusive, the farmer focuses on creating something supreme by enhancing the resources available to them already.

Both lived a content life and then one day they thought, what if they collaborated? and they did. Since then both enjoyed the best of each other, and there was prosperity and happiness.

The point is, all product designers have some traits of hunters and farmers in them. These mindsets are often not a byproduct of conscious choices, but form from their natural responses fuelled by internal motivations. The immediate environment, and what we consume has a lot of influence on what we eventually produce. Given the intricacies in today's advanced design jobs and the pace with which this branch of design grows, it is almost next to impossible to have faster growth and to excel in multiple areas at the same level. Generally speaking, designers either choose to strike a balance with both but at the cost of slower growth, or go deeper and quicker through one selected path of super specialisation. Sailing on two boats is never an easy one— Of course, there could be exceptional cases, but that certainly can’t be considered as generic examples.

So, if all the designers in the world are split into two groups, based on the dominant design mindset with which they approach a design project, they would be either a hunter or a farmer in spirit.

The hunter

Designers with a hunter mindset challenge the status quo and take up less trodden paths to set newer benchmarks. They are driven by curiosity to explore the unexplored and are always on the lookout for novelty in whatever they do.

Illustration courtesy: Owen Davey (Instagram, Website)

The hunter-designers are extremely good at divergent thinking and quite comfortable while manoeuvring through ambiguous or unknown situations. They too have highly ambitious goals like farmers but hunters take a ‘fail fast’ approach in solving bigger and more complex problems.

Just like real hunters, the hunter-designers(especially in the early stages) may run into trouble of not meeting the expected objectives as planned, but they still progress a good deal. Every failed experience prepares them to develop better hunter-instincts to be quicker and more efficient for the next time.

These hunter-designers provide a competitive advantage to organisations working with innovative solutions, especially under agile environments. They are even more important for tech-based digital products and services, where the business objectives are often short term.

Many organisations and non-design leaders tend to underestimate the true potential of such hunter-designers while hiring, as they may not follow popular portfolios norms, or have fully refined final stage design outputs. But the ones who manage to spot these hunters early on, will establish a unique edge and emerge as true market leaders.

The farmer

Designers with a farmer mindset are often driven by their desires to create masterpieces with their craft and try developing signature styles over time. They focus on a selected set of skill sets to achieve supreme quality standards through relentless practice, patience and do not shy away from building upon previously tried and tested solutions.

Illustration courtesy: Owen Davey (Instagram, Website)

Farmer-designers are great convergent thinkers and focus not only on ideating but also on materializing the ideas to life through their craft. They are known for their obsession with finding and fixing even highly nuanced product communication issues under their purview.

People of this category perform better with clarity than open-ended or incomplete requirements. Once the complexity of a problem is somewhat solved at the product level along with their business/tech counterparts, they take charge and solve it for good, and their output usually comes at the point of delivery. For a product designer, that would be at the digital interface and interaction level. The output can range from graphics, UI, product copy, illustrations, motion and sound design, but it is not just limited to these. For example, farmers can be found in the User Research or UX teams as well. They are the ones who can do a specific job that doesn't demand so much innovation every time; their job is to do it at the finest quality, where the team can benefit from their unparalleled wisdom matured over time.

If given an option, farmer-designers choose to stay away from avoidable risks and rely heavily on proven strategies for focussing more time on refining the quality of their output under the circumstances. They keep optimizing their work through better tools, techniques and by building upon the learnings from others like them to improve their edge on the craft. Bringing flawless perfection in their work is the real obsession for people in this category. Their patience and attention to detail will give a unique characteristic and style for products to establish a remarkable place in the users’ hearts.

The value brought by farmer designers in an organisation is never even a debate as their output is easily understood and appreciated. In fact, the work done by the farmer designers is often a synonym to the word ‘Design’ itself for most people from non-design backgrounds.

To conclude,

The hunter and farmer mindsets are equally important and contribute to different areas in design-led problem-solving. A design mindset cannot come automatically with corporate designations, or even with a degree in design. It is something that is evolved over time through multiple sources and is not directly transferred from one person to the other. No one can be an overnight champion of design mindsets. Most importantly, these mindsets can be acquired and applied by anyone, and are not just meant for someone who has a designated design role in an organisation.

The hunter and the farmer can be perfect yin-yang when they come together. Each one takes different approaches to advance their career, and it takes relentless practice to master a mindset. At an individual level, it would be tough to master both in the same intensity. Of course, we have the greats like Leonardo da Vinci who seem to have explored these mindsets to rare new heights. But then, he is only one among millions.

This was an attempt to make a theoretical framework for non-designers to get a better sense of the product design world through two fundamental characteristics that every designer upholds in pursuit of design-led problem-solving in their career. However, since each problem and its context would be different, the key to success is not in striking a perfect balance but in finding the right harmony between these two mindsets.

The next time you try hiring a design specialist for your team, ask yourself — Am I looking for a farmer or a hunter?

Dhaneesh Jameson | LinkedIn | Twitter
(Experience Design Producer, Filmmaker)

P.S. Owen Davey is an incredible freelance- illustrator based in the UK and he was kind enough to contribute two of his stunning illustrations for this article. Do check out his work on Instagram.

Awful to Awesome & All in-betweens in pursuit of better Experiences, Solutions, & Stories…

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Dhaneesh Jameson

Dhaneesh Jameson

Experience Design Producer

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