Hiring the Right Designer : Perspective, Collaboration, and Storytelling
A design firm, or any consulting company for that matter, is only as good as it’s people.
Finding and hiring the best and the brightest needs to be a core competency. As Moment has grown, we have put a lot of effort into recruiting, from attending recruiting events at selected schools to attending industry events and conferences where our kind of people hang out.
We realized that we have a particular perspective, and a particular way of working that is different from many other New York-based agencies. (It’s worth noting that we recently opened a second office in Chicago.)
The starting point for us is to ensure that a potential recruit is aligned with our mission. We use some specific language to describe our work, to help potential recruits understand what we are and what we are not.
Firstly, we’re not an agency. The term “agency” is loaded with advertising industry baggage and assumptions about how those organizations work and what they deliver. What we do is design consulting. We work closely and collaboratively with our clients to help bring new offerings to market that are both commercially viable and valuable to the intended users — activities more commonly recognized in fields like industrial design and management consulting than what you would get from an agency. We describe ourselves as a Digital Product Design Firm.
This kind of specificity may seem like splitting hairs, but we’ve found it to be effective; particularly when describing what’s unique about Moment to potential recruits. When this language resonates with a job candidate, we may have found our next new designer.
Once we’re past the alignment hurdle, we use a series of metrics and criteria to help us communicate how we work, and assess how a job candidate would fit in at Moment. We’ve developed a framework that helps us find the needles in the hiring haystack.
Diverse backgrounds are critical. We believe that different backgrounds give all of us significantly different perspectives; and perspective is at the core of good design work. We look for people who know the history of their field well enough to develop a point of view and an approach to bring into their design work.
Moment’s perspective is drawn from the blended histories, values, and practices of our varied fields. Parts of our philosophy can be traced back to the modernist tradition of industrial and graphic design that emerged in cities like Dessau, Ulm, and Basel in the early to mid-20th century. Other parts emerged through ideas, methods, and movements in human computer interaction and the social sciences that greatly contributed to the foundation of the interaction and service design disciplines.
We’re working in an emerging area of practice, moving and shifting along with technology. We actively seek designers from varied backgrounds to enrich our way of thinking about the work we do. Our over 50-person group includes people from all over the country and the world, representing myriad academic areas, from international relations to psychology to studio art to the more obvious industrial and graphic design. The best work happens when you bring all these bright and opinionated people together to work on solving client problems. Which brings us to our next point…
Collaboration is central to our work. Every product that is designed here is a shared creation between our designers and our client partners. Moment is not a place that celebrates rockstars or big egos. We look for people who can share a whiteboard; people willing to pick up the marker and facilitate a teamwork session and then pass the marker along and listen. We value people who are comfortable with critique, people who give and take constructive criticism.
As you can imagine, collaboration and critique are difficult skills to evaluate in an interview. We look for evidence of effective teamwork, and want to hear about the roles that people gravitate toward in different team experiences.
Candidates with studio backgrounds tend to have an advantage in the critique category. They’re likely to have had both their work and their process evaluated through critique, and comfort with this process makes for better collaboration here.
While we love a good book, when we say “storytelling” we’re not looking for novelists. As design consultants, both written and visual storytelling play an enormous role in the success of a project. Being a good storyteller requires empathy, planning, and improvisation. Knowing your audience and what they will value from a meeting is critical. You must consider audience roles, their frame of reference, and find a way to make them care about what you’re presenting. We want people who can craft agendas and supporting materials to facilitate an outcome, and improvise when they’re thrown a curveball (Oh, senior executives are joining today’s concept review? No sweat).
Interviews are a good venue for storytelling, but unfortunately, few candidates do this well. A successful project story should leave your interviewers feeling interested and engaged in your solution, and should provide enough rationale to convince us that your solution is a good one. Most candidates get tripped up explaining the mechanics of what they designed, how it works, and leave out the hooks of the story: Why did you design it? Who is it for? How would it improve their life?
Strut your stuff. Tell a story that connects with the people you’re talking to. Your portfolio is not your story; it’s a prop to provide illustration. Avoid descriptive copy in your presentation materials. If your interviewer is reading, it means you’re not telling a good story. Make sure to tell us why you chose to explore a topic, what you learned, and how what you learned informed your solution.
We’ve found that first impressions are important and often to set the tone for a relationship, so we’ve put some thought into how we shape the experience for prospective designers. Though we only interview a small percentage of those who contact us, we answer every job inquiry to let the prospective employee know that their interest is appreciated and welcome.
If a candidate is chosen to interview, we begin a multi-interview process where they meet at least four of us, including a practice lead and at least one of the Principals of the firm. To help us (and our candidates) make informed decisions, we created a short redesign exercise that we ask candidates to do. This helps us understand how a candidate would approach a design problem and helps the candidate get a solid sense of the kind of work that we do here.
Why We Hire
We don’t hire to fill slots or because we’ve sold work that we can’t staff. We hire to add the right people to the firm. After ten years, every new addition to the firm brings something surprising, something special, and something that makes Moment better than we were before.