When you want to hire a designer, how do you evaluate their domain skills?
If we say UX+Designer, chances are, than people will associate different domains. For some, it is aesthetics, emotions and colours. Or it is information architecture, interaction design and navigation patterns. Some can see data visualisations and front-end engineering. Some others can't accept this domain without behavioural, cognitive psychology and user research.
Every designer blends a unique mix of skills. When the team is clear about expectations, HR talent acquisition team can effectively look for candidates. But how do you compare two equally interesting candidates? How do you know that candidate will fit new product domain that he has no previous experience? Two popular techniques are design exercise and design assignment.
Exercise vs Assignment
With design exercise, the candidate is solving well-scoped design problem on the spot. It is a great technique to uncover creativity, problem-solving and communication skills. You can see how candidate approaches design challenge. By asking "Create wireframe of x" you are already saying that the only right solution to a problem is to create wireframe of it.
But on the spot exercise says very little about ability to deliver — scope, estimate and ship final production quality deliverables on time. Design exercise also does not give the candidate a chance to evaluate his future duties and domain— solving a general or abstract design problem says very little about specific APM Agent administration or Structural design calculation that he will be responsible for.
Many people have great ideas. Only few can execute around them.
Design assignment is essentially homework. Pros are, that candidate can have insight into real problems that he/she will be solving. Even for a very small part, you can ask for final production deliverable. You can also see how the candidate is able to estimate his work, and execute around the constraints that were already provided to him. Cons are, that senior candidates will probably have very little time and motivation to work on extra homework. You are asking someone to work for you for free. It also does not make sense to ask for design assignment someone, who can demonstrate same skill-set with portfolio.
Design the assignment
I believe that benefits of design assignment overweight cons. Design assignment is helping to solve common design challenges: How do we rationalise our outputs? How do we answer why we have chosen one solution over another? How do we provide more visibility into design process?
By applying design craft into every domain of enterprise culture including the assignment we can prove, that design is not flash of a genius, but well thought, reproducible and systematic problem solving approach.
My goal was to work out design assignment to evaluate candidate skill-set focused on visual design. This designer primary role will be transferring wireframes and schemes created during ideation phases into production ready deliverables directly picked up and implemented in ongoing sprint iterations.
I defined objectives based on team requirement and expectations. Defining objectives and storing them for later reference enables team to rationally evaluate assignment output.
Not all tasks are equally demanding. Some of them are simple test questions, while others are only defining the problem and leaving candidate to find the right solution.
To enable design to play bigger role within an organisation, we need endlessly explain rationale behind every design decision-including design hiring. I approached design assignment as any other design problem — define problem objectives, design solution and validate result with key stakeholders.