Thoughts on hiring designers

And how we are doing our hiring process today

Over the last three years our design team grew from three to ten designers. During this time, we have passed through multiple cycles of our hiring process, each time opening a position and receiving hundreds of applications. Unsurprisingly, it is always a hard job to compare impressive candidates and find the right person.

Every time we reach out to the local (and often global) design community, we are motivated by how rich and diverse it is, and excitedly peruse voluminous portfolios and impressive CVs. But with every new search, no matter how hard we probe candidates with phone screens and other evaluative tools, we are also plagued by the fundamental issue of any hiring process: how do we truly visualize this person as a member of our team?

We believe hiring should be treated like dating. In other words, it has to work for both sides. You are not simply adding extra hands and skills to your team, you are inviting a person to be a part of your team’s everyday life and that will have an impact in how your team works and live as a family. Moving to a new company can have a huge impact in a person’s life and should be treated with responsibility.

So here is the process we came up with.

Profile analysis and phone screen

To start, we look for sign of good fit with our culture, analyzing everything publicly available about a candidate, not just their portfolio or CV. It can be a mix of a portfolio, educational and professional history, blog articles, twitter feed, talks, side projects, hobbies or anything else. Whenever we find someone who caught our attention, we make a quick phone screen to understand the person a little better.

Going deeper than CVs and chitchat

Even after this first screen, we gain only a glimpse of this person’s capabilities and interests. Perhaps some basic notion of their values based on companies to whom they’ve associated. What we are missing is how they would add to and fit with our team. Typically at this juncture, we have the following key questions:

Does this person thinks holistically?

At Nubank we get involved in all project phases: from the inception of an idea to the rollout to the entire customer base. This means we tend to lean towards more “T-shaped” people on our team, who are able to think holistically and do a wider scope of work, which may include interviews, flows, prototypes, visual work and so on.

This holistic view can be hard to assess from portfolios, as a good portion of portfolios focus more on the visual aspect of design. What we want to know is more the story behind the end product: How does this person think about this problem? What specific issues did she solve with this particular design?

What part of the project are they responsible for?

A lot of projects have more than one owner. It is common for multiple designers contribute on a single project.

from behance — Multiple Owners

We understand large projects are a team effort, as we work in the same way. The difficulty from a hiring perspective, however, is that we are trying to assess how this potential designer will add value to our team, so it is important to understand the role she played in her projects.

What things do they pursue?

Everyone has life objectives and we believe work is a big part of one’s life, not just a job. What we want to know is how Nubank does fit as their next endeavor.

Design exercise: a way to answer those questions

Requiring a design exercise is nothing new: many companies such as Apple have used this technique in selecting new hires. For Nubank, a design exercise serves as an effective tool to gain a deeper window into how a potential designer thinks holistically and contributes to a team.

We have also found that the exercise itself acts as a screen on a candidate’s motivation to work at Nubank. Doing the exercise requires time and if the person doesn’t want to work here bad enough, probably she just won’t make the exercise.

Like any good design process, we are constantly experimenting and iterating on our design exercise. Currently we have found the following components to be effective:

Theme — We always look for a theme non-related to finance. We are immersed too deep in this field and we believe it can hurt our judgment. It also avoids candidates submitting ideas for something we might build in the future, to which we may already have opinions or biases.

Problem — We look for a current, relevant problem. That way we can evaluate how deep the person went to understand the problem and what methods she used in the process.

Deadline — In the real world we have limited time to do pretty much anything. We want people who understand that working in a business environment means working within constraints. More than once we had to discard someone we thought was really good from the process because they didn’t fulfill the deadline or other requirements. We also value designers who communicate proactively about their own constraints, either due to other competing projects or personal commitments.

Deliverables —Having a clear set of deliverables provides us with a baseline with which we can compare candidates.

Number of Slides — We define the quantity of the slides, generally six. By limiting the space to communicate your idea we can evaluate how effective you are at communicating it succinctly (again, operating within constraints).

Here is an example of one of our exercises:

Using bicycle in São Paulo

In the last years, as a consequence of the traffic of São Paulo, many people are trying to change the comfort of their cars or the collectivity of public transport for a more active alternative: the bicycle.

Besides not finding the adequate infrastructure in the city, cyclists can’t find digital services with the same quality of the digital services offered for people who use car, bus, metro or even people who go by walk. As a consequence, the majority of the information of the best routes, maintenance shops, parking spots and danger zones is still, the word-of-mouth of cyclists’ friends.

Worried about the situation, São Paulo’s mayor hired you to develop a product that helps the cyclists day-to-day activities across the city.

The main users of this product will be:

People who think of buying a bicycle, but are not convinced yet.

Beginner cyclists, who need help to navigate and know the city.

Experienced cyclists, who want a reliable navigation tool.

The solution needs to be mobile and can include integrations with existing services (geolocation, maps, etc). But you don’t need to limit to these suggestions. The idea is to incentivize the use of bicycles, so be creative and remember: the product has to be simple and easy to use.

You have until the end of September 15th to send us the presentation via email.

The project has to be presented in 6 slides or less. (Keynote or PDF)

If you make a prototype and/or video, you can consider it as an extra part of the presentation — but all items of the prototype should be on the main presentation as well.

Remember of creating a visual identity for your concept — including name and logo.

Evaluating criteria:

Innovation, storytelling, solution quality, thinking process, concept presentation and briefing rules.

Some of the exercises sent by our current team members 🤘


Upon submission of the exercise, candidates will schedule a presentation to our design team so we can hear a more detailed version of the process and get a feel of how the person communicates and explains her ideas.

In general, we try to grasp the following:

  • Did she search for available information about the topic and try to understand the problem first or did she jump right into making screens?
  • If desk research was insufficient, did she try other methods of research to complement her limited data?
  • Did she actually use the information gathered in her process?
  • Did she make clear what assumptions she had to make to develop the concept?
  • Did she explain about the decisions she made and why?
  • Does the proposed flow make sense and tie back to the original issue?

In addition to understanding the designer’s thinking process, an exercise presentation is also a great opportunity to see how she receives and responds to feedback, as this can be a window into how the person works in teams:

  • Does she react defensively or accept suggestions too quickly?
  • Does she try to think deeper about the feedback given then respond?
  • Does she try to brainstorm together with the team to arrive at a better solution?
  • Is she honest when the team finds weak spots in her process or solution? Does she value the learning or seeks to attribute blame?

Getting to a decision

After the exercise presentation, the design team may make an immediate decision or we might schedule quick meetings with other members of the team. The most important thing for us is that before making the decision, there should be no assumptions or open questions left, from both sides.

Next steps

We believe everything can be improved and we are constantly rethinking about our methods to do pretty much anything. Given our team does significant amounts of whiteboarding in our day to day, in the next cycle we are thinking of trying out a live exercise similar to the exercise in this article by Braden Kowitz to replace our current one or to add on the process. We think that comparing the results of both approaches will give us insights in how we can improve our hiring process.

What are the challenges you go through when hiring designers for your team? Also, what do you think of design exercises for hiring? Have you ever done a live exercise? Do you use any other methods for evaluating candidates? Or have you participated in a process that involved exercises? What did you think of it?

Feel free to use this framework to come up with an exercise or even use this one to evaluate design candidates. And if you do, please tell us how it went so we can learn from each other.

Designing Nubank

Design culture, technology, process, people, and learnings.

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