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

Going deeper than CVs and chitchat

Does this person thinks holistically?

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?

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?

Design exercise: a way to answer those questions

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 🤘


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

Next steps

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.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store