Looking for a human centered design job? Design leaders share their hiring secrets

Georgia Rowe
Jun 17 · 6 min read

This is HCD are collaborating with human centered design experts from Google, Fjord, Airbnb and other leading design teams to answer your questions. You may be new to design, considering a career in design or a refined practitioner, let us know, via Slack or email, what you’d like to know and we’ll reach out to them for answers.

What do you look for when you’re hiring human centered designers?

Besides a portfolio that showcases excellent craft, designers must have strong communication skills. Written and spoken skills are equally important. You need to be able to tell convincing stories that connect with people, whether they be customers, your team, client or stakeholders.

Emotional intelligence is crucial as designers need to work in teams with other disciplines. It’s about holding up a mirror up and reflecting on yourself whether that be with a mentor, coach or through self enquiry. It’s important to have curiosity about yourself and seek an understanding of how you respond to different situations objectively.

Turn up with your full self to work. The more we bring of our personal selves to our jobs, the more authentic we are to those around us, this helps build trust. I like the thinking behind the Johari window model, there’s a quadrant (Open Area or Arena) that’s about reducing the things that people don’t know about you to build trust.

Other key skills are the ability to truly collaborate with others, including other disciplines. I don’t want anyone working or their own and I don’t encourage rockstars. As well as facilitation skills and the ability to really listen to others, process information and respond to feedback.

Yasser Rashid (Image LinkedIn)

The first thing I look for is a strong creative portfolio of high quality work. At this stage I’m looking for examples that demonstrate the designer has the ability to solve a variety of creative problems and I’m specifically looking for something that makes this designer unique (e.g. the style of their work, the way they solve problems using different methodologies).

After reviewing the portfolio I then like to speak to the person. At this point I’m looking for more detail about how they approach their work and what role they played on the projects they showcased in their portfolio. I’m also looking for examples of critical thinking, how comfortable they are with ambiguity and how they interact and work with others across different functions.

When I bring a candidate onsite I’m looking for someone who can present themselves and their work well. I’m particularly interested in how the person interacts and engages with others on the team. I’m also keen to see examples of how the person deals with ‘in the moment’ creative exercises (e.g. whiteboarding in the interview for example).

Ollie Cotsaftis (LinkedIn)

I run a small studio and mainly work with freelance emerging designers, whom I most often meet during their study at RMIT MDIT, the Master of Design Innovation and Technology at teach at.

In addition to a good aesthetic and a strong portfolio, what I’m really looking for is for someone to be able to think both on their feet and laterally. Bigger studios might have the luxury to cover up for slips and gaffes but smaller studios often work in small teams where everyone is client facing. Thus the need for everyone in the team to be switched on and proactive.

Beside this, future ensemble’s focus is on designing preferred futures and alternatives — most often through speculation — so I need people able to think at the system level in a creative fashion. RMIT MDIT students are good for that as that’s a part of what we’re teaching them over the span of their Master.

Finally and I’m sure we’re all going to say the same thing in this post but I’m looking for people that are responsive to feedback and can present well in front of clients whilst remaining themselves. Also people with whom I could see myself getting along outside of work I suppose — projects can be demanding sometime and having affinities outside of work is helpful when everyone needs a break.

Lucy Chen (Image LinkedIn)

I work in small teams where things move quickly, while I always plan to provide lots of support to junior designers I find it’s not easy to “always be there”. I prefer to hire people that have demonstrated an ability to tackle problems on their own, give it a good go, then ask for help when stuck. I’ve worked with juniors the past that were afraid to speak up when they were blocked, or at the other extreme asked for help for everything without having tried to solve it on their own.

Being able to work with everyone on the team is important; whether dealing with QA to fine-tune the end product, to Product Managers and Developers to understand constraints, or stakeholders to understand their concerns and get feedback. I find good communication/collaboration skills can be gained in any profession, so I typically look out for people who are changing careers and already have solid experience working with multi-disciplinary teams.

Another soft skill I look for is ability to deal with pressure and keeping cool under tough conditions. It’s perfectly good to come back from a bad meeting and ask for support from others, in fact it’s welcomed. But we’ve all been in situations where our assumptions were proven wrong, we miss a deadline or have to tell someone important that they can’t have what they want (yikes!). It’s so important to have a level head, and to be assertive when necessary. In fact I really respect it when someone in my team challenges me and tells me why my idea wouldn’t work, so long as they back it up with good reason and is able to deliver the message kindly and professionally.

In terms of hard skills, I look for people to supplement skills I or the team lack. If we are strong in design already then I look for someone able to handle research. If we are great on execution then I would look for someone with strong strategic thinking skills, or able to bring fresh ideas to the team. I also look to the skills they want to develop and aim to pair them with someone in the team who has those skills, so that the new recruit is appropriately challenged.

Also, depending on company culture, I also look for the ability to be honest about their failures or shortcomings, and provide an environment where they can step up and take responsibility and be supported. I like to foster a non-combative environment where everyone can challenge each other without egos being bruised and grudges being held. I look for people who can build on that type of culture rather than break it.


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The Human Centered Design Network

This is HCD is focussed on capturing a representative voice of the industry by sharing a vision and understanding between the people who contribute to the creation of services in the world.

Georgia Rowe

Written by

Human Centered Designer passionate about storytelling, public journalism and content led experiences. Working on ABC’s enterprise strategy.

The Human Centered Design Network

This is HCD is focussed on capturing a representative voice of the industry by sharing a vision and understanding between the people who contribute to the creation of services in the world.