By: Daan Lindhout
A very common question I get from job applicants and people trying to get into the User Experience Design field is “what do you look for when hiring User Experience Designers”. Here are the things I look for in no particular order:
Passion for design of any type. I look for designers who live and breathe design, not just at work, but also at home. Some of the best designers I have worked with can literally not stop designing things when they go home. They spend their free time building things with their kids, crafting furniture, 3d printing, creating fine art, designing t-shirts and logo’s for fun, etc.
Enthusiasm about technology. I look for designers who are enthusiastic about the potential of technology and how it can change people’s lives. Designers who are curious and excited about all things technology and are constantly dreaming up future products and services that will take advantage of it. For example: a good designer will be able to on-the-spot give you great examples of experiences in everyday life they would like to redesign by using technology.
Complex web application design experience. Most UX Designers will end up working on complex systems and applications at some point. I am looking for the skills and aptitude to deal with complexity. For example: Interfaces in which users have to deal with a large amount of objects and need to filters, sort, and search to find what they are looking for. Or complex task-flows with a wide variety of user personas that need to be taken into account. Or many different states of the same UI based on circumstances (success, failure, user type, first time use, routine use, etc.).
Data visualization experience. Most products and services have some type of data visualization these days. I always look for at least one sample in a portfolio showing data visualization skills or aptitude. For example: a dashboard, an infographic or map design.
Great reviews on LinkedIn from reputable people. If a designer has no reviews at all I get worried. If they have only reviews from peers from different disciplines, I am still a bit worried. If they have a number of great reviews from managers or executives as well as peers, across disciplines, that’s someone I want to take a closer look at. With “great reviews” I don’t mean the standard “got the work done, was a pleasure to work with” type of reviews. Those don’t have as much meaning and are the results of colleagues being nice after having been asked to write a review rather than un-prompted truly positive reviews. I am looking for reviews that say “The best designer I have worked with” or “Changed the way our team and company looks at product planning and design” or “Was instrumental in…“.
A great portfolio site. The portfolio site by itself is a very good representation of the skills of a designer, obviously because they designed the site and the content, but also because they often had to set it up/implement it as well. It shows not only the range of design skills (from information architecture to interaction design and visual/graphic design) it also show aptitude toward technology (either by picking a great portfolio site creation tool or by doing some front-end development). I am disappointed if all there is a Dribble site, a .pdf or if the site is an obvious template from one of the common portfolio site providers. I also look for everything featured on the portfolio site to be absolutely stellar design or process according to the seniority level of the designer and how long ago the design was created. I would rather see a few projects that are really high quality than many that are mediocre. A portfolio killer is putting everything you have ever done on there instead of only the highest quality work you are truly proud of. If I see even just one project with questionable design choices (for example: bad typography or choice of margins) I start questioning the general judgement of the designer. If you are a recent grad your strongest selling point is your education and enthusiasm, not your wealth of experience, so don’t worry about only having a few projects on there. If you have many years of experience, don’t leave out those projects that were great in their day but that are now hopelessly outdated. Instead, put them on there and just mention from what year they are. Most hiring managers will be able to put a design in perspective of the time period it was created in.
Interest in people. If you are not deeply interested in people in general, their behavior, motivations and history, you won’t be a very good designer. It’s all about making things for people and you have to be very good at, and interested in, empathizing with them. UX Designers also have to work very closely with other disciplines who sometimes have different goals and motivations so from a collaboration perspective being interested in people and being able to empathize with them is also very important. If a Designer isn’t talking about users and colleagues or asking questions about culture and people during the interview loop, I get very worried.
A great presenter and storyteller. You can’t be a great UX Designer without being a great presenter and storyteller. Getting your idea across and inspiring others to follow it is crucial. Beyond just being able to give a great presentation, you have to be able to read an audience or person and change your message as appropriate on the fly. If a candidate shows up for an interview loop and starts with a rehearsed portfolio presentation during which they barely interact with the audience, it’s an immediate show stopper for me. BTW: I think any interview loop (for designers, engineers, testers, sales, etc.) should start with a “portfolio” presentation. The days of the lone employees doing brilliant things in isolation are over (or were never there).
A strong internalized design process. I look for designers who deeply understand which design process is appropriate for any particular design problem. Specifically, designers who understand what steps can be skipped, combined or shortened based on what is most appropriate for the problem at hand. Sometimes you need to go through the full design process several times to make sure you get it right, sometimes you only need a few steps over the course of 5 minutes.
A small but present ego and the ability to cause (some) trouble. I believe that great design ideas can come from anywhere and that designers should always be open to external ideas and help the good ones come to life. In the end you are trying to make the whole organization come up with great ideas and translate them into great products that improve people’s lives. See: It’s a design democracy. Trust your elected officials. A big ego stands in the way of taking ideas from others and making them great. But, I don’t want to hire designers who just follow existing ideas and patterns either… I want designers to be able to challenge the status quo, show a bit of ego, and cause some trouble when appropriate. For example: if you ask Engineers what they think about working with a UX Designer and all they say is that the Designer is really easy to work with, I get a bit worried. There should be some tension between Designers and Engineers where the designer is trying to push the envelope of what is possible in the current product or with the current technology and the Engineer is thinking about implementation effort/costs. If there is no tension the UX Designer is probably compromising too quickly and not standing up for their ideas enough.
Transparency about what they contributed to a design or idea. I have frequently encountered cases where designers made it look like something was their idea or design on their portfolio site, but when you dug deeper it became clear they were working with a larger team and only part of the design was theirs. Since I believe great ideas can come from anywhere, I actually like to hear about how a designer took an idea from someone else and developed it further. That means they can collaborate and set their ego aside and recognize a good idea for what it is, not where it came from. I do look for some original ideas in a portfolio or during an interview loop, but it’s always good to show some things that you collaborated on with others.
A great trajectory and solid tenure. I look for designers who have clearly progressed in their career and have had solid tenure at the majority of their past jobs. With solid tenure I don’t mean a decade, I mean 3 years at most jobs. Most designers reach their full potential towards the end of the second year on a job and by the end of the third year they have had enough time to design and lead truly impactful things through implementation. It’s ok to have a shorter stint in the mix as long as it’s not the trend and there was a great reason for leaving. It’s very hard to judge a company by its cover when you decide to take on a new job.
Depth and breadth (or the potential to get there). The strongest designers can design anything for anybody. They can adapt to any market, user type, UX pattern, visual design language, etc. They don’t care if they are designing things for consumers or enterprise customers as long as they can have a big impact on the life of their users. They can do information architecture, interaction design, visual design, research, prototyping, etc. It’s very rare to find someone who can do all of this, so showing aptitude to learn new things is the next best thing. I look for designers who experiment with the latest design tools, dabble in front-end development, who are passionate about the latest (unbelievable) logo redesign of an established brand, who can argue for several hours over the best way to dismiss filters on a dashboard.
Relentlessly and contagiously positive. Great designers by nature dream big and don’t set artificial limitations or boundaries for themselves or others. They are inherently positive and enthusiastic about people, life and the potential of days to come. It’s hard work to see your designs all the way through from conception, through iteration and implementation to routine use by thousands or millions of people. If you start with a negative point of view you are never going to get there.