Interviewing Candidates

How to Interview Designers (Even If You Know Nothing About Design)

It can be intimidating to interview designers if you don’t know much about design, but it doesn't have to be

It’s intimidating to interview designers, especially if you don’t know much about design. What questions do you ask? How do you judge the answers? How do you effectively evaluate a creative person if you don’t consider yourself a “creative”?

1. Get familiar with good design

As a non-designer, it’s important to first familiarize yourself with good design. Pay a visit to designer portfolio websites like Coroflot, Behance and Dribbble. You can filter results to see design types that are relevant to the role you’re trying to fill, whether it’s graphic designer, illustrator, web designer, or anything in between.

Then, take a look at design showcase websites for more inspiration. A few places to start: Abduzeedo, Designspiration, The Best Designs, and Under Consideration.

If you know what quality design looks like, you’ll feel more confident talking to designers in an interview setting. What constitutes “good” design changes frequently, so check these websites on a regular basis to stay aware of what’s trendy and what’s passe’.

2. Pay attention to their resume

“You can get some good insight into a designer’s skill set by looking at the visual quality of their resume,” says John Howells, Associate Creative Director at digital agency Situation Interactive and an accomplished designer. “Generally, if it looks like it was created in MS Word in Times New Roman—or worse, Comic Sans—you can make a pretty good assessment that the designer is a bit uninspired.”

John’s advice? “I always take a look at the presentation of their resume. Is there something special about it? Heavier paper? A custom shape? Is it crisp, or is it crinkled after being pulled out of a bag? All of these things will give a good indication of the designers’ attention to detail.” (Or lack thereof.)

3. Talk through a project, from start to finish

In any business, design is more than a pretty picture. Design has to adhere to a strategy, solve a problem, convey a message, and meet strict specifications. Pick a design from your interviewee’s portfolio and ask them to talk you through their creative process, from beginning to end.

A few questions to ask:

  • Who was the client for this project?
  • What was the problem that needed to be solved?
  • What was your strategy and approach?
  • How were your initial iterations different from this final product?
  • How did you handle feedback from internal teams and external clients?
  • How did you keep files and assets clean and organized?
  • What pitfalls did you encounter?
  • What was the most challenging aspect of this project?
  • What were your metrics of success?
  • Do you consider this project a success? Why or why not?

Keep an eye out for a designer who throws colleagues and clients under the bus during these questions. That’s a big red flag.

4. Focus on teamwork

“For those without a design eye, It’s always a good idea to ask designers what their specific role was in the projects shown in their portfolio,” says Howells. “Oftentimes, they work within a larger team and may not be responsible for all (or the better parts) of the project.”

If you see gorgeous work in a portfolio, don’t assume that the designer is responsible for it 100%. Especially in the world of web design, assets are often created elsewhere and provided to the designer to manipulate.

To better understand your interviewee’s experience and skills, ask questions like:

  • What was your role on this project? (If the answer is unclear to you, don’t be afraid to ask them to elaborate.)
  • Did you create these assets from scratch, or rework existing assets?
  • How did you collaborate with others on this project? (Creative director, senior designer, developer, copywriter, strategist, project manager, client, account executives, marketing department, junior designer, etc.)
  • What’s one excellent suggestion from your team that improved this design?

Howells adds: “It’s also a great way to see how passionate and inspired designers are by the work they do and how big a team player they are. And, of course, if they will fit in with the larger team.”

Just like in any interview, you should aim to find out if the candidate will play well with others. Ask questions about collaboration and communication, and you’ll know right away whether a designer candidate is right for your company.

Looking to hire the best designers? Post your job listing on Mediabistro today.

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Interviewing Candidates