By Tobias van Schneider Published September 12, 2019
I’ve talked to dozens of companies about what they look for in a designer. While we have seen trends in their answers, many of them also conflict with each other. I agree with some and disagree with others. So now, I’d like to share what I personally consider when hiring a designer for my team.
I’ve probably covered this to some extent in my other articles, like this one describing junior vs. senior designers. Or this one, where I ponder the designer hiring gap. But here it is in one place, both the reasonable expectations (at least, what I consider reasonable) and the potentially unreasonable ones (I have unrealistically high standards, even for myself). This is the designer I always search for and the designer I strive to be.
Natural talent over hard skills
Of course, I expect my designers to know the basic principles of design and be comfortable using the standard tools of our trade. But I don’t care whether you’re university taught or self-taught, or whether you've mastered the latest design technology. Rather, I look for natural talent and the potential to grow.
I have hired interns who had little more experience than a three-month boot camp course. I've hired seasoned designers who were not so great at interactive design, but who learned and grew in that area after joining our team. It depends on the position or project I'm hiring for but when reviewing your portfolio, I'm likely not looking at your list of hard skills. I'm looking at how I see you in the next few months or years. When I'm hiring a designer, I'm investing in that designer. Rather than perfection, I'd rather see potential.
The ability to fill in the gaps
A good designer is one who can work with as little information and guidance as possible.
This is a big one for me. Many designers can do exactly what they’re told. Few can work from just one or two sentence-direction. It's not so much about having experience or being able to "read my mind." It's more about having the confidence and drive to just begin without needing step-by-step instructions. Call it confidence, call it drive. Whatever it is, I don't want to start delegating a design task and think, “Nah, it will take less time to just do it myself than to explain it.” I want to know my designer can run with it.
Another obvious one, but not always easy to find. There are plenty of designers out there who can map a user flow or build a landing page, but not all of them have an instinct for good design. This is a quality you can hone as you read, travel, observe other designers, watch films, experience fashion, go to museums (more on this in a moment).
Some people naturally have good taste. Others acquire good taste over many years of sharpening their senses. You may think taste is subjective, and it certainly is in some cases. But we also know there's a universal understanding of good taste. It's hard to pinpoint but we know when it's present, and we feel it when it's absent.
Curiosity about the world beyond design
Maybe this is true for every industry, but it seems that designers tend to stay within their safe little design bubble. They may be well-read on the latest design news, but they’re not curious about the world outside it. Curiosity makes us better designers. When we soak in more of the world around us, we are more inspired and informed to create. I want a designer who has hobbies, who reads books, who asks unexpected questions. They’re the designers who create amazing work.
Proactivity and a sense of responsibility
I don’t want to chase my designers down to get their tasks done. I don’t want to tell them what to do next. I don’t want to remind them to answer that email or design for that edge case. I want a designer who’s always thinking one step ahead, who cares about the work and wants to ship the damn thing, not sit on it.
We all have our good and bad days. We all do work we know could be better. That’s fine. I don’t want a designer who’s always perfect. I just want a designer who shows up.
I’d venture to say consistent dedication counts more than output, at least to a certain extent. We can improve the output with good feedback and mentorship. It’s much more difficult to work with a designer who’s unpredictable, who might be “into it” one day and apathetic the next.
Honestly, I’ve seen this quality most often in extremely junior designers (think interns) and extremely senior ones. As a junior designer, you are eager to impress and haven’t been jaded by your career yet. At this point, you’re just grateful to have a job, so you do your best to keep it. And as a senior designer, you’re consistent because you’re just good at what you do. You’ve been in it long enough to know an apathetic attitude will get you nowhere. Everyone else in between is more likely to be disillusioned, cocky and inconsistent.
Thoroughness and attention to detail
I want a designer who doesn’t leave loose ends. Few things bother me more than seeing a design without a necessary active state, or only one of many required use cases. I dislike seeing typos, even in mockups. I don’t appreciate when files are exported and organized incorrectly and thus impossible for anyone else to find and use. I look for designers who are good at the details.
A sense of humor
Last but certainly not least, I look for designers who don’t take their work or themselves too seriously. The difference between a successful project and an unsuccessful one, or a thriving business and a failed one, or simply a good and bad day, are often the people you work with. I want to work with designers who are ready to laugh or crack a joke. I don’t expect you to be a standup comedian. I just want to work with people who have fun with their work and their life.
Again, I realize what I'm describing here is the ideal on their best day. I am not this designer every day and I don't expect my team to be flawless either. It's a journey that continues as long as we continue working. The making of a great designer lasts the lifetime of their career, and the best designers know they can always be better.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the founder of DESK, nice to meet you!