Tips for Hiring a Rock Star Designer
I was recently part of a search to hire another designer on our MATRIX UI/UX team. The search lasted weeks. It was not the first time I have struggled in this pursuit. Over the years, I have spent a considerable amount of time looking for the rare talented professional designer. It’s not easy. You essentially are looking for an artist that can take art direction, communicate well with others, understand compromise, “gel” well with a team, learn, and grow. Unfortunately, more often than not, I run across the same types of designers time and time again.
Most talented artists are very passionate individuals. They pour their heart and soul into their work. Sometimes they feel like their work is an extension of themselves. While this can create beautiful results, it can also lead to fierce resistance to revisions and changes. A lot of these artists are very aware of how talented they are, which results in large egos. They can take great offense to being told to tweak what they see as a flawless design. They often will drag their feet with revisions, and deliver them in a horrifying manner - creating something that justifies their sacred work not being changed. Other times, they flat out refuse to change their designs and argue the point to death with their Art Director. I recall one talented designer who was told by the Art Director that his work “missed the mark”. This led to a two-hour debate. Later on, the designer wrote a 10-page manifesto to the head of my department over how offended he was. So how do you guard yourself from the designer with an ego that has a portfolio of gold? You look for common signs. Their resume is often spotty, having large gaps of time unaccounted for. The work they do have doesn’t seem to last long. They rarely work with the same group for more than a year. In fact, they rarely work with a group. They often make a point to say they are used to working remotely and their resume reflects that. If possible, it’s great to test the designer. Give them a small design task, and when they’re done, request a revision that’s design based. How do they handle it? Do they argue why it shouldn’t be changed? Or do they validate their understanding of the request and elevate its quality?
Often you’ll see portfolios that look great but lack a consistent sense of style. They feel like different people worked on it. There are designers out there that have not created everything in their portfolio. The best way to root them out is to ask during the interview if they made everything on the page. They might be quick to say yes, but then start to dig with questions like, “The logo too? How did you build this logo? What software and tools did you use?” If they sound convincing and you are still unsure, talk to their references. See if they are familiar with the work in question. Part of this is a gut reaction, too. If the person feels evasive and untrustworthy, I suggest to move on and find someone that doesn't provoke that reaction. Odds are they will instill a similar sense from a client or other team members.
Russell Crowe from A Beautiful Mind could be this kind of designer. These are the ones that lack communication skills. They often mumble or are unclear. They usually are not able to give eye contact. They fidget a lot and their body language is usually slumped over or at a diagonal. Their clothes are messy and so is their hair. They often show up late to the interview. Their portfolio is usually a stack of papers sandwiched inside a dog-eared folder. What makes you consider giving them a shot is their body of work shows real talent. Of the three designer misfits, "the Mess" is the one that is least damaging. Often they require a lot of directing and handholding, but they are typically pleasers at heart. They usually want you to be happy with their work and will push themselves to get there. Ultimately, I would never put a Mess in front of a client, and never rely entirely on one to make a deadline.
If you can avoid these three designer misfits, you are on your way to finding a real professional designer. To find the right designer, seek an impressive portfolio first. You want someone that has fire and hunger in them. They want to grow and learn. They like people and are good communicators. They are eager to get their foot in the door and are fine with having their work changed. They generally are cool with working on site and have a more relaxed demeanor. They also know more than just design. They are excited about the UI/UX industry and where it’s heading. They understand the importance of knowing an audience when it comes to UI/UX and can speak to how changing a UI could impact its audience. If you find someone with all of these characteristics then HIRE THEM! And if you’re not going to hire them, please send them my way. Good luck in your search. It’s a jungle out there.