A few times recently old colleagues have asked me what they should look for when hiring and interviewing UX designers at their new companies (typically in a midweight or senior role). In response I put together this list based on my experiences interviewing designers back in the day, teaching UX design, freelancing in a few different places, and of course being one myself.
There are probably lots of similar lists out there but as I had been asked I thought it might be useful to share mine more widely. It also might be useful if you are a designer (particularly a junior one) and you’re not sure what skills you need or should develop. It might be missing one or two things but if someone has all of these qualities then they’re likely to be pretty good.
So here’s what I think is important when interviewing UX designers, in no particular order…
- They should have a genuine enthusiasm about design, tech, apps, issues and where their thing sits. A simple but good question is to ask about their current favourite app or website, and probe into why. Hope they say something more interesting than Amazon.
- They should have experience with complexity: get them to show a project they've worked on with lots of states or things like changing underlaying data. Ask about what kind of compromises they had to make to get something that works.
- They should be comfortable with quantitative data, such as Google Analytics, HotJar, Mixpanel and making decisions from this. They really don’t have to be an expert here but they should be able to use this data in their decision-making process as analytics is one of the main pieces of evidence you get when working digitally.
- They should have an understanding of good visual design. Their work should look decent, clean, and easy to understand—it doesn’t have to be visually stunning but it’s important to know the basics of things like typographic hierarchy, as these are at the heart of good usability.
- They should be good at working with people, and understand their own strengths and weaknesses when working in a team. This is true of basically anyone in any job but the aim here is to avoid the ‘hero’ designer mindset. Design tends to feature its fair share of arrogant folk who think they have to solve everything their way so be wary of those who can’t talk about how it took a team to build/release a product.
- In a follow-on to the above point, they should be able to take criticism. You want them to be able to explain why something exists and defend it or accept the critique if it is valid. You also want them to be able to stand up for themselves and not just fold at the first attack. So criticise a part of their work and see what their reaction is (this is the quickest way to test a designer's sensitivity). If they’re too bullish or too weak it won’t serve your product well in the long run.
- They should have good communication skills. Again, something most jobs require but talking and emailing/Slacking are half the battle for a designer to be able to sell and explain their work. It’s a warning if they aren’t able to explain projects in a simple way.
- They should have some understanding of code and development and have done a bit themselves. They don’t need to be a great developer by any measure but it’s important they understand the realities of the medium they work in.
- They should have a clear process: they should be able to explain what research they did, why they did it and how it helped the final product. It’s important that the thread of user need is present in their work, everything should stem from this. Watch out for people who justify why something is with variants on 'because it looks good’.
- They should think in flows not perfect screens. They need to understand how that flow fits with the user's real life and can explain that in their work. For me this is the fundamental difference between someone who thinks the right way for UX versus an old school graphic designer who obsesses over colours and type.
- They should be comfortable doing quick and dirty user testing or remote testing or getting various forms of evidence to back up their work. They should be able to point to several times where they've done user research/testing to validate their product rather than avoid it and assume they know best. They shouldn’t let creating perfect tests get in the way of just doing it.
- Possibly the most important thing is that they should be good at championing the user in their conversations. A large part of their role will be being the voice of the user during meetings so they need to be able to show and explain their empathy.
Plus, a couple of option extras:
- Ideally they should have a good career trajectory and can explain how each experience has built to get them where they are. Hopefully they’ve learned from each of them and they tell a story of someone picking up useful and relevant experience. Though this isn’t necessarily true for everyone: don’t let it get in the way of good candidates who have done complete career pivots.
- In a lot of jobs you’ll probably want someone who isn't going to need lots of management but is self-motivated and can push things along themselves. In many companies a UX designer is a fairly lonely role where they are surrounded by lots of developers so they need to be able to make things happen. Look for evidence of side projects that they’ve brought to fruition.