Hiring a Designer: What I Look For

Last updated on 19 September 2023

A friend of mine recently got the mandate to build a UX team at his company. And in preparation for his first interview, he asked me for tips on what to look for when hiring a designer.

Here’s a summary of what I told him.

Ask About Their Work

As Dieter Rams says, “We designers, we don’t work in a vacuum.” So the most effective shortcut for getting to know the designer in front of you is to have them present a (previous) project or two in depth.

The way a designer talks about their work can speak volumes about how the work was done.

But it’s not presentation skills that are necessarily important… Here’s what I look for when hiring a designer.


Can the candidate get me excited about their work? How clearly do they explain it? And how do I feel while they’re walking me through the story?


How well can they explain their design choices? What are their design principles? Do they have a personal sense of ethics, and how did that affect their project?


Which techniques and methods did they use? How did they choose them? And how well can they show others how those methods work?


How did they gather their requirements? How did they communicate them to stakeholders? And how did they use those requirements to evaluate their work?


Show always beats tell… What artifact did they make to bring their design to life? And why did they choose to make that particular artifact?

Better Yet, Skip The Interview

Job interviews are terrible for picking the right candidate. They’re easy to manipulate, and they’re not representative of the real challenges in your company, your team, or your projects.

Design Challenge

When I applied to work at User Intelligence, they gave me (in addition to the interview) a design challenge. They took a recently delivered project, simplified the brief, and gave me two weeks to work on it from home. It was great for the company, because they could see how well I handle a project that closely resembles my eventual work. It was great for me, because I get nervous at job interviews, and I could let my work do most of the “talking” for me.

Trial Period

Some companies even hire people for a trial period. While this usually happens “by accident,” like when a current freelancer gets hired for a new position, some companies actually incorporate a trial into their hiring process. It’s great, because it gives candidates a chance to show their stuff in real projects with their real team. The key word here is hire: be extremely wary of anyone who asks you to work for free.

And Good Luck!

Whether you’re hiring a designer, or you’re a designer looking to get hired, I hope this helps. And let’s remember that coaching, training, and working experience can help develop the areas that fall short.

Here’s a UX Magazine article I wrote a while back: Four Things Great Designers Care About. Thanks for reading this, and feel free to get in touch!

Cover image from WOCinTech Chat

[UPDATE 13 March 2018: I’ve changed the Trial Period section to remove inaccuracies.]