These questions come up often from junior designers who I meet along the way and I figured it might make sense to keep them here instead of repeatedly typing it out every time.
Take this all with a grain of salt. It is based off my personal experience with hiring Designers, teaching Design, and being one myself for more than ten years. This doesn't necessarily mean I'm right in every situation or context.
What do you look for when hiring?
It depends on the project I’m hiring for (complexity of project), who is already on the team (personality type), and what stage the company is at (can the environment support mentorship).
There is no template here. In a junior, I tend to look for potential, speed of skill acquisition, and curiousity. In a senior, I tend to look for critical thinking ability, experience like whatever project I am interested in matching them to, and strong communication skills.
It should go without saying that’s a spectrum and intermediates are slotted along that spectrum where appropriate.
What should I put in my portfolio?
- Three-five examples of work you want to continue doing and it doesn’t have to be real work.
- Product Designers: each case study should have a hypothesis, a description of the process you went through to get to the end result, and some sort of summary.
- UX Designers: replace hypothesis with flow or sequential events.
- Interaction Designer: replace hypothesis with end user goal.
- Other Designers: replace hypothesis with whatever makes your wing particularly special.
- It’s okay to be an all-around Designer however it may make your job search more difficult depending on the story you tell.
- Please double-check your grammar and spelling. If English isn’t your first language, get it proof-read by someone to catch embarassing mistakes.
- It would be nice to read a paragraph or two about you.
What resources do you recommend?
What do you want to learn? Part of your job is visual communication, part of it is research, and part of it is communication and facilitation. A junior is unlikely to be great at any of these yet but they should have a basic understanding of the following:
- Visual presentation + visual problem solving ability–understand space, hierarchy, typography, grids, colour theory, in that order1 (bonus points: pick up Meggs’ History of Graphic Design)2
- Research skills (read “Just Enough Research” by Erika Hall and the Design Kit Methods from IDEO)
- Common application patterns (download all the apps you can and use them, often, look through mobbin.design, read through Google’s Material Design, and Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines)
- Data visualization (this sounds like a speciality but all apps are data now: study work from the New York Times, or Bloomberg, and read The Visual Display of Quantitative Information)
To get yourself some practice:
- Find yourself some peers to work with, or better yet, a developer who is also learning to build alongside (hackathons, networking events, and Twitter are good places to start).
- Get involved in fun activities to practice your intrapersonal skills. Great design can die during execution and you need to be able to work with different types of people and personalities. It doesn’t have to be related to design. Go dancing.
- Talk to people and design apps which will help them in their daily lives. Try to learn some coding. Anything you do now is better than nothing.
What else can I learn?
Most Designers specialize in something but similar to artists, they’re not all the same. Try to spend the first part of your career widening your breadth not necessarily in skillset, rather, in knowledge. This gives you the greatest opportunity to be able to identify what you care about.
You can do this through: conferences, checking out different types of design (like architecture), related creative professions (like illustration), going to art galleries, etc. etc. Design is a cultured profession revolving around people. Act accordingly.
What are some red flags during interviews?
- Not knowing about the company they’re applying for (or the company’s name), who they’re talking to, or what Designers even do.
- Being rude to me or anyone in the vicinity.
There aren’t many. We know you’re nervous, take your time.
- Do your job without asking for permission. It may be possible no one at your job will give you a clear “time” to “do research.” This doesn’t mean you don’t do it. You bake that into your time estimate regardless of whether or not you have an opportunity to present the research. It is to make your work better.
- Build positive habits. You’re going to need coping mechanisms to make you feel good: affirmations, physical activity (my personal favourite), journaling, meditation, therapy, hang with sunshine people, etc. Beginners often waste energy processing negative thoughts.
- Learn how to accept failure with grace. When (not if) you don’t get the job you think you deserve, it may not have anything to do with you and if it did, it doesn’t mean you are worth less. Sleep on any criticism, tomorrow is a new day.
- Stay open to learning. Not knowing doesn’t mean you have imposter syndrome. That is not what that phrase means. If you don’t know, you simply do not know. Everyone can teach you something so pay attention.
↩ 1 "Do you think every Designer should learn how to visually design?" I think visual design is not necessary for every job however it's a building block of communication and having poor skills in this area tends to limit your ability to be resourced to a large number of projects.
↩ 2 "Helen, why would I learn graphic design history? I want to be a product designer for now!" Building your understanding of art movements and graphic design history will build your visual library and give you some basic tools on how to start visual projects without copying everyone else. I will die on this hill.