One of the questions I got asked a few times after last week's post on recruiting was What are the consistent things you find in product designers you hire? In no particular order, here are some traits I care about and what I see in folks we wind up making offers to:
Great designers show the messy bits.
They show it because they know that's what real design looks like and, honestly, the end result is so much less interesting than the path to get there. As designers, we're natural storytellers and should look for the narratives in our own work. Awesome designers will show sketches that are full of crossed-out ideas, arrows to bits of UI with text asking "wtf?" They will tell you unabashedly how they started down one road and pivoted either based on data, new information or stakeholder feedback. They'll talk about flows they were absolutely sure about, only to have them batted down by user research. Anytime a designer shows me a straight line from point A to point B, I think about how zero projects of mine have ever been so straightforward.
They own their work all the way.
This means the UX, the visual design, the front-end code and, hell, as much of the product as they can get their hands on. If they can't code yet? They can't stand it and want to learn. I'm not looking for specialists, I'm looking for generalists. I'm looking for people who will never say that's not my job. I'm looking for designers who aren't content with just throwing some work over a wall to their engineering team. They'd rather pair with their engineering partners, pitch in on the product strategy with their PM and help set up user testing sessions with their user researcher. They are participants and owners throughout the entire product development process.
They think about the design team as a whole.
Like our product, our company is always growing, shifting and changing. As our design team expands, having designers who care about process and culture will become even more important. Are the weekly critiques getting too bogged down? Our designers will let us know and bring some ideas (and we'll address it). Are two teams doing intersecting work, but not aligning? Our team will reach out to each other and start forming connective tissue between the projects. Is someone stuck and needing some help? I want to hire people who will hop in a room and whiteboard for an hour to help out. I'm always blown away by the generosity of our design team. They give their time, their energy and their ideas to help make each other successful. That is a precious part of our culture and one we want to grow.
Solid work, low ego.
Their work is great. They rock user flows, iterate like crazy, have taste and know their way around a codebase. But despite all of that amazingness, they are not afraid of being wrong. It actually strikes them as impossible that they might be right on the first or second or even third try. They poke holes in their own work and graciously accept and genuinely consider peer feedback. They are unafraid of quantitative or qualitative data proving that their assumptions are wrong. In fact, they expect that and embrace those disciplines as part of the design process. They aren't concerned with admitting I'm not sure, because it just means they're not omnipotent. They judge their own work by how it's used and not by how much time they put in. They don't make portfolio pieces, they make useful stuff that, hopefully, changes people's lives.
Admittedly, there's not a lot in here about designy things like attention to detail, skills in a graphics editor, nor even user empathy. Honestly, if you're applying to be a designer, those things should be a given. These are the differentiating details that span beyond being good at design. These are the details that go into building a solid, functional and scalable team. Details that, if we skimp on them, will make our jobs much harder and adversely affect the health of our product over the long term.