Design interviews

I’ve been doing a lot of interviews for designers lately so here’s a list of all the questions I’m asking along the way and maybe this helps someone out there looking for a design gig.

Beware though! I have “failed” ten thousand design interviews and screeners and portfolio reviews. But like Dave, I’ve been frustrated by not getting feedback about what I did wrong and what I could’ve done better during these interviews. So here goes.

1. Who are you?

Right away designers are looking for signals about what it’s like to work with you. There’s no need to show off but it’s always good to start with something lighthearted before diving into the seriousness of the work.

Remember that maybe half your job here is to entertain folks and stand out: most folks hate interviews and it gets in the way of their “actual” work. A portfolio review to them is a calendar invite that gets randomly slapped into the middle of their work day and folks will often sigh and roll their eyes when they see it. So you have to fight against that right out of the gate and to battle this malaise you have to teach, present, perform! This part is an easy way to wake folks up, to drag them in.

2. What was the problem?

Duh—but!—when you start talking about a project it’s vital that you explain the existing experience. Screenshots, illustrations, diagrams—whatever helps explains things clearly. I just wanna see if you can succinctly describe complex subjects and I’m hoping that you can squeeze all that complexity into my head. Also show the deadline/timeline! And how big the team is! And what your team owned!

But don’t yap for long on this part. I’ve seen folks spin their wheels here and things slow to a crawl which means they only give themselves five minutes to present their solutions. I have done this many times, too! It is bad form!

3. Did you do any research?

Do you talk to customers or do you let the PM take the wheels? I’m always on the lookout for when designers talk, in person, to customers consistently and then take those insights away and iterate from there. Surveys are not enough! Plus: what was the most important problem for users? And for the business? Where did the research lead you astray?

4. Did you make a mess?

I wanna see sketches and solutions! If you present a perfectly finished polished design at the end I will poke and prod at it. My eye will turn cynical and I just will not believe that that’s the one and only solution to this problem. I wanna see the failures and the shitty illustrations and napkin drawings. I wanna see all the work that the design team tore apart. I wanna see the variety of solutions you came up with. How did you figure out which solution to go with? Which solutions did you NOT continue exploring? Why? How did you communicate these designs to stakeholders, etc. I wanna see the coffee stains!

5. Can you do a range of work?

Usually in these kinds of interviews you show two projects and if you show two very similar projects it’s hard to get a sense of how you deal with a variety of problems. This sucks for us designers cus you often can’t control what projects you work on but—and I am recommending this to myself here—push yourself into different teams, different problems, different formats as much as you possibly can. It’ll make your portfolio pitch much easier in a few years and it’ll give you valuable design experience, too.

6. Did you fight the bureaucracy?

This isn’t always necessary but I do wanna see where designers pushed back against deadlines and constraints, where they advocated for users when it really made sense over everything else. Sometimes that means expanding the scope or pitching new features, sometimes that means working with a PM to give yourself more time to iterate on a problem. Sometimes it means small fixes in places or big rethinks of the core structure of things. But the effort here is often more important than the impact. So talk about the constraints of the project—and then show me how you pushed back.

7. What was the end result?

Did you make it clear what you did vs. others? Did you give other folks credit? Do you have an eye for typography and white space? Are the designs sharp and to the point when it comes to copywriting? Did you try and push the visual language forwards? What did you learn from this project? What did you fuck up? What would you have changed if you could? Was this project successful? If not, that’s cool. What else did you learn? Not just for the benefit of the business, but for your own.

A lot of the time, design teams are looking for potential. If ya show how much you learned, how you adapted to a difficult situation, then that’ll take you a long way.