How to hire an interaction designer?

12 Mar 2009 - 1:22pm
5 years ago
16 replies
978 reads
Scott Berkun
2008

As Joel mentioned one of my books in his post, I wrote a follow up on my
blog:

http://www.scottberkun.com/blog/2009/program-managers-vs-interaction-designe
rs/

But the question I have for ixda is this:

I want some pointers to give to PMs and managers who realize they need to
hire an interaction designer. How do they find them? What questions should
the ask? If they're ignorant about design, how can they spot a good one?
Etc.

So far I haven't found any good, well written tip sheets for this situation
and I think it's important. I'd like to link to them if they're out there.

Any recommendations?

Remember: I want something written for a manager or tech lead who knows
nothing about interaction design, but suspects he might need to hire a UX
designer.

Cheers,

-Scott

Scott Berkun
www.scottberkun.com

Comments

12 Mar 2009 - 3:42pm
Phillip Hunter
2006

Scott,

I don't think we as a group have an answer this. I'd be happy to be proven wrong. The fact that we don't is one of the reasons I was glad for the encouragement at the IxDA conference to stop arguing about titles and definitions. We heard Jared and crew talk about the need for 10K designers. But that need was predicated on the awakening of major corps, and thus the roles you mention, to their own need for UX design.

I think we need an education/PR effort precisely to reach those people and make it easy for them to come across necessary information and find knowledgeable people to contact.

ph

12 Mar 2009 - 3:19pm
Samantha LeVan
2009

IMO - from both an interviewer and an interviewee perspective, the
best way to judge an interaction design candidate is to hold a
"working session" where the candidate is given a problem to solve
and works by brainstorming potential solutions by whiteboarding,
sketching, and discussing with the team. By seeing how they work,
it's easier to tell whether the candidate will fit with the team and
whether they have the analytic and presentation skills required for
this type of work.

Can this person think fast? Do they jump to conclusions or evaluate
several possibilities? Do they consider others' opinions? How will
they evaluate if the solution is effective?

Just an idea. :)

Samantha LeVan
http://www.perfecttuna.com

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39953

12 Mar 2009 - 6:24pm
Tom Nunes
2009

Scott,

As with all design, interaction design is a form of problem solving. In that sense, much of what you write about creative thinking and innovation would apply here as well. So, absent specific IxD qualities to look for, I would ask the candidate to describe his or her problem solving techniques. How does the candidate approach a problem? How does he or she generate ideas? From my perspective, the best ideas come from teams, not individuals. So, how does this person interact with the team and inspire creative thinking from all participants? If the candidate provides a portfolio, for each artifact in the portfolio, ask what was the underlying problem (or goal or objective) the design was meant to solve, and how did it solve it?

Best Regards,
Tom

12 Mar 2009 - 6:31pm
Scott Berkun
2008

I think I framed this question the wrong way. What I want is this:

If you knew a VP of Marketing at WidgetCo who suddenly decided his widgets
needed to be easy to use, what should he do? Since he knows *nothing* about
IXda, or usability, or any of it, where does he start? How can he find a
good design firm to hire? Or get guidance on hiring his first full time
Design person?

What I'm mystified by is the lack of any website or FAQ sheet to give to a
VP like this to answer their basic questions. I've looked and I've found
nothing. It seems a basic piece of evangalism for what this list is about.

Know of anything?

-Scott

Scott Berkun
www.scottberkun.com

12 Mar 2009 - 8:14pm
Jeremy Kriegel
2009

Interview, interview, interview. The more people you talk to, the more
you will learn about what different people have done and what they can
do. Ask people where they are strong then look for people who have
those strengths. Ask candidates where they are weak then look for
people who have strengths in that area. That way you'll get a good,
well-rounded exposure to the field.

To add to what Samantha said, give them a specific problem to solve
using your existing designs. See how they approach it. If you have
many different people do this, you'll likely start to get a sense of
what kind of person you need.

There are so many 'flavors' of UX, so many different skill sets
under that umbrella term, that I think it would be hard to have one
set of rules to follow here.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39953

12 Mar 2009 - 9:56pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Mar 12, 2009, at 7:31 PM, Scott Berkun wrote:

> I think I framed this question the wrong way. What I want is this:
>
> If you knew a VP of Marketing at WidgetCo who suddenly decided his
> widgets
> needed to be easy to use, what should he do? Since he knows
> *nothing* about
> IXda, or usability, or any of it, where does he start? How can he
> find a
> good design firm to hire? Or get guidance on hiring his first full
> time
> Design person?
>
> What I'm mystified by is the lack of any website or FAQ sheet to
> give to a
> VP like this to answer their basic questions. I've looked and I've
> found
> nothing. It seems a basic piece of evangalism for what this list
> is about.
>
> Know of anything?

I've actually been thinking about writing an article about this
lately, because it's something we've been called on to help with a lot.

For hiring in general, I'm a huge fan of Lou Adler's Hire With Your
Head philosophy (http://tinyurl.com/LouAdler). I believe you can hire
anyone well, by using his technique, even if you're not sure what that
person does or how they do it.

The basic gist is this: You hire, not on expertise, but by
demonstrating that they have the ability to do what you need done.

You start by listing performance objectives -- in one year, what would
you have expected the new hire to have accomplished. This gets you a
clear understanding of what you need accomplished.

Then everything you do to hire (whether a full time, contractor, or
consulting firm) is based on those objectives. You recruit the
candidates using the objectives. You screen them comparing their
resumes to the objectives. You conduct phone interviews, having them
tell you about the accomplishments they are most proud of, comparing
those accomplishments to the objectives. The interviews are all about
the comparable work they've done. The reference checks are all about
the comparable work they've done.

In the end, you've spent hours understanding how what the candidates
have actually done, comparing it directly to your objectives. Even if
you don't really understand how they do it, you can see how what
they've done would help you.

I don't think there's any more magic to hiring an interaction designer
when you don't know anything about interaction design, as there is to
hiring a bookeeper when you don't know how to keep books. If you
clearly know what you need done (and that's the key part), then you
should have no trouble finding someone who has comparable experience
having done it already.

What a VP of Marketing hiring a UX person doesn't want to do is hire
someone with no previous comparable experience. Hiring folks who have
potential, but no previous experience, should only be done by a
manager who can act as a mentor and teacher.

Hope that helps,

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool
UIE Web App Summit, 4/19-4/22: http://webappsummit.com

12 Mar 2009 - 11:31pm
Elizabeth Bacon
2003

Hi Scott, et al.,

Damn straight this is the kind of resource IxDA should be presenting
to the world! Would you like to create it? Would you like to form a
little team to create it? IxDA would be extremely glad to offer an
online repository where it can reside. Our next-generation website
will have a variety of ways for us to present such content to the
world for the betterment of all.

Cheers,
Liz, IxDA Vice-President

P.S. On a personal front, I took a stab at a sort of IxD hiring map
myself a few months ago, and posted a rough graphic here at
http://ebacon.posterous.com/for-the-nonce-heres-a-rough-ux It
illustrates the idea that IxD has a core set of user-centered design
skills spanning from research to definition to communication. And
below those skills it shows some helpful backgrounds that people
might have before they call themselves an "interaction designer".
One further idea I had was to make this image interactive so that a
recruiter can dial up different patterns of needed skills "I want
somebody who is strong in research" or "I want somebody who is
strong in conceptual design" and the various parts of the "house
that IxD built" would light up accordingly.

P.P.S. OK, so it needs work. :)

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39953

13 Mar 2009 - 12:16am
Scott Berkun
2008

Absolutely. Sign me up. If anyone else is interested email me off list.

-Scott

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Elizabeth Bacon
Sent: Thursday, March 12, 2009 9:31 PM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] How to hire an interaction designer?

Hi Scott, et al.,

Damn straight this is the kind of resource IxDA should be presenting to the
world! Would you like to create it? Would you like to form a little team to
create it? IxDA would be extremely glad to offer an online repository where
it can reside. Our next-generation website will have a variety of ways for
us to present such content to the world for the betterment of all.

Cheers,
Liz, IxDA Vice-President

P.S. On a personal front, I took a stab at a sort of IxD hiring map myself a
few months ago, and posted a rough graphic here at
http://ebacon.posterous.com/for-the-nonce-heres-a-rough-ux. It illustrates
the idea that IxD has a core set of user-centered design skills spanning
from research to definition to communication. And below those skills it
shows some helpful backgrounds that people might have before they call
themselves an "interaction designer".
One further idea I had was to make this image interactive so that a
recruiter can dial up different patterns of needed skills "I want somebody
who is strong in research" or "I want somebody who is strong in conceptual
design" and the various parts of the "house that IxD built" would light up
accordingly.

P.P.S. OK, so it needs work. :)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39953

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13 Mar 2009 - 8:49am
Dave Malouf
2005

In the spirit of keeping the conversation going ...

I'm also approached quite a bit with this issue.

I'm not sure there is a single "white paper" or FAQ that is going
to take care of all the variables that come to mind. I do like what
Jared suggested, but I'm still thinking that it relies on some
ability to know what it takes to make a product "easy to use" (ugh!
as if that is the goal).

I would say is create a fairly generic ad for the type of person you
are looking for. Then (without getting into the argument on the value
of portfolios) I would look at portfolios. I would specifically look
for/at portfolios that convey the story of the type of person I'm
looking for. If indeed "making easier" is what you are looking for,
I would look for portfolios of people who demonstrate a change from X
> Y that proves that Y is better than X and the methods they used to
do it.

The stories of the portfolios or the presentations of those
portfolios will actually help you reflect on the story that you are
hoping to engage and as that story gets more solid through this
process you can hone your own job description a bit more.

In doing this work though, unfortunately, is time consuming and
difficult to farm out b/c you need to hear the stories. So giving
this to a recruiter to do for you wouldn't make much sense.

Alternatively, there are now a host of recruiters out there who
specialize in creative and UX who would love to do this work for you
and usually include consulting services as part of what they do.

-- dave

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39953

13 Mar 2009 - 9:21am
Adrian Howard
2005

On 12 Mar 2009, at 23:24, Tom Nunes wrote:

> Scott,
>
> As with all design, interaction design is a form of problem solving.
> In that sense, much of what you write about creative thinking and
> innovation would apply here as well. So, absent specific IxD
> qualities to look for, I would ask the candidate to describe his or
> her problem solving techniques.
[snip]

How about actually asking them to solve a problem?

I find that some folk who can describe a problem solving technique
fail this test :)

Adrian

13 Mar 2009 - 4:38pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Mar 13, 2009, at 6:49 AM, dave malouf wrote:

> I'm not sure there is a single "white paper" or FAQ that is going
> to take care of all the variables that come to mind. I do like what
> Jared suggested, but I'm still thinking that it relies on some
> ability to know what it takes to make a product "easy to use" (ugh!
> as if that is the goal).

We help non-design-savvy execs with this *all* the time.

The first thing we do is get them to describe, in terms of their
product, what an "easy to use" experience would be like. We don't ask
them to design it, just describe the frustrations they think users are
currently experiencing and how they'd aspire to eliminate them.

> I would say is create a fairly generic ad for the type of person you
> are looking for.

With all due respect, I'd say this is exactly the wrong thing to do.
We advise our clients to make a very *specific* ad that describes the
*accomplishments* that we'd want the new person to achieve. (Note, we
*don't* describe the experience or background of the candidate -- the
accomplishments should imply those directly.)

For example, we'd start the ad with "In the next year, you would..."
and then list 4 to 5 specific projects that they'd work on and how
we'd tell if they succeeded. A sample might be "create the interface
for a subscription-based service that helps our customers feel loved,
while delivering excellent service."

> Then (without getting into the argument on the value
> of portfolios) I would look at portfolios. I would specifically look
> for/at portfolios that convey the story of the type of person I'm
> looking for. If indeed "making easier" is what you are looking for,
> I would look for portfolios of people who demonstrate a change from X
>> Y that proves that Y is better than X and the methods they used to
> do it.

Ideally, in Scott's specific situation of a exec who isn't design-
savvy doing the hiring (and probably the managing), they want to look
at candidates who have done the things you need done before.

> The stories of the portfolios or the presentations of those
> portfolios will actually help you reflect on the story that you are
> hoping to engage and as that story gets more solid through this
> process you can hone your own job description a bit more.

Reviewing a portfolio to determine if the candidate is capable is very
hard for someone who doesn't know design well enough to abstract the
how-relevant-is-that-to-my-needs problem. Getting close to comparable
projects makes that problem go away substantially.

When these execs look at portfolios, if they don't have a solid design
background, they can very easily be swayed by pretty and not by
capable to solve the problems. That's where they get themselves into
big trouble.

So, we work hard to focus purely on those candidates who have
demonstrated comparable work to the stated objectives. It results in
many more successful, long-term hires.

> In doing this work though, unfortunately, is time consuming and
> difficult to farm out b/c you need to hear the stories. So giving
> this to a recruiter to do for you wouldn't make much sense.

In general -- not specific to design hires -- hiring members of your
team is the #1 job of any manager. Make the right hire and you'll be a
star. Make the wrong hire and you'll pay for it for an eternity.
Handing off any hire to a recruiter, in my mind, is a huge mistake.
They might be able to source candidates for you, but, beyond that, you
should be doing the heavy lifting in all instances.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool
UIE Web App Summit, 4/19-4/22: http://webappsummit.com

14 Mar 2009 - 1:51am
DanP
2006

I often come across design managers who use the approach of assessing
"demonstrated and comparable work" as a major hiring criteria. Jared
nailed an important piece of the hiring puzzle with his comments and I
agree completely - but, for balance, I humbly add: don't overlook
candidates because they don't have the absolute, precise, mix of work
you require. For instance, I recently worked with a manager who needed
someone with desktop application design experience. We found someone
who had worked on web mainly, but had a great portfolio displaying
amazing skills in visual thinking, logic through wireframes and
writing communication. The first instinct was to overlook this person,
but we pushed to have them back for another round of interviews. Turns
out they hired this person and it's been a great relationship -
better, in fact, as the person had incredibly solid design thinking
skills and came up to speed in no time to assist in other projects
such as a a web interface!

You can have it all when hiring employees. Just remember that the
dynamics of design productivity are more than a portfolio of micro-
focused projects. Someone who has designed ten cell phones does not
necessarily translate to someone who will make you a better cell phone
on the eleventh try; or that they can grow into something more with
your organization. I've made a habit of hiring the person first and
the skills second whenever possible.

Again, this doesn't negate what you said Jared - just a balancing
point to caution against going a little too far with the definition of
"demonstrated and comparable work".

Best,
-Dan

On Mar 13, 2009, at 2:38 PM, Jared Spool wrote:

> So, we work hard to focus purely on those candidates who have
> demonstrated comparable work to the stated objectives.

14 Mar 2009 - 12:01pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Mar 14, 2009, at 1:51 AM, dnp607 wrote:

> I often come across design managers who use the approach of
> assessing "demonstrated and comparable work" as a major hiring
> criteria. Jared nailed an important piece of the hiring puzzle with
> his comments and I agree completely - but, for balance, I humbly
> add: don't overlook candidates because they don't have the absolute,
> precise, mix of work you require.

Dan,

In most hiring scenarios, particularly for anyone who regularly visits
this list, I agree with you completely.

However, Scott's scenario was specific: the hiring manager (who I
assumed would be the candidate's manager) didn't have any UX
experience (and, I assumed, neither did anyone else in the org). In
this case, I'd recommend against deviating too much from demonstrable
comparable direct experience, because without the UX experience, it
would be hard to tell if it translates well.

Scott's scenario is rare (extremely so amongst our direct community).
But, it's happening more and more.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool
UIE Web App Summit, 4/19-4/22: http://webappsummit.com

14 Mar 2009 - 2:43pm
DanP
2006

Hey Jared,

Totally agreed - considering a candidate who has little UX experience
is just asking for trouble, unless a company is willing to invest
serious resources and time to educate. This work is deceptively hard
and just as candidates are often underestimated for their skills, so
the job of UX is underestimated for it's need of experienced and
focused professionals.

Like most things in life, it's about balance I guess :-)

Have a great weekend,
-Dan

On Mar 14, 2009, at 10:01 AM, Jared Spool wrote:

>
> On Mar 14, 2009, at 1:51 AM, dnp607 wrote:
>
>> I often come across design managers who use the approach of
>> assessing "demonstrated and comparable work" as a major hiring
>> criteria. Jared nailed an important piece of the hiring puzzle with
>> his comments and I agree completely - but, for balance, I humbly
>> add: don't overlook candidates because they don't have the
>> absolute, precise, mix of work you require.
>
>
> Dan,
>
> In most hiring scenarios, particularly for anyone who regularly
> visits this list, I agree with you completely.
>
> However, Scott's scenario was specific: the hiring manager (who I
> assumed would be the candidate's manager) didn't have any UX
> experience (and, I assumed, neither did anyone else in the org). In
> this case, I'd recommend against deviating too much from
> demonstrable comparable direct experience, because without the UX
> experience, it would be hard to tell if it translates well.
>
> Scott's scenario is rare (extremely so amongst our direct
> community). But, it's happening more and more.
>
> Jared
>
> Jared M. Spool
> User Interface Engineering
> 510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
> e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
> http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool
> UIE Web App Summit, 4/19-4/22: http://webappsummit.com

15 Mar 2009 - 11:21pm
Dave Cortright
2005

While Scott's scenario doesn't say what the trigger was for the manager/VP
to decide that they wanted their product to be easier to use, my experience
has been it typically happens when they are exposed to a product with good
design. Whether it's a Tivo, iPhone, or a competitor's product that is
better, they typically latch onto the concrete results that they can see and
touch.

If said manager/VP truly knows nothing about design/usability, my guess is
that they will start by either asking how these products got made, or
searching the web for terms like "Apple iPhone design". I'd bet that
articles from design-friendly publications like Business Week might be what
they run across. And they might even run across sites for design
consultancies that have done this sort of work.

And to me, that's the place that someone who knows nothing about the design
space should start. By hiring a consultancy, you're not just getting
production. You are getting a consultant who understand your business needs,
can educate you in the design space, and can do so in a "try before you buy"
contract environment.

So there's my answer. Hire a reputable design consultant who has a portfolio
of work that the manager/VP likes and use that as a launching board for
potentially hiring full-time in-house designers.

·Dave

16 Mar 2009 - 6:03am
Adrian Howard
2005

On 16 Mar 2009, at 04:21, David Cortright wrote:
[snip]
> And to me, that's the place that someone who knows nothing about the
> design
> space should start. By hiring a consultancy, you're not just getting
> production. You are getting a consultant who understand your
> business needs,
> can educate you in the design space, and can do so in a "try before
> you buy"
> contract environment.
>
> So there's my answer. Hire a reputable design consultant who has a
> portfolio
> of work that the manager/VP likes and use that as a launching board
> for
> potentially hiring full-time in-house designers.
[snip]

I think that hiring "reputable design consultant" is probably just as
difficult for somebody without UX related knowledge as hiring a good
full time employee....

I've lost count of the UX disasters I've been involved with that are
due to folk hiring some guy/firm in as a consultant based on a
portfolio with some pretty pictures in it.

Adrian
--
delicious.com/adrianh - twitter.com/adrianh - adrianh at quietstars.com

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