How to spot a good designer in an interview

Few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me to help him hire a full time designer for his startup. As it takes a theif to spot a thief, it takes a designer to spot a designer.

There are of course questions that I ask about the person’s background, experience, style and ethics. There are the common questions that I ask in every design interview: describe a product you love, how would you improve it, describe a feature you hate, how would you fix it, etc…

But the one question that helped me spot a bad designer has been the simple request of redesigning something common and simple. Like a pencil.

This is probably one of the trickiest design questions because it doesn’t involve much design. Pencils have been arounds for centuries, and people are very comfortable using them. Is there something wrong with them? I don’t know. But that’s what I’d like the person I am interviewing to ask. This question is mostly about measuring the designer’s ability to ask good questions. The quality and quantity of these questions will help me understand how much the designer wants to understand who he audience is, how they use the product, what they like about it, what they hate about it, how much they are willing to pay for a better pencil, etc…

Design, like many things in life, is about getting over one’s previous experience, learning and conditioning to open one’s mind to different possibilities. When I was at school, I wasn’t taught to ask the right questions, but to find the right answers for the questions I was given. In learning design, I learned that the quality of the answers I am getting depend on the quality of questions I am asking. And that the sooner I reach an answer and I decide that it’s the right one, the more I close up the potential for innovation and creativity in finding the best solution.

Next time you interview a designer, ask them to redesign your favorite product, and listen carefully to the questions that they ask. The more curious they are to learn about you, not just the product, the better chance they have in helping you get your product design done right.

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