To date, Toptal has been known as a thriving network comprised of some of the best software developers in the world. However, our network is anything but homogenous. By its very nature, the process of building amazing software is a cross-functional, collaborative one, and our community is no different.
There have always been designers at Toptal. Many of the developers in our network know extremely talented designers, and we’ve always worked to find digital design experts for specific projects to meet client demand. But up until now, designer involvement at Toptal has been done on an informal basis.
As we’ve expanded and evolved, we’ve always been acutely aware of the fact that the diversity of personalities, areas of expertise, and personal passions that come together from across the world at Toptal is one of the primary things that makes our community so strong.
With this in mind, today we are extremely excited to announce the official launch of Toptal Designers.
By formally welcoming top designers into our community, launching our own Toptal Design Blog, and organizing designer and cross-functional events in addition to our engineering-oriented ones, we’ll be providing a more complete service for our clients and a greater wealth of knowledge for the members of our community to use to improve their own skills.
Danielle Reid, Toptal Director of Design and long-time freelance designer, puts it this way: “When I’m working with really amazing developers on cross-functional teams, I’ve often seen unexpected, extremely valuable ideas that have come out of openness. Whether it’s a developer getting inspired by a new interaction or button I’ve designed, or me improving my solutions by exploring the technology that can be implemented, teams that value openness and learning have always performed better.”
We also know that when it comes to creating high-impact, groundbreaking software, the ability to match our clients with superior design talent provides an enormous competitive advantage. Toptal Visual Designer Sandro Dujmenovic, who has designed typefaces for Yves Saint Laurent, says, “When it comes to digital products, there are always new technologies, animations, and interactions. I’m always looking to find something that will put the project, and the client, above the competition.”
Adapting The Toptal Screening Process
Of course, with this launch, a separate track of the Toptal screening process had to be completely retooled for designers. But design and its associated skills are, by nature, an inherently more subjective process to evaluate than software engineering. While there is certainly a great deal of creativity and imagination that go into each, it’s hard to devise a pass/fail assessment for artistic sensibilities and taste.
However, as any engineer who has passed our screening process knows, it’s not just about technical prowess, and we were able to adapt many of the same screening philosophies to designer candidates in a way that ensures that all designers who pass will be extremely capable of thriving here. The current screening process includes:
- Communication skills and English fluency tests – Toptal designers must be able to communicate complex concepts and detailed aspects of their work in simple, easily understandable ways.
- Portfolio review – All designers must have an extremely strong portfolio and extensive history of completing successful projects with clients.
- Live design evaluations – Problem solving skills and the ability to propose adjustments on the fly are just as important in design as they are in engineering.
- Sample design project – Just like engineers, designers must also be fully capable of estimating project completion time, understanding deliverables, and bringing it all together with the highest level of professionalism and quality.
The details of the screening process are different for different types of designers, much in the same way that we evaluate back-end and front-end developers according to different technical criteria. The focuses of each are as follows:
User Experience Design: UX designers are responsible for mapping out the entire architectural layout of a project on a high level. UX designers like Lee Hsieh, who has previously worked with Apple, Boeing, IBM, and Cisco, are master communicators, and must coordinate intensively between stakeholders and eventual end users.
“UX design really involves a lot of heavy lifting up front to understand both the business and the users”, says Lee. “You have to solicit input from everyone involved, which serves as the foundation for subsequent activities: workflow analysis, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, soliciting user feedback, conducting usability testing, and so on.
User Interface Design: UI designers are responsible for starting to create the actual layout of the product down to the minute details, taking UX wireframes and turning them into detailed designs. UI designers iterate closely with business stakeholders and developers to make sure the design is functionally outstanding and aesthetically pleasing.
Toptal UI Designers like Tomislava Sekulíc must be capable of considering their designs in a very critical light with the end goal in mind.
Visual Design: It’s not enough for everything to be in the right place, design-wise. Users need to want to use the product, and to instinctively understand the purpose of each element. Visual designers must be able to decide typography, color scheme, and more, making the product eye-catching and beautiful, but also accentuating elements as needed to ensure that their intended purpose is always clear and inviting.
Sandro usually starts the visual design process by focusing on typography: “Typography sets the tone early, and from there you can start creating so many directions and styles: everything from a modernist and geometrical approach to a combination of illustration and expressive or organic typography.”
Interaction Design: Interaction design is often where a great layout can really be taken to the next level, and in this phase, end usability reigns supreme. Can the designer implement a certain user interaction in an exciting, engaging way? Above all, does every button, animation, etc. work properly? All of these considerations are perfected in interaction design.
Toptal Interaction Designer Aleksandar Janković puts it this way: “When you start experimenting with interfaces, there’s a tremendous opportunity to improve the way users experience and interact with their devices.”
Growing The Community
The Toptal community has long emphasized sharing knowledge and learning about other areas of expertise. The addition of so many great designers now gives us the exciting opportunity to organize unique events that empower our designers to learn about leading engineering principles, and vice versa.
We’ll be adding technical design-focused modules to our planned Toptal Academy sessions, organizing more events and Slack community discussions geared towards fostering creative innovation, and much more.
The prospect of welcoming UI, UX, visual, and interaction designers to our community and being able to provide a larger range of services to our clients makes this an extremely exciting time at Toptal right now. If you’re actively involved in design communities and think there are ways we can support you and help take your community or its events to the next level, send an email to email@example.com. We’d love to help or explore ways in which we can collaborate.