What do you do to stay up to date on the latest software, trends, etc.?
There are hundreds of publications that cover the design industry, from print magazines to blogs to other online publications. Designers who are passionate about the industry probably have a handful of sources they turn to regularly to stay up to date on what’s happening in the world of graphic design.
It can be beneficial for interviewers to check out the sources designers mention. Reviewing these can give insight into the level of skill the designer possesses, their style, and their overall take on the industry. Ideally, a designer will have a well-rounded catalog of sources that give them insight into numerous aspects of the industry.
What makes a successful design?
Every designer’s answer to this question is likely to vary on the details. Some designers may place all of their emphasis on how the end user feels. Other designers might put their focus on how happy the client or other stakeholders are with the project. Others might define success as a design they’re proud of, or one that comes in on time and under budget.
It’s essential that however the designer answers, their definition of success fits with that of the company hiring them. There’s no right answer, but the designer’s definition needs to mesh with their employer’s company culture.
What kinds of design projects are you most interested in?
If the job focuses primarily on package design, and the graphic designer interviewee expresses a passion for poster design, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a terrible fit. After all, just because a designer expresses a preference for one type of project over others doesn’t mean they don’t have the technical or creative chops to handle whatever comes their way. But finding a designer who’s passionate about the projects they’ll be working on is a distinct advantage.
One of the biggest things to watch out for is a designer who doesn’t seem to have any preferences and states that they love all types of design. While that might be true, they almost certainly have particular projects they prefer. And in some cases, they’re simply stating what they think the interviewer wants to hear.
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Who are your design heroes? What designers or brands do you admire?
All designers have influences. It may not be a particular designer, but rather the design team for a specific brand. Or it may not be a fellow graphic designer but rather a web designer, product designer, or even someone like an industrial designer or architect.
Getting an idea of who the interviewee admires can give insight into their style, or at least the style they aspire to cultivate. Some designers have diverse influences, which can be a good sign that they strive to be adaptable. But designers who seem to idolize designers from a single style or design movement can still have diverse skill sets.
What do you do when you hit a creative block? How do you overcome it?
Every designer hits creative blocks at one point or another in their career. It could be because a project doesn’t inspire them, they’ve received some disheartening feedback, or they’re just stuck and aren’t sure why.
Seasoned designers have strategies for dealing with creative blocks because they know they’ll encounter them sooner or later. These strategies might include anything from taking a walk to seeking out new sources of inspiration to chatting with other designers. The key answer to look for is that they have a proactive strategy and don’t just wait for inspiration to strike again.
Think of a time when you made a big mistake on a graphic design project. How did you recover from it?
Everyone makes mistakes. A designer that can admit to their mistakes and has shown that they know how to proactively fix those mistakes or otherwise make things right for their client shows a level of professionalism that not all designers possess.
A designer’s answer should be candid without being too self-deprecating. They should be able to discuss the mistake objectively and explain why it happened and what they did to learn from that mistake and avoid repeating it. They should also address what they did to fix the issue at the time.
Why did you choose graphic design as a profession?
Graphic designers should be passionate about the work they do. Many designers started with an interest in art and found graphic design to be a viable career path that fosters that interest.
Ideally, a graphic designer should talk about their background and education, including what prompted their interest in design in the first place. Enthusiasm for the profession should be apparent in their answer, along with a path into the industry that seems well-thought-out and deliberate.
What do you do to meet tight deadlines on time while still delivering great work?
Some creatives have issues with meeting deadlines, while others thrive under pressure. Graphic designers should know where they fall on that spectrum, and they should have developed systems to handle their workflow based on how they work under deadlines.
Look for designers who are confident in their abilities to meet deadlines, even if they don’t necessarily thrive under the pressure of a tight deadline. Good designers have worked out ways to compensate for any shortcomings, which likely also applies to other weaknesses they may have, either in design skills or “soft” skills like communication.
What skills and qualities should a great graphic designer possess?
Great graphic designers should possess above-average design skills to start with. They should be proficient with the software they choose to use (whether that’s Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Sketch, or some other product). They should also be familiar with established design principles, color theory, and typographic design.
While design skills are of paramount importance, they should also include soft skills in this answer. Graphic designers often work as part of a team, making things like collaboration and the ability to take and incorporate feedback essential.
Further, even designers who primarily work independently need to work with clients and other stakeholders in their projects, which means an ability to communicate with non-designers, user research, and presentation skills are important.
Great designers should be curious and eager to learn. They should also be effective problem-solvers who approach design problems with enthusiasm and innovation.
Do you work better independently or with a team?
Ideally, a graphic designer will be able to work effectively in either situation. But getting insight into how they prefer to work can be helpful if a particular project is going to be heavily team-based or more independent. If a designer will be working primarily alone on a project, it’s vital that they’re comfortable with that and can still be productive and effective. And the opposite is also true, of course.
Be aware of how a graphic designer responds to this kind of question. While they may say they’re great in either situation, pay attention to which one they speak more passionately about. This provides further insight into where they’re most likely to thrive, even if they can manage to work either way.
How do you incorporate feedback into your designs?
Feedback is an integral part of the design process. Without it, designs will never reach their full potential. Designers need to be comfortable getting feedback from other designers on their team, the stakeholders in the project, and from end users.
The best designers embrace feedback as an essential part of creating exceptional designs. They should be excited about receiving feedback and eager to make better products by incorporating it. If a graphic designer seems hesitant or resistant to feedback, it can point to an inflated ego and an inability to take direction in general.
What are the major steps in your creative process?
There is no “right” answer to this question. The important information revealed here has more to do with the fact that the designer has a process that they follow and that they’ve refined that process to be both efficient and effective.
There are a few things that should be included in any creative process, though. Research, ideation, iteration, and testing should be part of an expert graphic designer’s creative process, as should collecting feedback. Pay attention to the way designers talk about their process and whether they seem confident in how they approach creative projects or unsure of themselves.
What do you think of our company’s work/branding?
If a designer didn’t at least see potential in a company’s branding, they’d be unlikely to bother applying for a job with that company. So it’s not common for designers to bash a company’s branding in an interview (if it happens, it can be a sign of an inflated ego on the part of the designer).
Some designers will talk about improvements they’d consider making to a brand, which is a good sign that they have innovative ideas they want to share. Other designers may not have any negative or neutral feedback, which is also a good sign—it means they’re invested in the brand’s aesthetic and are likely to have no issues following existing design guidelines.
Of course, if the goal is to revamp the brand or even do an entire overhaul of the brand’s visual elements, it may be beneficial to find a designer who already has ideas for improvements. It’s useful to share with the designer that this is a possibility, and see what they can come up with for ideas on the spot.
Don’t hold any ideas thrown out on the spot against them, as they aren’t privy to the inner workings of why the revamp is necessary or desirable, or what the goals for that revamp are. Instead, pay attention to the way they reason their ideas and that they seem to have at least a basic understanding of the brand and market.
How do you handle disagreements about feedback given on a project?
No graphic designer agrees with the feedback they get 100% of the time. But how they react to feedback they don’t agree with speaks volumes about their ability to work with a team.
Graphic designers should be willing to consider any feedback they receive. If they don’t agree with the feedback, they should be able to back up their position with data—either case studies from other projects, quantitative data, or qualitative data from user research. When they don’t have data to support their position, they should be willing to concede the point and make changes based on the feedback.
Stakeholders in any project—including the graphic designer—should be able to compromise to make sure they’re meeting the needs of the people that the project is for. The best graphic designers always keep those end users in mind and put their needs first.
What would you need to learn about our brand in your first week of work?
By the time a designer is interviewing with a company, they should have already done some initial research and be familiar with the public-facing aspects of the brand. If they seem like they’d need to start with the most basic elements that can easily be observed by the general public, it may indicate they haven’t done much research and aren’t particularly committed to the job or the brand.
Most designers will want to familiarize themselves with two essential things immediately. The first is any formal style guide or brand guide that includes the exact rules for using things like colors, fonts, logos, and other visual elements. The second is the specific workflow the existing graphic design team uses (or the workflow that has been used in the past if there is no current design team).
They may also want to familiarize themselves with who the stakeholders are for the project(s) they’ll be working on and what their expectations are.
There is more to interviewing than tricky technical questions, so these are intended merely as a guide. Not every “A” candidate worth hiring will be able to answer them all, nor does answering them all guarantee an “A” candidate. At the end of the day, hiring remains an art, a science — and a lot of work.
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Submitted questions and answers are subject to review and editing, and may or may not be selected for posting, at the sole discretion of Toptal, LLC.
Alex has worked with some of the biggest brands on the planet, including Nike, Converse, Heineken, Vogue, and CoStar Group. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Wired, and Communications Arts. With a hefty number of awards, 15 years of experience, and the philosophy of practicing what he preaches, Alex is known for his minimal and timeless designs. He thrives when working with bold brands and has a deep appreciation and understanding regarding the impact that great design can have.Show More
Graphic undefined, Photoshop CC, UX Design, Illustrator CC, UI Design, InDesign CC, Digital Product Design, Art Direction, Web Design, Virtual Reality (VR), Branding, Responsive Web Design (RWD), Web UX,
Jake is an award-winning designer who uses storytelling, art, and technology to instigate positive social change and build stronger businesses. He's worked with a range of Fortune500 companies, major nonprofits, government agencies, and startups. Over the last ten years, Jake's work has helped these companies change their public image, reach broader audiences, and impact more lives. He'd love to collaborate with you on your next big challenge.Show More
Nemanja is a UI/UX specialist with over eight years of industry experience who focuses on usability, user experience, and user research in his designs. He has worked with both small and large teams, which also include teams from Google and Red Hat. Nemanja has worked as a freelancer and enjoys the challenge of solving user problems.Show More
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