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The Vital Guide To Visual Design Interviewing

Visual designers are foremost interdisciplinary experts; their expertise covers both digital and print. Their work focuses on details and their final goal is impeccable visual communication. Function and form are achieved through carefully understanding and dissecting briefs and goals from their clients, copywriters, strategists and creative directors.

They design big and small branding projects from the ground up, create and develop campaigns, lead a team of designers, provide quality art and creative direction, and design apps, websites and onsite digital experiences.

Visual designers create big and small branding projects from the ground up.

Visual designers create big and small branding projects from the ground up.

In-depth knowledge of typography, iconography, color, space and texture are essential for creating a great visual experiences that inspires, engages and excites both offline and online users.

Design is subjective, therefore, when being interviewed, designers need to show insight, courage and their thought process; the reasoning behind the decisions and processes is sometimes more important than the result itself. The result of design work is a combination of many factors: Creative and art directors, clients, public and project goals.

This way we can learn more about, and from, the designer and understand the way s/he works.

When discussing “visual design” in these circumstances, it’s not, and cannot in any way be simply how something looks. Function and form should be questioned during all stages of the design process.

When evaluating a visual designer’s portfolio, it is necessary that context and ideation behind a project is shown and explained. Reviewing a portfolio is just the first step of the screening process and helps us determine a designer’s approach.

The Challenge

Visual design is the process of visual communication and creative problem-solving through the use of type, space, image, shape, line, texture, color, material. A great visual designer is capable of creating a meaningful, effective, attractive and inspiring visual representation of ideas and messages. The design process doesn’t only rely on form, and a given problem or a brief, but the study of the problem, research, and analysis will give the solution and form to the project.

Visual Designers work closely with UX and UI designers, copywriters, strategists and clients. They are capable of translating insights, briefs and data into cohesive, straightforward visual communication that adds value.

Visual designers are interdisciplinary experts. They provide quality art and creative direction.

Visual designers are interdisciplinary experts. They provide quality art and creative direction.

A good visual designer will be an expert in:

Branding:

  • Corporate identity design
  • Logo design
  • Style Guide design and creation
  • Ensuring consistency across design platforms

Visual Design:

  • Applying branding across visual content
  • Collaborating with UI designers to ensure consistent brand application
  • Guiding visual identity throughout a company and product

Execution and Analytics:

  • Coordination with UI/UX Designer(s)
  • Coordination with Developer(s)
  • Coordination with copywriter(s)
  • Coordination with Art and Creative Director
  • Tracking Goals and Integration
  • Analysis and Iteration
  • Print management

These sets of skills can be translated in various mediums and platforms for which they should deliver:

Concept

  • Strategy
  • Naming
  • Copywriting
  • Photography
  • Development

Design

  • Logo
  • Visual identity
  • Web design
  • Illustration
  • Editorial (books, magazines, brochures etc.)
  • Packaging
  • Signage and wayfinding
  • Type design and lettering
  • Information design and visualization

Of course, not every designer will cover all fields, but it’s the understanding of these particular fields, and the ability to direct and guide the design process, that sets apart great designers.

It’s vital to evaluate visual designers’ soft skills and their design process.

It’s vital to evaluate visual designers’ soft skills and their design process.

Specialization among designers is common; they can be pragmatic, rational and minimalist in their approach, but that doesn’t mean their output is necessarily so. Their work can be driven by illustrations, or they can use an organic and free approach to design problems, solving them as they emerge. This is why it is vital to examine a designer’s thought process.

When interviewing senior visual designers, it is important to evaluate their soft skills and their design process. This set of questions will help determine if a designer is a fit.

Q: Can you tell us more about your design background?

There is no correct answer here. Finding out more about the designer’s background can mean from his general introduction can provide us with relevant information about the design school the candidate attended, past/current work positions, design experience, problems and projects that s/he found along the way. The interview can be structured more towards the end, adjusting questions along the way, based on information revealed by the designer.

Q: Why did you become a designer?

When discussing this theme, the energy, and imagination behind the answers will give you an idea of the designer’s character and spirit.

Q: What is your design approach?

The design process is essential to how design candidates develop and create their work. Insight and the way they work can distinguish their quality. As the design process becomes more thorough, the results become more elaborate and detailed.

Also, the design process is often limited by budget and time, and a useful insight would be how s/he and the design teams that s/he has worked with in the past handled various situations and briefs.

Q: How would you describe your design research?

When discussing design research, it is necessary to cover all the angles that the candidate understands, and explain the reasoning why s/he decided to use a particular technique, tool, or way of thinking to achieve a result.

Nevertheless, if a designer received the data via the client, copywriter, strategist, or UX designer, it will be necessary to conduct further research that will confirm the designer’s statements, possibly upgrading the outcome.

Q: What software do you use, and when?

Standard skills are a must, from Adobe to Sketch, but look for the extra during an interview. Processing, illustration, animation, video, art skills, and the like that bring extra potential to specific clients and projects.

Q: What field, industry, type of work do you prefer?

From digital to print, 360 solutions, from social causes to luxury designers, pinpoint the candidate’s interests and preferences, and build up the talk to personal goals, projects goals and things they want to do and create but hadn’t had a chance to do.

Q: What do you think of (x) project?

Suggest a few projects, or ask a designer to select a project and then dissect it. The candidate should be able to pick it apart. Listen for the answers that explain context, goals, references, influences and pure aesthetics as well as identifying problems, solutions, and outcome of the chosen direction. If the candidate can elaborate with quick solutions to a set of specific problems, that’s even better.

Q: What areas of your work or personal development are you hoping to explore further?

Discuss areas of personal development, with emphasis on visual design. How would the designer become even better, branch out into different areas and expertise of the design spectrum?

Q: How would you describe your work and your influences?

Look for elaborate and interesting stories, search for passion for design and design thinking. References to history, design history, art, culture, music and architecture are useful when describing choices, intentions and solutions.

Q: Portfolio critique: Please explain three best projects from your portfolio

The candidate needs to explain the entire design process, the decisions, ideation, context, why’s, do’s and dont’s, by describing the production and execution of a specific project. Question the designer’s decisions to discover details of projects and the reasoning behind these decisions. Ask how the designer would have made those projects even better.

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See also: Toptal’s growing, community-driven list of essential Visual Design interview questions.
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My team is going to personally help you find the best candidate to join your team.

Alvaro Oliveira
VP of Talent Operations