How to nail a digital design interview

Men in suits shaking hands

Rather than give the same advice recruiters always give on this subject, I’ve invited some digital creatives who regularly conduct interviews to share their thoughts on the common pitfalls.

Fail to prepare; Prepare to fail

As Russell Murton-Cole, a freelance digital designer with over 10 years’ experience in London studios, notes – “I know it’s a cliché but fail to prepare, prepare to fail”.

To Russell, this means a couple of things; turning up to an interview without having researched the company, its work and its founders (or at least your interviewers) puts you on the back foot from the start, and can come across poorly in an interview. LinkedIn allows you to see the backgrounds of your interviewers, Twitter can show some of their personalities, and a lot of companies have an ‘our process’ section on their website – so there’s really no excuse not to prepare.

Likewise, he says, ensure that you either have a device which you’re able to bring to interview to show your work on, or let the company know you don’t have one in advance so they can prepare one. Relying on the company having WiFi you’re able to access could also be perilous, so a backup copy in PDF is be a good idea.

Show your work

James Reeve, Principal Designer at experience design agency Foolproof, says to consider the purpose of design; “a beautiful design is great, but is it fit for purpose? Does it meet the brief? How does it align to the brand vision? Is it even possible technically?”

He comments that there is often too much importance placed on the final visuals themselves without judging the appropriateness of the design, and with that in mind, he emphasises the importance of designers showing their thought process in the form of rough sketches, scamps, etc. “I want to see how you got to the final result, more than I want to see the finished UI”.

On a similar note, Russell mentions how important it is to show your work clearly; tiny thumbnails can be difficult to talk around, and work presented in the form of a case study which shows your approach, the concept and your involvement always goes down well. “Simply talking through the typeface and elements of the UI is nowhere near as interesting as a projects narrative and your process as a designer”.

Personality and attitude are as important as your portfolio

It’s no secret that personality is a big part making the right hire; every company has a different culture, and every designer will fit in somewhere different. Russell says that “a lot of interviewers will be assessing your personality and suitability to the studio environment as much, if not more than, your work at this point; engage in a two-way conversation, ask questions, be enthusiastic and eloquent about your work.”

James also stresses that designers don’t necessarily need real work experience or a fully-fledged brief in order to design; “the world is ready to be designed, and I am always frustrated when designers complain that they have not had the opportunity to design for a particular industry, context or device- My response it to just go ahead and do it!”

A similar worry we come across regularly is the concern that designers haven’t got many large brands in their portfolio, but it’s important to remember that the ability to design a usable and visually appealing interface is possible irrespective of brand size.

The last point is confidence; James believes that designers should present a certain level of confidence (without arrogance) in their abilities as a creative. “If they as an individual do not believe in their own talent and knowledge, then how are they going to convince a client that their design is going to work?”

Design is about more than the Adobe Creative Suite

Both Russell and James mentioned the prevalence of ‘skill ratings’ on CVs but it’s important to remember that these can be difficult to make sense of. James mentions that “nobody is a 5 star Photoshop master”, and importantly states that “it is no longer acceptable to judge your abilities as a designer by your proficiency in a particular design package. Software is a tool and your abilities as a designer should break the boundaries of any tools.”

Similarly, Russell agrees that we shouldn’t measure skills as an abstract percentage or pie chart and that ‘69% Photoshop’ doesn’t really give any insight into your ability. Instead, it is generally more appropriate to state skills such as illustration, prototyping and visual effects.

Hopefully this has been helpful. If you’re looking for more on interviewing, check out the other articles from us under the Futureheads tag.

Rob is a Digital Creative & Design Consultant at Futureheads Recruitment. He’s coming up to his first birthday in the industry, and particularly enjoys working in the branding and identity design space alongside start-ups, agencies, and established brands.