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Don’t Hire a Product Designer Without These 5 Traits

Hiring a Product Designer is a big step for any startup as it often signals it's time to further elevate and scale the product. For many companies, it's also a tough hire, complicated by the fact that what separates a GOOD from a GREAT Product Designer can’t always be easily identified in just a few interviews. 

To help startups and tech companies looking to hire a Product Designer, we’ve outlined the top 5 traits to look for when seeking a GREAT vs GOOD hire: 

Curiosity 

While a GOOD Product Designer gets to work creating, designing, and working towards a product release, a GREAT Product Designer takes the time and applies curiosity to their craft. Looking at the data, doing user interviews, and generally being curious about the interactions between users and the product as it stands today. A GREAT designer will ask why, even if they think they may already know the answer.

One of the reasons why this is so important is because it also directly correlates to our next trait, empathy. While everyone has assumptions about what problems and opportunities exist, a curious person wants to understand the real issues and reasons why before exploring and diving into solutions and upgrades.

Empathy

This is a foundational concept for a designer as they need to understand how a user feels in order to assess their needs and design a solution that will delight customers, encourage use and create stickiness. Being open-minded and connected to the user experience while at the same time being detached enough to arrive at strategic insights that can be applied when designing a product is what helps to make a GREAT Product Designer. 

This is particularly important for consumer applications and their experiences as they are the ones both buying and using the product. In contrast, an enterprise B2B solution will most likely have a buyer who is not necessarily a user. 

Detail Oriented 

As a recruiter, this is one trait I am always on the lookout for when I’m recruiting for a Product Designer. When I don’t see this trait I know this is not a candidate I would feel comfortable presenting to the client, why? Imagine a product that uses a slightly different font on each page or one where the alignment of content is ever so slightly misaligned as you scroll… aka not the look of a world-class product. 

When recruiting for a Product Designer, look at the level of care and detail applied to their resume, website, and portfolio - it communicates a lot about a person and their attention to detail. So while a GOOD designer may have applied curiosity to develop a product that has empathy for their users - a GREAT Product Designer is designing a world-class product using their critical eye and looking after every detail, big and small. 

Communication

Most people are not designers. Most Product Designers are the only voice in a company of people who don’t fully understand design and just “want something that looks good.” That can be a tough pill to swallow. A trait that makes a GOOD Product Design GREAT is the ability to curate a message that resonates with an audience of non-designers.

Staying calm, having empathy for the non-designers, and communicating ‘the why’ effectively are essential for high performance. Product Designers need to be able to stir up excitement and help others see where the product is headed and the value it will bring. Being able to get other departments on their side is critical for product growth and adoption. 

Stick-to-it-ness

Disruptions to a design team when building a business is not good. Seek someone who wants to commit, believes in the vision, meshes with the culture, and is excited to join and work towards the mountain tops while they trudge through the valleys.

It takes time to apply curiosity, to build connections with users, to interview them, to ‘seek to understand’, and to then apply these learnings to a prototype. Failing fast has become an anthem everyone in software sings as the way to build a product. What happens once you’ve failed? You start again. Do it better, differently, applying learnings - all of which takes an attitude of stick-to-it-ness.

A lot of top design talent has been with their organizations for longer than the average tech hire. The median job tenure for startup employees is just 2 years; whereas a lot of Product Designers stick it out for 3-5 years. So while a GOOD Product Designer gets the product out the door, a GREAT Product Designer stays committed to building the business, working through the tough times to create a world-class product.

Bonus Trait: Creative Outlets 

I feel so strongly that this is the cherry-on-top trait. A bonus trait, that might be completely subjective but I’ve seen to be extremely important: great designers love to design. It’s not just a functional job or a title for them, it’s their way of life. Some of the brightest designers I’ve met extend design into passion projects, some of which really became something! 

Over the last 6 years of recruiting designers in Canada and the USA, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people who design skateboards, bicycles, murals, etc. The number of photographers is a long list and I’ve even met a couple of music video producers. I’ve met a VR artist, beer brewers, coffee roasters, and wine curators! Then there's the paper product category: wedding invitation designers, notebook designers, etc. And let’s not forget the woodworkers! Whatever the medium and however large (or small), having a passion project (or side hustle) as another outlet to create signals they genuinely love design and exploring their creativity. 

Not sure where to begin when trying to differentiate those good vs great Product Design candidates? Book a consultation with Martyn Bassett Associates to discuss the current product marketplace.