How to Hire a Great UX Designer

By BrainStation March 28, 2019

If you’re a hiring manager, the odds are high that you are looking to hire a User Experience (UX) Designer now or in the very near future.

In fact, 87 percent of managers polled by Adobe said that hiring UX Designers is their top priority, while 75 percent plan to double the number of UX Designers on their teams within the next five years.

But finding the right UX Designer is hardly easy, and in a job market where talent is in high demand, you will want to be sure to go about the hiring process the right way.  Here are some tips on how to hire a great UX Designer.


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Consider the Timing

The above statistic about the sheer number of businesses looking to hire UX Designers tells us that many organizations didn’t properly value user experience in the past, and they’re understandably looking to correct that.

But as you begin your search, some in the industry caution against the expectation that you can simply bring on a UX Designer and expect her or him to fix all your past products.

“The first (and very common) mistake that businesses make in executing a strong design strategy is to focus on building the product first, with the goal of having a Designer come in later to improve the user experience,” said Jaimi Kercher, Director of Customer Experience at AppFolio. “But design is a practice in much the same way product management or engineering is.

“Having a Designer come in at the end of a project to ‘polish’ it is like hiring a Product Manager at the end to just work on market positioning for the product, or asking an engineer to ‘just hook up the back end.’”

Decide What Kind of UX Designer you Want

Depending on your role, you might not even be sure what a UX Designer does. If that’s the case, check out our primers on UX Design and the skills UX Designers need.

Google Ventures’ Braden Kowitz recommends developing a skill list. He lists the following what he believes to be the most critical skills: research, product design, copywriting, interaction design, visual design, and UI development, while other skills – like coding, for instance – he doesn’t see as crucial.

The mistake he says companies commonly make is to look for a candidate who possesses all of those skills – for instance, a junior Designer who can sketch wireframes, design mockups, craft the company’s logo and brand, write UI copy, run usability studies, prototype, and write production-ready HTML and CSS.

“When I read a post like this I think, ‘Great! There’s a team that understands all the skills they’ll need!’ But I also think, ‘They’re looking for a unicorn – a magical Designer who can solve all their problems.’ It’s too bad unicorns don’t exist,” he said.

Instead, you will need to really prioritize and figure out which skills are essential to your organization and which might be “nice-to-haves.”

“Once you make some tough choices and pick the granular skills you need on your team, you’ll be able to write a much better job listing,” he said. “And you’ll be better prepared to evaluate design candidates (you) interview.”

Write a Killer Job Posting

To lure the right candidate – and make sure that your organization is a great mutual fit – you should be as specific as possible in the breakdown of your expectations and your candidate’s duties.

Be clear on what their day-to-day tasks will be – for instance, prototyping, designing wireframes, or research. If you’re looking for a UX Designer to work on a specific project or product – for example, if you’re looking to improve your app’s gestures – put that in the posting. Likewise, it’s worth letting your candidates know if you have very specific goals or desired outcomes, such as increasing user retention by a certain percentage.

This is also the time to boast about your culture and unique environment. Further, don’t be afraid to have a bit of fun with your posting – UX Designers are creative people, and might appreciate a less-formal approach.

Ask the Right Questions

Ellen Twomey, the owner of UX Simplified, has six-and-a-half questions she recommends asking all UX Designer job candidates.

From a technical point of view, she recommends asking for an invisible problem that the candidate solved to improve user experience, how the candidate captures the product vision and displays it tangibly on the screen, what the candidate sees as the UX Designer’s role, and what tools the candidate uses in her or his work.

However, on that last question, she warns against being hung up on whether the Designer’s preferred tools are the exact same that you use.

“If a Designer knows one tool and not another, this should not be a major factor in your decision to hire,” she said. “If a UX Designer knows one wireframing tool, they will easily be able to pick up a different tool. There are very few exceptions to this rule.”

According to BrainStation’s 2019 Digital Skills Survey, 66.2 percent of UX Designers use Sketch for wireframing; so it might be worth asking to see one of the candidate’s Sketch files and look for how well it’s organized, if the layout elements are properly spaced, and how consistently the elements are named.

Other good questions to consider asking your UX Designer include:

  • What’s a great product interaction you’ve had recently?
  • How do you conduct user research?
  • Can you tell me about a project in your portfolio, and give me some KPIs?
  • What’s a product you didn’t design that you think has a wonderful experience, and why?
  • Why did you choose UX as a career?
  • What else are you passionate about?

That last question, of course, is simply an opportunity to see more of your would-be Designer’s personality and help you to evaluate whether they would be a good cultural fit.

It’s also certainly worth asking for evidence of your candidate’s commitment to lifelong learning. According to BrainStation’s survey, 77 percent of Designers reported recently participating in workshops, 64.9 percent in online courses, and 59.5 percent in in-person courses.


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Explore Their Portfolio the Right Way

Your candidate’s portfolio will be a crucial part of the hiring process. If possible, ask for a real project – one that is live somewhere – and spend some time interacting with the product, ensuring that its design is modern and responsive.

The type of portfolio you’re looking for should include case studies with a clear problem, research, sketches/wireframes and feedback from user testing.

But some experts warn against becoming too hung up on the visual aspect of your candidate’s portfolio.

“While it may seem like common sense to rely heavily on a UX Designer’s portfolio to determine their overall skill, this is often a mistake that can have a negative impact on your project,” said Keith Koons, owner of the digital marketing firm Upstate Synergy.

“After all, the most important criteria for hiring a UX Designer is their ability to make decisions based on user feedback, and that may lead to some styling choices that you wouldn’t personally prefer. If the decisions appeal to customers, though, then it’s the right choice.

“The only way to know for sure if certain design elements were UX-inspired is by asking about the designer’s process and what results were achieved because of it.”

Many experts also like to include a whiteboarding challenge as part of the process.

“I highly recommend it,” said Jill DaSilva, CEO at Digital Karma. “You can see what their process is and have them show you with the sample app or product idea. Ask them to think out loud as they work through the challenge. You’ll be able to see how they think and communicate. You’ll also get a sense of personality and communication skills.”

Offer a Competitive Salary

As we mentioned, the market for hiring UX Designers is competitive, and you won’t have a shot at your star candidate without a good salary. According to Indeed, UX Designers in the United States make an average annual salary of $93,619.

That might sound steep, but companies investing in UX Design are frequently reporting a robust ROI.

“There is real proof in the marketplace that good design matters,” said David Krovitz, Experience Director at PwC. “We are seeing large enterprises like IBM, GE, and Fidelity invest millions of dollars in their internal design teams, because innovation matters and Designers have proven to be that engine of innovation.

“Whatever your product or service, if it competes in an open marketplace filled with elegant, intuitive, social, mobile, personalized experiences, you will need great design in order to succeed,” he added. “It is definitely a great time to be a Designer.”

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