Ask Questions, Be Adaptable, Make Prototypes: How to Land a Dream Job in Design
Every day, we solve new problems, create new workflows, and push the boundaries of what our platform can accomplish. To do that, it takes people with more than just stellar design skills. Over the years, as I’ve built design teams, I’ve found there are a few additional traits that help designers stand out.
Firstly, I look for designers who are inquisitive. Having a great portfolio and a proven track record will get you an introduction, but the thing that sets a designer apart from the pack is their curiosity and commitment to solving human problems. I want to know you can go deep on a problem and follow it through the entire cycle. This means having a strong drive to ask questions, get answers, and iterate.
A designer’s gift is the ability to synthesise an abundance of information into a coherent solution, but without good information to begin with, even the most accomplished designer will struggle.
Focus on the Problem
During your interview, I want to hear about problems and how you solved them. When you’re showing a project from your portfolio, I want to know:
- What was interesting about the problem?
- Where did you encounter obstacles, and how did you overcome them?
- What research did you do with real customers to solve the problem?
This goes beyond the commonly understood job description of a designer – i.e., someone who produces the raw materials. Design, at its heart, must be customer-centric. Therefore I look for people who are eager to talk with users and study what other companies are doing to solve problems.
Show Your Curiosity
This philosophy extends beyond the hiring process. When a new designer joins Adobe, I always tell them: all I care about right now is how many questions you ask. Initially, it’s not about how prolific you are, or how polished you can be – it’s about how quickly you understand our customers and their needs.
It’s a good sign when a new designer bombards me with lots of questions. Pester me. Annoy me with your inquisitiveness. It means you’re one of those designers who’s not going to give up.
Be Adaptable, Not a Perfectionist
Here’s the thing about software: it’s never done. There’s just the next version of it. We are continuously learning, continuously adapting and continuously improving. Adaptability and a commitment to improvement is much more important than getting a design perfect the first time around.
When you’re moving quickly and constantly re-calibrating your understanding of how to solve problems, you must be comfortable with VUCA:
In short: change is a constant opportunity, not an obstacle.
Prototyping Skills Are Your Biggest Asset
Another skill we look for is the ability to prototype. If you can express your design as an interactive experience instead of a static mockup or wireframe, you instantly add multiple layers of value to our process.
- You’ve designed for interactivity. Making a prototype forces the designer to consider how the experience reacts to user input – for example, when the user hovers or clicks, when data is loading, or when there’s an error. It also forces us to be honest about how things render on a phone or in a browser. There’s often a big difference between the way something looks on an artboard and the way it actually appears in markup.
- Your design becomes testable. When you test static designs, a lot of important context about the experience is missing. If a user isn’t experiencing something that feels like a real product, the feedback you’re going to get from that user is going to be questionable.
- You’ve made a better deliverable. Expressing the solution as a prototype makes for a better design specification than flat mockups, which have to be measured and red-lined. Engineers get a clearer idea of the intended experience when they can be a part of the prototyping process. Furthermore, prototypes are far more adaptable and easier to implement.
Prototyping capabilities are highly valuable to us. If you have these skills, you’ll find that companies like Adobe will make an earnest effort to hire you.
Inexperienced Designers Have An Advantage
All of the attributes I’ve mentioned have nothing to do with how many years of experience you have. In fact, people who have those traits are often the ones who are new to their career.
Designers who have recently left school, or who have just entered the field, often have the mentalities I described above: curiosity, adaptability, and the ability to create a working prototype. This is really valuable to managers like me.
Show me or another hiring manager those traits, and you’re well on your way to landing a great job. Better yet, you’re well on your way to joining a great team on the forefront of design.