Assessing the Designer and the Design

Design potential. For a design firm, design potential is paramount to keep clients happy and the firm recognizable and relevant. But how can a design firm assess future design potential? Yes, the portfolio is an invaluable indicator of talent, but does it tell you the future design skill a candidate possess?


With that last half of the year getting started, historically a very busy time for dbi, I wanted to share a few tips to help you move past “perhaps” into “definitely”.

No one, not even the Koolhaus’, Marino’s, and Gehry’s, design alone. Design is a give and take, a sharing of ideas, inspirations, and influence. Nothing is truly designed alone. To have your staff achieve inspirational design they must be able to work as a team.

My go-to question about team work is:

“Tell me about a time when your team disagreed on something and how did you and the team work to resolve it?”

Yes, it may seem negative. But anyone can be successful on a great team. You want to understand how they put the team above their personal interest. The questions is simple enough that everyone has been in the situation but complex enough to give you true insight into how that candidate views, and has functions, in teams.

Continued Study-
Just as design is not a solo endeavor, it is also ever changing. As you evaluate your design talent it is very important to confirm your potential hire has developed the habit, or has the natural curiosity, to stay informed on their profession.

To uncover the candidate’s continued study I have a few questions I have found effective.

  • What is the most recent work related book/article you read? How did it influence you?
  • How much time to you spend each week on continued education? What are you currently involved in this week?
  • How to you stay current on design trends?

The power in these questions is not in their complexity, but in simply asking them. Many of my clients do not make this part of their interview process. To truly understand the design potential of your candidates you must understand their interest, or passion, for self-study.

Design Influences-
I have saved the most important questions for last. Influences define the designer! Where a designer pulls their inspiration not only defines their ability to design but the type of design they tend towards. Does someone like a clean, modern aesthetic? Perhaps they like the layer work of Kelly Wearstler? Either way, understanding their influences will help you to better understand their design potential.

The question here is simple.

“Who is your biggest design influence and why?”

Ask this question and then listen for the answer. It will give you some of the deepest insight into the candidate and the candidate’s potential.

Of course, these are just a few examples of how to understand a candidate’s design potential. Be creative about the questions you ask. You will find the more interesting the question, the more interesting the conversation.

Good luck.