Putting The Designer In The Drivers


In my last post I discussed what interviewers should ask design talent to uncover their potential.  This week I want to speak to the talent.

Design talent, you know who you are, if there is anything to understand at this moment in time it is that you are in control.  The battle for talent is white hot and design talent has a great opportunity to search for the job the moves their career up, out, and forward.

But heavy is the head that wears the crown!  Regardless of the name on the door, or the designer behind the velum paper, it is up to each person to vet the opportunity against their own personal goals.

Tell me about your firm’s design process.

The design process is the DNA of the firm.  A good designer will not only support the current DNA of a firm, but move it forward.  If your desire is to be part of the design DNA, ask who is responsible for creating it.  If the answers speaks to a more collaborative effort where the team charrettes design questions and works with the client to create the space, the role might be a great match for your career goals.

If the design and ideation is held at the top, or with one person, it would honestly depend on the person.  Is Peter Marino or Adam Tihany defining the look?  Then it may be worth a time with these talents to gain the unique exposure of their process.  Of course, these roles are few and far between and for a designer, never long term.  If your goal is to influence the design you are better off looking for a firm with a more collaborative approach and the only way to understand the firm’s design process is to ask about it.

How does design interact with the client?

Regardless of who the designer is, even Peter Marino, the client is key.  The client understands the project, defines the style, make the yes and no decisions, and pays for the end product.   To really influence the design you must have exposure to the client.

Depending on your career level, this could happen in many ways.  The Principal, Design Director or Senior Designer will work with the client prior to pen hitting paper.  They will understand the project, listen to the client’s wants and needs, and offer their design expertise.  More junior designers will join the client meetings after the first sketches are done and the design is coming into focus.  Other designers may join the meeting as a training exercise.

If your desire is to grow as a designer, you have to understand how the new firm will support your exposure to the client.

How are your teams structured?

Critical to the design process is the structure of the team.  Collaboration is the answer you are looking for when you ask this question.  If all parts of the team (design, specification, business development, project management, and production) are not on the same page the influence of the designer becomes very compartmentalized.

Design is organic.  It changes up until they keys are handed over, and may change even after that!  To influence the design the entire team must play a part.

Of course these questions are not the end-all, be-all in defining if the role is right for you.  It assumes the type of project, location, level, and fit are all matches to your goals.  What I hope to have shared in this post is a way to uncover how the business of the firm, the money making efforts, works and supports the design efforts.

Good luck in your job searches, be it in a new firm or for a role in your current firm.  And just remember to ask the questions!  


I also want to share my favorite question any candidate can ask.  It is simple:

“What will I need to do to make a positive impact on the role and the firm?”

Ask this questions and then just listen.  More than any other questions, this one starts a conversation about the firm, its goals and strategy.  About the team, what they prioritized and deem important. And about the role, how success is measured and what you will need to do to be great.