Hiring for a Great Design Team

Your ultimate hiring guide for a stellar design team.

5 Life Lessons from Napoleon for Effective Leadership

Getting the right people is only part of building a great design team. Your team’s performance is highly influenced by the people in it.

Unlike your parallel functions of engineering and product management, your team is very unique as it largely functions on feel and not numbers. In fact, your team may be unlike any other in your organisation – and it will have its own culture too.


As a Design Leader, hiring the right set of people is probably the most important part of your job. The time you invest in hiring will eventually pay off in the long run, because you are not just increasing the size of your team, you are also actively laying down a strong foundation of the culture that will eventually define your team.

“Look for passion and not academics to make your next great hire.”

Great academics do not necessarily equate to fiery passion. Skillsets can be learned, but you need a passion for the medium. Think about it – most times when people are let go, the reason is rarely a lack of skillsets.

Keep the chat casual

Assessing for passion can be difficult, especially because interviews are sort of a controlled-environment situation where the candidate is trying to impress you and is likely anxious.

Even the best of the talent can come across short when anxious. Toning down the conversation to a more informal setting can be a great start to making your candidate feel comfortable.

What inspires them

Every designer is unique, and so are their interests. Understanding what drives them and what inspires them is crucial to shedding light on their passions.

I always start with “What’s your story?” and then the conversation flows naturally from there.

How they collaborate

Long gone are the days when Design used to be just a service. With organisations understanding more and more the importance of having a solid design leadership, collaboration is essential for any high-performing design team.

I generally put my candidates in a situation where I ask them to imagine they are working on a problem with their Engineering or Product counterparts, and there is a disagreement on the solution. The solution is a no-brainer for the designer as it is backed by years of research and aligns well with the business goals of the organisation. How would they take this forward?

If the candidate thinks s/he can force their way through by showing design prowess, then they probably may not be built for collaboration.

On the other hand, if they simply accept and move on, then that’s not good for the product.

If they stand somewhere in between the two, figure out how well they manoeuvre their way and that’s where you will find some amazing responses that will enable you to judge their collaboration skillset.

The art of listening

Humility is a rare trait – it enables one to be a great listener and a great learner. Kindness and collaboration are side-effects of being humble.

“Designers who listen well, design well.”

They don’t run behind getting credit for their work, but understand they will get it anyway. They show kindness to other team members which fosters a great working environment.

Assignments & Portfolios

While assignments can be a great judge of skillsets, they should not become a make-or-break policy in your design hiring process. A lot of candidates, especially design leaders/managers tend to keep away from performing assignments.

“The best designers do not have portfolios, they have real work out there.”

Similar to assignments, do not obsess over portfolios. The best designers rarely have time to make one, as their focus has always been on actual work. Instead, ask to see live work that’s out there in the market.


Whether you are hiring for a start-up or an established organisation, you will need to ensure hiring is an integral part of your workflow.

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