Through our How to Get a Job at X series, we’ve talked to 20+ companies about what they look for in a designer (and more interviews are coming). Now, comparing answers between each interview, we are beginning to see trends.
Of course, it all depends on the company, the person we’re talking to and the position they’re filling. The insights here certainly don't apply to every company, and no magic formula exists for getting a design job. But since we continue to receive some of the same answers, a clearer picture of "today's ideal designer" is coming into view.
I’ve written about what companies never want to see in your portfolio. Now we’re looking at it from the other side. At first glance, these skills may seem expected for any position. But the companies we've interviewed here helpfully describe how they translate to a designer. I find their feedback fascinating and valuable, especially if you’re looking to work at any of these companies.
A hard skill beyond just design
“We expect everyone to have a second secret ‘superpower,’ so to speak. Hybrids. We love to hire great people who are also remarkable at something else—it could be coding or writing, but it could just as easily be cooking, science fiction, scuba diving, biking, singing, painting, Taekwondo...anything. I believe those collisions expand us.” - Brian Collins from COLLINS
“We have designers with great editorial skills, others that are great at motion graphics and 3D. I would love to find a designer who is great at coding as much as a designer who is great with music. I think creativity comes from mixing skills.” - Maitê Albuquerque from Mother
“I love working with people who have hybrid talents. I would say everyone in our team now is doing multiple types of work: code, design, UX, 3D, editing, creative tech.” - Simon Mogren from BBDO
Customer service experience
“The design department at MailChimp has a variety of designers, including web and mobile product designers, brand designers and product marketing designers. If I had to pick a single thread between them all, customer and brand experience is huge.
Doesn’t matter what type of design you’re responsible for, your contribution is part of a singular experience from the perspective of our more than 15 million users. Designers have to understand how their work contributes to that experience and collaborate with other designers to ensure their designs are consistent and on-brand.” - Todd Dominey from Mailchimp
“The main thing is... that you are curious about many different things, and that you are willing and able to keep growing and experimenting. It’s up to you to choose in what order you want to keep adding those skills.” - Haraldur Thorleifsson from Ueno
"People who think about the design beyond just the design team."
“I can’t overstate the importance of strategic thinking. We could see the most beautiful portfolio of design work, but if we connect with the person and they aren’t able to articulate the purpose behind their design decisions, it’s not going to be a fit for the type of work we’re doing. Likewise, we seek strategists who are passionate about and fluent in design, and client directors who understand how design and strategy come together to drive success for our clients.” - Maureen Edmonds from Red Antler
“Designers who are considerate of all of the aspects of an experience, including the writing, the illustrations and animations are also really great.” - Audrey Liu from Lyft
“People who think about the design beyond just the design team — how it can tie in with business goals, how to design in a way that can scale.” - Luisa Mancera from InVision
“As a hiring manager, I personally look for an ability to stick with a design project through multiple iterations, not get stuck or frustrated, and come out on the other side with a design that has evolved into something new and wonderful.” - Steven Boone from Disney
Most importantly: Strong communication & writing skills
“Most designers on my team eventually manage their own projects and may serve as the main point of contact with clients and other collaborators. So I look for people who can talk about their work, who can listen when other people are talking, and who like to take as much responsibility as possible.” - Michael Bierut from Pentagram
“While it might be considered a common skill, designers who can explain the decisions behind their work — written and verbally — and take egoless feedback is a big plus for us.” - Jared Granger from InVision
“If we had to pick one secondary skill for designers it would be writing. Knowing how to code is a close second, but a designer who can write? Ooh wee. In design, the message comes first... A great designer should be strong with many forms of communication because in the end, design is communication, whether it’s visual, written, or spoken.” - Stephanie Liverani, Luke Chesser and Mikael Cho from Unsplash
"Good writing can save bad design but not the other way around. You can make your designs sing if you know how to write well." - Unsplash
“Designers must communicate well. We work on a lot of projects and are very hands-on in the design process. We want to have a dialogue about the work along the way; we want our designers to want to engage about the work.” - Helen Rice and Josh Nissenboim from Fuzzco
“It’s important that all designers can communicate their ideas and rationale, collaborate with others, and navigate ambiguity proactively.” - Katie Dill, previously at Airbnb
"We really value designers who can synthesize their thought process via writing since it’s so core to our culture of collaboration." - Laura Cetina at Microsoft
“...storytelling can take you anywhere – designers who have a viewpoint, present their thoughts clearly, creatively and concisely stand out at Disney.” - Steven Boone from Disney
“One of the specific skills I look for are writing skills. It helps ensure that your thinking is clear.” - Stanley Wood from Spotify
“Communication skills are very important: how you communicate in your team and with your partners, and how you communicate your ideas. The concept of storytelling runs through everything.” - Shine Thomas from Nike
Passion for your work
“It might sound silly, but you can really tell who sees this as more than just a paycheck. Those who go the extra mile in their applications really stand out. There hasn’t been a formula developed for a perfect hire. We just look for genuinely nice, passionate and talented people.” - Ryan LeRoux and Oliver Brooks from MetaLab
For more tips on getting jobs at companies like Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Pentagram and more, catch up on our How to Get a Job at X series. And if you want to see a specific company in the series, tag me (@vanschneider) and the company on Twitter. We'll do our best to make it happen.
Cover image features the Lyft design team, from our interview with Lyft.