Like any good designer, when I was revamping my portfolio site to reflect my work as a user experience designer, I researched like mad: how were others presenting their work? What sections and information were common across portfolios? What were UX directors saying online about what they wanted to see in portfolios?
Two words: Case Studies.
I put in countless hours drafting case studies, gathering imagery, and hand-coding a new version of my website. More hours massaging page titles, descriptions, and blurbs for SEO. I know I’m not alone. If you added up the hundreds and hundreds of hours UX designers have invested in designing and writing their case studies for their portfolio sites, it would likely add up to the lives of the entire millennial population.
Okay, maybe this is an exaggeration, but you get the point.
We’ve been told that this field is a collaborative one. That it’s not enough to post screenshots of the end result, as attractive as those might be. No, we need to have case studies.
BUT when it comes time to evaluate you for a job, we’re going to ignore all that work.
Instead, we’re going to give you a homework assignment.
In the best case scenario, you might be asked to spend no more than an hour writing out how you would go about designing a feature for an app. In the worst (and frequent) case, you’ll be asked to do design work for a company’s own product, expected to produce wireframes, prototypes, and even visual design — for free!
Somehow, this is supposed to tell a hiring manager “how you think.” Yet it’s totally divorced from how you would actually do the work in the job: talk to product owners about business requirements, gather existing data on user needs and pain points, see where the feature fits into the product strategy and roadmap… Sketch out ideas to talk through with other designers and the engineers. And so on. In other words, conversation, collaboration, context.
Homework is anti-inclusive
You have no idea what the criteria are for evaluating the homework, or even if everyone involved in the hiring decision knows what they are, let alone agrees on them. You don’t know if this is the deciding factor in a hiring decision. You may be told to spend no more than X amount of time, but other candidates may be able to spend twice that amount. If you work a full-time job, have family responsibilities or classes to attend, or otherwise don’t have several hours of totally focused time to devote to your homework, you’re already at a disadvantage.
This is the equivalent of Michelin evaluating a restaurant based on giving the executive chef three randomly chosen ingredients, locking her in an unfamiliar kitchen, and giving her 30 minutes to whip up a meal. It makes for great TV, but it says next to nothing about the quality of the restaurant.
A chef who can whip up a meal on command may be awful at creating a vision for the restaurant, building an effective team of sous chefs and back of the house staff, training wait staff in outstanding service, or creating a beautiful ambience.
Stop chopping, start asking
Can we please, as a field, stop treating hiring for UX like the Food Network show “Chopped”?
Instead, develop a solid set of questions you can ask that will truly give you a good idea of the candidate’s skills as a member of your team and that don’t involve homework.
Christopher Johnson, formerly at Google and now at Devbridge, has some great ideas for questions, which I summarize below.
- Walk me through Project X (probe for how she got to the final solution, what other solutions she considered, what would she change knowing what she knows now, etc.)
- Tell me about your biggest failed project (ask about why she thinks it failed and what she would do differently that she thinks would have mitigated the failure, how the failure makes her a better designer going forward, and so on).