DesignEdu Today

A few months ago Zach, our VP of Technology, and Ryan, our (now former) VP of Design, spoke with Gary Rozanc, host of the DesignEdu Today podcast series and assistant professor of graphic design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In a conversation that covered a lot of ground, Zach & Ryan spoke at length about recruiting, collaboration, and the qualities we look for in our own hiring process. If you’ve ever wondered what we’re looking for in our candidates, there are some great tips (some that we’ve shared before).

Below you’ll find a couple of snippets from their discussion. Hope you find time to listen to the whole episode (MP3 here)!

Zach (on interviewing)

I think that one of the things that’s challenging in any interview process, whether it’s designers or developers or really anybody is, it’s around the portfolio is very much about the individual; it’s about their work and their thinking and that’s critical and it needs to be represented, but I think the thing that we’re also looking for in our own hiring process is around collaboration.

How do you work in a team? How do you share ideas? How do you share your ideas and how have your team-mates move them forward? How do you take ideas from them and help move them forward?

Because at the end of the day, at Substantial we’re trying to be a very collaborative cross-disciplinary co-located project team, so you’re always working with somebody else and there has to be ideas going back and forth and that’s something that you’re not really going to necessarily get from looking at a poster in a portfolio. But being able to speak to those kind of things in a portfolio, I think, I’d like to see ways of finding designers, helping designers find ways to represent their ability to operate in that context as opposed to being the lone student or the lone creative trying to demonstrate a particular technical skill.

Ryan (on merging design & agile development)

[We] really do try to take the best of design thinking and invest in agile software development. So there’s a notion, we’re bringing in those principles from both those pieces and at the heart of that is being able to interact rapidly and being able to collaborate and work with people from different perspectives, prioritizing different needs and coming at the problem from a different point of view.

And that can be very difficult because as designers we tend to think broad. We think broad and move narrow. And not to over-generalize, but at times development and engineering can think more focused and them move out to be more broad and we need to bridge the gap between that and you’re constantly moving between those things. So, just again, it’s a challenge.

When we’re interviewing a designer and they go through these sessions, there’s a designer and a developer in every session and those interviews are being run by both of them, so the designer will be asked questions and be challenged from development and engineering just as much as they will be from design. And not only does that apply to our design hiring, but it also applies to our engineering hiring as well. And we actually field test on the spot; we have [collaborative] sessions where we’ll pose a few problems and we’ll have a forty-five minute session to work with engineering on trying to identify a solution. In the portfolio review, we’ll ask questions about development or how someone might approach this, or how they would work with a different constraint; we’ll throw those curve-balls in there to really see how people react.