Last week I asked my broader Linkedin community if they‘d help me with an experiment: a craft exercise to help designers use their skills to frame their value on projects, and their potential to an employer. I got many gracious offers of support and more than enough volunteers to run a quick over-the-weekend experiment.
I shared a simple assignment with a small collection of volunteers. I gave them 48 hours to complete and upload their interpretation of the assignment. I‘ve included a few of the submissions because they speak volumes about each designer’s approach to systems, processes, materials and communication and influence styles.
Select a recent project. Use a process map to show how the project started and how it progressed, from start to finish. Define and map all of the players and their roles at each stage. Include important moments, insights, pivots, actions and decisions and the data that informed them. This process map must tell a story about YOU. Start with low fidelity prototypes (however you define) and share your first 2–3 ideas in 2 days.
I was looking for a few distinct things with this craft exercise: An illustration of a designer’s process, that designer’s critical thinking skills including key decisions and the data that informed them, and a distinct story of personal involvement. These are three areas help a hiring manager evaluate a designer’s ability to start adding value on day 1.
A designer’s ability to explain a journey is a critical skill.
Every experience is a journey. Discovering, defining, designing and delivering is also a journey. Key attributes of that journey include phases, actions, insights, team members and responsibilities.
Process journeys are rarely linear. They include moments to question, to revise, to go broad and then narrow. In these moments , the data that drives a decision forward is vital.
Critical thinking includes data-informed decision making
Designing is, at its essence, hunting and gathering. Generative and reductive. Adding insights and shedding false assumptions. Bold provocations and equally bold feature cuts, value prop pivots and opportunities to say No.
So it’s important to demonstrate how decisions were made. Where was the customer in that process? The closer the customer is to the decision making process — the more customer behavioral data (what they do, not what they say) is anchored to the decisions that propel the project forward, the more confidence I have in a designer’s ability to drop their previously held assumptions. So much of design is about being wrong fast, so you can be right faster. And being clear about those assumption-shattering experiments and Ahas lets me know a designer is in touch with that.
Tell your story in a way only you can
As a Design Team leader, a key question I need to answer is “What is your ‘service’ in a larger team’s value proposition?” What responsibilities can you shoulder and in what situations will you own, influence and drive the customer’s POV — or your own? Hiring managers ask these two questions as they review portfolios: Tell me how you work on a team? What parts of this assignment were your responsibility? We are looking for team players who are also unique contributors.
How you tell this story, and how you highlight your role in that story, is a moment for you, a designer, to add tremendous personalization. As you look back at your story, where are you in it? How do we know that’s you? What creative license did you take to add your personality, your superpowers and perhaps even your opportunity areas? This is where informational depth can play a critical role. And it has an opportunity to drive a much richer conversation about what you add to a team, and what kind of growth you are focused on. These become rich conversations with your hiring manager. What better way than design to bring them to life?
There is no “correct” answer to this craft assignment. It is merely an opportunity to see inside your head. And how you use your hands. How you make. How you prioritize. How you tell a story. The assignment was the same, but these four examples are about as unique to one another as you can get. Their media, use of line and color and glyphs and space. Each is a marker for how these designers think and work.
As far as I know, all four of these designers are looking for a job. Their backgrounds and experience run the gamut. What surprises you in the way these exercises were executed? Based on the figures above, who would you want to take a deeper look at?