Throughout my career I have spoken to hundreds of creative leaders who have been challenged with finding the right Interactive Designer for their department. Hiring Interactive Designers is challenging because of the diverse and constantly evolving job descriptions, skill sets, and career paths that are associated with the role. And while on the surface two Interactive Designers may appear very similar as their resumes may reflect similar skills, experiences, and portfolio pieces, beneath the surface very clear differences relating to key strengths and long-term career aspirations will emerge. The disparity between roles, responsibilities, and career goals of Interactive Designers results in a difficult hiring process, which can lead to hiring the wrong candidate. Finding the best long term fit for the organization requires hiring managers to understand the talent classes that have emerged within the interactive design discipline.
The Rock Star
Rock star does not exclusively equal "really good designer." Rock stars are the designers who eat, sleep, and breathe visual creativity regardless of whether somebody else thinks they are talented or not. They expect to go to work each day and have the opportunity to ideate, create, think, and connect and are motivated by a desire to make a significant impression on their audiences through their designs. These designers don't need to be pushed to stay current--they read design industry books and publications and regularly look for new sources of creative inspiration. Generally these designers live in PhotoShop focusing on developing visual concepts in roles that are generally front-end only and require only light coding skills such as HTML and CSS. These roles can have titles such as Digital Designer, Visual Designer or Rich Media Designer. Rock stars aspire to be Creative Directors, often within an advertising setting or another industry that calls for creative customer communications. When adding this role to your interactive team, the role should include regular opportunities for original creativity and a career path upward that includes an increasingly higher level of conceptual, persuasive design thinking (Sr. Designer, Art Director, Design Manager, etc.).
As the sophistication of the user experience field continues to develop and education opportunities increase, so does the number of Interactive Designers who have found a second calling as Usability Designers. While usability designers appreciate good design and may even have strong visual design skills, they thrive on creating user-friendly web experiences and tools. They want to know that what they create is going to make the experiences of the user easier, more enjoyable, and more efficient. Usability Designers spend most of their time analyzing key user scenarios, designing new interface layouts (wireframes), and administering user testing, though many enjoy dipping into visual design as well. Usability Designers measure their success by the analytics; they are motivated by how well the site performs and how activity is impacted by their design decisions. It is not uncommon to see Interaction Designer, Web Designer, UI or UX Designer, Usability Designer, and Application Designer all as titles for this type of Interactive Designer. Usability Designers will look for roles with a career path that blends creativity, usability and strategy; titles for these roles may be general, e.g., Design Manager, Creative Director, or a more specific, e.g., UX Manager, Director of Online Experience. Today these roles are often found in digital design firms and in large companies that place high value on their web channel. Roles for usability gurus need to include an element of creative problem solving that relates to creating or improving the user experience. Great consideration should be given to where this designer will progress within your organization as their career opportunities in the marketplace are constantly expanding and evolving with both social media and mobile application design being hot attractions for usability designers.
These Interactive Designers are the classic "jack-of-all-trades." They enjoy a broad set of responsibilities, and their qualifications are usually driven by their employers' needs and less so by their own focused motivations. But this is not to say they aren't without personal motivations, but rather that generalists are very happy having their hands in multiple pots. Common responsibilities include visual design, wireframing, front-end coding, the occasional multimedia production work, light analytics, and some project management. This class of talent is difficult to develop a career path strategy for because they often value stability, company quality, teammates, and great benefits equally or more so than advancement opportunities. Generalists may wish to remain generalists or may be exploring the facets of a generalist's role and in the process of identifying a specialty. The Generalist, typically broadly titled with names such as Web Designer, Interactive Designer, Media Designer, and Multimedia Specialist, is not likely to have a best-in-class level of skill or experience in any one area, so it is important when interviewing to understand how much time they spent on which tasks and their career goals and how that mix compliments your organization's needs. For small web teams, a generalist is typically the safest hiring decision as it allows for the most flexibility, though many organizations hire temporary support to augment the generalist's skills for special projects.
When preparing to hire an Interactive Designer, first conduct an analysis of your department's interactive design skill requirements. If your web team is small, you may need a generalist but with a strength in "x" skill. If your department is larger and not yet hiring interactive designers with specialties, this may be the opportunity to begin. Hiring the right class of Interactive Designers will ensure maximum productivity, effectiveness, and employee retention.
For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email contact us.