I used to sit in a lot of interviews with designers. Top of mind for me, almost always, was sheer talent. My very first interjection is almost always "describe for me what you’ve contributed to what I'm looking at right now." Providing I receive a solid answer that bodes well in the raw talent department, I continue my evaluation. A candidate's thinking process is critical, and I'm quick to ask simple questions in effort to tease out a way of working. I'll now ask something like the following:
"How do you usually begin a project?"
Clearly, there isn't a single right answer to this question. I'm attempting to find a semblance of process and really understand how someone works.
Allow me a brief tangent: As someone who loves to cook, and especially to make pizza, I've learned the right way to begin making a pie, even if the pie ends up being terrible. Over time, I have also learned the right way of starting to make a truly glorious pizza. Interestingly (or rather, not so interestingly), the process is exactly the same. Any way you slice it, to make a pizza, you need an oven, flour, water, and more. Beginning a design project is like beginning to cook: there are many variations in recipe, but there are only a few proper ways to begin. You can ad-hoc the creation process, but it shows on the backend. If you totally flub the most primitive parts of beginning, the likelihood of success is modified substantially, much like beginning to cook a pizza without an oven. Beginning to make pie without flour and water results in a redefinition of pizza.
Regarding design, my particular background and way of working predisposes me to pen and paper, asking human beings questions, and then spending time marinating on a problem with people that provide insight into the opportunity and challenges in front of me. It's a process, similar to the process of making a pie. Ingredients are important, and variation is critical, but sometimes there are better ways of working. But, back to the interview: If the candidate presents me with an answer to my "how do you begin" question such as…
"Well, I tend to hop right into $_software_tool_of_choice…"
I would tend close down the door of opportunity. If their pixels were of otherworldly magnificence and beauty, I would consider giving them another chance, but often this was never the case. I found that truly great designers began by starting "closer to the metal" so to speak, by starting on paper. This is true of both inexperienced and veteran designers. I've found drawing to be critical. The notion of cultural fit inside of a company rarely mattered towards my recommendation of a designer's merit and worthiness of being part of team or organization. I was evaluating raw skills; color, composition, hierarchy, and ultimately how well the candidate can communicate their decision making process was critical. This was the stuff of value.
Now that I've been outside of IDEO walls for a few months, the notion of cultural fit and hiring has been more than an occasional fixture on my mind. Cruising around the Internet, I found this gem from Bloomberg Businessweek about the importance of cultural fit and the IDEO hiring process:
Q: What do you look for in candidates?
A: They have to be able to think outside of the box and learn extremely quickly. We don't look for specialists. We look for people who can work across industries and think on their feet. They also have to be really good at working with people in other disciplines. We can't have an engineer who doesn't get the aesthetic or understand design.
Q: How do you know if someone is a cultural fit for IDEO?
A: Our culture is non-rules-based and nonpolitical. I don't want to mislead you that IDEO has no structure. There's definitely a basic process that we follow. But beyond that, we want to put hot teams together and let them come up with great ideas.
The people who fit well are comfortable making their own paths and articulating their point of view. They also have to understand that there's a lot of give and take across the disciplines.
Most people don't have a title on their [business] card, or have a title at all. You can have one if you want. [IDEO] is about working really hard -- and I don't mean that in terms of hours. I mean being extremely engaged and excited about what you're doing. We're all here because we're passionate about the products we're turning out every day.Bloomberg Businessweek, 2001
Keep that short quote in mind. Now throw into the mix an absolutely genius designer/programmer/filmmaker/whoever who is brilliant, but doesn't fit the cultural needs of what's described up above. Imagine someone of incredible visual wealth that can't articulate a point of view, or someone who's incredibly deep in one particular area of expertise but expresses little interest in exploring other areas. Not only would that person be at a disadvantage from the start in an organization like what's described above, but so would the rest of team he or she would be working with. How would an organization or a team end up working with someone who's an incredibly talented designer visually, but lacks a desire to learn about a human-centered process in an organization that prizes insight? Or, place a designer who values the insight that people bring to the design process inside of an organization that functions without iterative upfront research?
Right now, it's too easy for employers and managers to find talented people who have incredible skills on paper, but would probably work better within a different type of organization. Let's take into better account the impact individuals will have within our companies, and better evaluate how not only we impact them, but how they ultimately will impact us. Raw talent is important, but so is the mindset of the person who will be entering your organization.