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January 3, 2023

 mins to read

How to Evaluate UI/UX Designers Before Hiring Them

The success of your business depends on the mutual efforts of each of your team members. A designer is not an exception. You need this specialist in your team as they are responsible for making products useful, simple, and enjoyable to use. They work to improve the product’s look and feel so that users can easily find its value.

But how to evaluate designers and understand you’re hiring the right person before they even start working with you?

As a UI/UX design agency for SaaS, we’ve been on both sides: those who hire, and those who are hired. Further in the text, we will share our experience on how to identify a good UI/UX designer, discuss what mistakes employers often make when evaluating designers, and more. Additionally, at the end of this article, you’ll find a free downloadable checklist that will help you assess UI/UX designers.

Common mistakes that employers make when evaluating designers

During our more than 7-year experience of providing product design services, we’ve noticed that there are some typical things new clients tend to do before signing a contract, but that are actually not effective.

So, before we think of design evaluation criteria, let’s see what mistakes recruiters tend to make when hiring UI/UX specialists.

  • Judging the designer’s style.

When you search through the Internet for some tips on evaluating potential designers, the first thing you will see on many websites is that they recommend you carefully examine the designer’s portfolio to understand if you like their style.

We completely disagree with this advice. First of all, good product design doesn’t depend on the designer’s style. Good UI/UX designers are not artists that should have their unique manner of work. They provide a service and should create designs taking into account your business logic, your users’ needs, industry trends, and more.

For example, if Meta searched for a designer, do you think they would search for a person with works that look just like a Facebook interface? Probably not, they would look for a designer who is able to understand their business and work with references, style guides, and design systems.

Each project is unique, there can’t be a universal design style that fits them all. So, there’s little use in judging a designer’s style.

How to evaluate designers before hiring them meme
  • Asking for a wrong test task.

In our opinion, a test task is the most objective way for an employer to evaluate a designer. However, to get a reliable impression of the designer’s work, you need to choose the correct test task. It shouldn’t be too long, not to spend too many resources on hiring, but big enough to see if the candidate is competent.

Commonly, employers ask to design one screen for their application as a test. However, such a task won’t give you enough information to evaluate your candidates. A separate screen design can look fantastic, but it won’t show you how a user got to this point in their user journey, and what will happen afterward when they click a certain button. That is, a screen doesn’t show if a designer understands your business context or the needs of your target audience. 

That’s why in Eleken, we offer our clients a free three days trial. During the trial, we can create a complete user flow, a customer journey map, a UX audit, or another task that proves the person you’re going to work with understands your vision, your users, and the logic of your SaaS.

  • Asking for a portfolio of a specific designer when hiring a design agency.

When hiring a design agency, it means that there’re many designers that can be assigned to your project ( you don’t always have the possibility to choose one). How to evaluate them in such a case? Usually, our clients want to see a portfolio with all case studies of the exact specialist that’s going to work on their project. But this approach is wrong, and here’s why. 

Imagine there are four designers:

  • designer A had worked on one big project for a year.
  • designer B had worked on four small projects during the last year. 
  • designer C was the only designer in the team when working on a project.
  • designer D worked as a part of a big design team.

Will the portfolios of these four designers and their experience differ? Yes. 

Does that mean that one is more experienced than the other? No.

And again, analyzing a portfolio of a specific designer won’t help you when hiring a design agency. Instead, take a look at the agency’s case studies to understand their general approach to design and ask to complete a small test task to see if your potential hire understands your needs and if you feel comfortable communicating with them.

Now that we know what mistakes to avoid when evaluating design specialists, let’s discuss the aspects you need to take into account to make an objective and qualified choice.

Components of successful hiring

Reviewing CVs, portfolios, and completed test tasks won’t be efficient if you analyze them alone. That’s why, the first thing we’d recommend you to do when choosing a designer, is to hold a video interview where you can ask open-ended questions that will help you understand if a candidate possesses the needed hard and soft skills.

Further on in the article, we will discuss what UI/UX designer skills you should pay attention to, and how to figure out if a designer has them. But before that, there’s one more important thing you should do before even opening designers’ CVs.

Define what you expect to receive at the outcome

Hiring designers to “make the product stand out”, or because you “want the app to look beautiful” may lead to a useless waste of resources. That’s why, as the first step, think of what exactly you want the designer to work on, and how it aligns with your business goals. 

  • Identify what your business needs are.
  • Define what user problems and needs the product should address, and therefore what features it should perform.
  • Learn what similar apps are on the market and how your product can stand out from the competitors. 

In other words, develop the design strategy, which is defined by research. This process doesn’t necessarily require a designer, only an in-depth understanding of your product.

With those insights in mind, come up with a list of deliverables and design requirements (they can change over time) and start looking through CVs. And remember, the more specifications you give to your potential designer, the easier it will be to choose the right candidate and the fewer challenges you'll face when you cooperate.

Now let’s move to key indicators that can help you evaluate designer qualities.

Hard skills

This and further sections contain criteria for UI/UX designers’ evaluation. You can check if your potential design partner meets these criteria during the interview by asking questions, analyzing projects in their portfolio, or discussing a test task.

Let’s start with a list of essential methods that UX designers commonly use during a product design process to deliver effective design solutions.

Product discovery

Product discovery is aimed at understanding your customers' problems and needs. Using these findings, you can build software that people want to use and pay for. It also helps a designer to correctly prioritize features and set up for product excellence.

Product discovery should be an integral part of the UI/UX design process, so when evaluating your potential hire’s skills, pay special attention to the following:

  • User research

UI/UX designers use data from studying users to approve or reject assumptions, define design opportunities, and develop an understanding of how people interact with a product. There’s a variety of user research techniques, including user interviews, surveys, focus groups, card sorting, usability testing, and more.

To evaluate the designer’s awareness of the importance of research, ask them what user research techniques they used in their projects and how they influenced their design decisions.

user personal examples
Buyer personas Eleken designers created based on user research for HandPrinter
  • Competitor analysis

By analyzing existing solutions on the market, designers can define what they are missing so that you can turn it into a competitive advantage, or vice versa, what features customers expect to find in your software because they’re common for this kind of app.

To evaluate this skill, ask a potential candidate if they use this research method in their work and how it affects the outcomes.

  • UX audit

The goal of a UX audit is to define existing usability problems of a product through research and analysis. With its help designers can identify critical gaps in the user journey that prevents customers from making the target actions they’re supposed to take. This skill is important to assess if you need help with product redesign.

The best way to evaluate this criterion is to make UX audit a test task. Ask a candidate to analyze a piece of your product, and come up with possible improvements. 

how to evaluate UX audit report
A piece of UX audit report done by Eleken designers
  • Product structure

A well-thought-out product structure makes your app intuitive and reduces the time and effort users spend to find what they need. To plan product structure, UI/UX designers create user flows by organizing and labeling each user’s step toward completing a task. Then they can start mapping user experience with the help of wireframing.

To check if your candidate can create a consistent product structure, ask them to design a certain user flow as a test task (be ready to give a designer enough time to complete a task). 

Then ask them to guide you through the flow. For more details ask the following questions:

  • What happens if the user does *certain action*?
  • Why did you choose a *certain solution*?
high-fidelity wireframes example
High-fidelity wireframe examples made by Eleken 

Prototyping

Prototypes show you how the app will work and look, but most importantly, it allows designers to test their ideas with potential users.

To evaluate this skill, ask a designer if they create clickable prototypes, and what tools they use for this purpose.

how to evaluate design prootype
Prototype designed by Eleken

Testing

A variety of testing methods, like A/B testing, benchmarking, and others, allow designers to validate the efficiency of their design decisions, check the product’s usability, see how users interact with a product and reveal places of friction that need improvements.

Ask a candidate to tell you a case from their experience when they had to test their ideas and how they dealt with it.

Visual design

Colors, typefaces, photos, and illustrations are all parts of your product and they need to tie together in a structured and unified way. We fix inconsistencies and build a unified visual language to help you create a scalable product.

Ask designers to walk you through the breakdown of an existing user interface and explain how they may enhance it. Additionally, you can ask if a designer has experience working with design systems.

how to evaluate visual UI design
UI Kit is the main design document that contains a visualization of each UI component 

Responsiveness and accessibility

UI/UX designers should be able to create a user experience beneficial for everyone who uses the software. Responsive design means that your app will look and feel the same at all device screen sizes. Accessible design means that users with disabilities or situational difficulties will find your app easy to use.

To assess these skills, ask a designer how they can make the product accessible to various user types.

accessibility in UI/UX design

To sum up, when evaluating the design approach of your potential design partner, the most important thing is to ensure that a candidate bases each of their design choice on research and users’ needs rather than on aesthetics. Ask your potential designer to guide you through their design process and pay attention to the methods we described above.

Soft skills

Here we will talk about personal qualities and interpersonal skills that are important for finding a connection with users and effectively cooperating with a team.

  • Critical thinking

UI/UX design is really about solving problems. Therefore, designers need to use critical thinking to find viable solutions for user problems.

To evaluate this quality, ask if a certain must-have feature in one of their previous projects is important and why, and see how versatile their vision is.

  • Empathy 

Being aware that you design software to solve someone's real problems, makes the designer strive to create more approachable, comprehensible, and usable products.

Good designers talk a lot about people who use their products. So, when a candidate tells you about their previous projects, pay attention if they mention what needs and problems users of that product had.

  • The ability to communicate

Designers don’t do their job alone, product design is a team sport. Thus, it’s essential to make sure your potential candidate can explain the details of how the design they create works to users, the product manager, developers, and other designers.

If a designer can clearly communicate their thoughts to you during the interview, they will also be able to communicate with other people well.

  • The ability to listen and take criticism well

In the course of your cooperation, you’ll have to share your vision and feedback regularly. So it’s very important to have a designer who’s a good listener and who’s open to criticism.

To check if your candidate has this quality, pay attention to the way they react to your feedback on a test task or to their previous works.

  • Proactivity

A designer shouldn’t be just a blind doer. Apart from being a good listener, it’s important that your future design partner could make their own decisions and justify their opinion when needed.

To assess this quality, set a test task and see how your potential designer presents you with their ideas.

That's all for the list of skills to evaluate a UI/UX designer. Study and adjust it to suit your needs, and start building the product design team of your dreams. And to ensure you don’t miss anything important, here’s a downloadable UI/UX designer evaluation checklist.

To sum up

Good UI/UX designers are those who listen to your vision but can also make their own decisions clearly explaining what lies behind them.

If we had to give several most important recommendations on a designer skills assessment they would be the following:

  1. Define why you need a UI/UX designer before starting the hiring process.
  2. Don’t sign a contract with a designer/design agency without talking to a candidate face-to-face or camera-to-camera.
  3. As a test task, ask them to create a user flow, conduct a UX audit, or do anything that can help you make sure the person you want to work with understands your product’s logic.
  4. Pay attention if you feel comfortable communicating with your potential employee.

And if you need to quickly find a devoted design partner, Eleken’s designers are all professionals with experience of working with SaaS solutions. Schedule a call with us, and let’s discuss the details of your project.

‍

Kateryna Mayka

Author

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