Here are seven tips to evaluate product design portfolios
Lets be honest, critiquing design portfolios can be difficult. And for the untrained reviewer, even daunting. It’s easy to get swept away by beautiful renderings and snappy concept sketches. And its even more difficult if you are looking for design leaders.
To evaluate a design candidates work effectively, you need to review portfolios accurately and objectively. Don’t just note if you like it or not, rather, be more strategic in your approach. Here are seven tips to help take away the guesswork.
1. Look deeper
Saul Bass said that design is thinking made visible. So when you look at a design portfolio, look deeper, and try to understand the candidates thinking behind the work. Ask, “What is the problem you are trying to overcome?” Ask, “Was this design successful, and how do you know?” See if the the candidate present their work effectively, other than saying “I like it”. This may give you clues about the person’s business and strategic thinking.
2. What’s the problem?
How can you evaluate a design if you don’t know what the problem is to solve? Just straight up ask, “Why did you design this way?” What you’re trying to discover is if the person can not only create but also present and defend their work well. While you’re there, ask about the design brief, in fact, ask to see the brief. Then, you can decide if the work meets the stated objectives. And if there is no brief, it may indicate lack of discipline.
3. What’s the process?
Learning about design process can help you understand the person better – a team player or a soloist. And ask, “What were the biggest challenges to overcome, and how did you address them?” Listen to see if the challenges the candidate mentions are technical or people related – if the answer is on the technical side, it’s a clue the person may be more functionally based, and if it’s on the people side, the person is probably more in tune with collaboration. Remember, design is a team sport.
4. Ask, “What was your exact contribution on the project?”
Sometimes, well, actually often, people over state their involvement on a project – so be sure to probe with direct questions. “What exactly did you do on the project?” What was your role and contribution? While your there, probe about design patents awarded, and try to understand what are the candidates most meaningful and relevant accomplishments.
5. Use formal design critique methods
I was recently a design judge for the Red Dot Product Design Awards in Germany, one of 39 experts flown in to evaluate 5,000 products in person. Big job. And it reminded how helpful it is to apply defined criteria to candidates portfolios, such as:
– Ergonomics and usability
– Formal design principles
– Degree of innovation
– Self-explanatory quality
– Symbolic and emotional content
– Ecological compatibility
– Product periphery
6. Look at the context
Try to find out what the design of other products in the category look like, from this company and from the competitors. Sometimes a nice looking portfolio is simply additions to existing products that someone else designed, or following a competitor. And for broader context, ask “How does this design solution support the brand?”, and “How does this project fit within the broader customer experience?”
7. Designed for whom?
Finally, ask “Who is the customer?” This helps you to see the candidates true colors; if they can articulate the target persona in detail, they are designing for someone, but if they can’t, they may be designing for themselves. The last thing you should want is a solution looking for a problem.
Using defined criteria such as this to evaluate design portfolios, vet candidates, and even when considering employee advancements can help replace subjectivity with objectivity. This criteria is focused on industrial design, so I have another post upcoming focused on evaluating UX portfolios.
Critiquing design talent doesn’t stop with the portfolio and cv. Here are suggestions on using a white board in the interview process.