“…Set up a well-scoped design problem and ask a candidate to solve it on the spot. It can take anywhere from 15-40 minutes depending on depth and complexity. It’s such a good technique because there’s no faking (like showing portfolio work from a big team effort) and when moderated well, it can simulate working together.”
It’s difficult to craft just the right kind of challenge though, and Kowitz suggests that the trick is to pose a problem that can’t be solved perfectly and therefore has many possible solutions.
“The point of the design exercise is not whether someone can get the right answer; it’s to see how people think. And the best way to keep people thinking is to invent a problem that’s impossible to solve.”
This is a more hands on approach than I ever used to hire designers myself, though I don’t doubt its usefulness (and in fact after reading this I may consider employing something like it in the future). In my experience, asking a design candidate to explain in great detail the origin, development, launch and aftermath of a project from his or her own portfolio was almost always enough insight into that person’s thinking processes for me to decide whether or not they would be a good hire. Still, it’s true that the problem of hiring designers, especially for startup founders not accustomed to evaluating design talent, is a tough one. I might write a bit about my own approach in the near future, but in the meantime, be sure to read Kowitz’s post at Design Staff.
Subtraction.com: Design Staff: How to Interview a Designer