3 Questions Marketers Should Ask the Next Graphic Designer They Interview

Vince Bitel

VP of Creative Services

Every time I’ve been hired to work in a technology company, I’ve been interviewed and hired by a marketer and not by another graphic designer. If you are a marketer, hiring the right graphic designer is not about matching candidates with your bullet point list of required skills. It’s about asking the right questions…

If you’re a marketer hiring a graphic designer, you need to ask the right questions

When I think back to the first interview I had with a marketer in a technology company, I realize he didn’t ask me the right questions. While he asked all the typical interview questions he’d ask anyone, it’s clear to me now he didn’t know what to ask a graphic design candidate. I showed my work; we talked about my work ethic and motivation; we discussed self-management skills; followed up on the bullet point list of required skills; then I was hired.

He could not have been sure I was the right fit for the job, because he didn’t ask me the right questions. There are three criteria that should overlap in the Venn diagram of an effective corporate graphic designer:

A design education that continually provides an underlying foundation for professional content delivery

  • Understanding of his/her role in promoting the brand to customers
  • Ability to develop concepts and visualize ideas

Understanding if a candidate possesses the 3 criteria will help you separate the wheat from the chaff: you want to be able to know who is going to be an effective graphic designer for your business and who will be masquerading as a graphic designer.

The 3 questions that should dominate the conversation when you interview a graphic designer

1. Can you tell me about your graphic design education?

You wouldn’t select a doctor solely because she appears very handy with a stethoscope; you want to see that diploma on the wall as proof he/she recognizes your needs and can act on them. One subject that often gets overlooked is the graphic designer’s education, unless the candidate is fresh out of school. Often, bullet point job requirements like Photoshop skills overweigh the requirement for the more substantial knowledge gained while pursuing a good education, which strengthens effectiveness very far into the future.

Beyond the candidates that you will eliminate because they claim to be self-taught or have no design education at all, there are four types of graphic design education you will see from candidates.

You should eliminate candidates with these types of education

  • Certificate from a trade school: the purpose of this type of education is to teach a trade, not a profession. These candidates have learned how to use desktop publishing software and have been trained to be in a production environment within an organization, producing things other people have designed.
  • BFA from an art/design school, but not a graphic design major: this candidate had an interest beyond his/her major and has taken some classes that graphic design majors would take. These candidates will be creative, but if you hire this candidate, all of your projects will always lack most of the fundamentals that make good graphic design function well.

You should consider candidates with these types of education

  • BFA in graphic design from a reputable university: these candidates have the benefit of a solid core of fundamentals that will serve you well over time even though the underlying virtues a foundation provided them may not even be noticeable to you.
  • BFA in graphic design from a reputable art/design school: the advantage over a university education is how a person and his/her outlook develops in a learning environment that is intensely creative and competitive. Your business will benefit from the demands they place on themselves to find the best solution no matter how much effort is required.

2. How do you follow brand guidelines, yet keep things interesting?

In a large organization, it’s critical that graphic designers understand how important it is to work within the confines of brand guidelines, and those with less experience often think that strict adherence is boring or too limiting for what they want to achieve. A graphic designer should understand his/her role in promoting the brand to customers and disregard his/her personal likes and dislikes.

Here’s what to look for in a candidate’s portfolio: An “almost” monotonous sameness to projects for the same brand. As we all know, that sameness is a trust-builder for customers who don’t see your brand in action every day like you do. The differentiation among projects should be subtle enough to differentiate content pieces. The impression it makes should come from the concept and messaging, not the formatting and layout. Probe the candidate on his/her approach to a new project. Does he/she express confidence about being creative and successful within the confines of a brand? Or does he/she talk about how it’s a great opportunity to do something completely different and creative? The latter candidate will very quickly chip away at your brand recognition with customers, while also nurturing the false thinking that fresh ideas are always good ideas.

3. Do you have a project to show me where you played a strategic role in marketing to the audience

There’s a clear divide in the population of graphic designers between those who make things look professional, and those who advance the marketing strategy using graphic design. Examine the work being shown to you. Does it appear that the designer completed the project without understanding the content? Is there evidence that the designer collaborated on concepts and content? Is there a successful visualization of content? If you stop reading any of the words, do the design and visuals seem appropriate for the market and objective?

Choose a project, and ask the candidate to describe the content and elaborate on his/her contribution. You’ll either hear many terms about formatting, or how he/she helped shape the success of the project and is capable of doing the same for your business goals.

Hire the right graphic designer, and reap the benefits

When you hire a designer who’s name can be placed in the center of the Venn diagram, you ensure quicker delivery of great work that’s more engaging marketing.

If you have any questions about hiring your next graphic designer, feel free to leave a comment below or connect with me on LinkedIn.

branding, graphic design, graphic designer, technology marketing

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