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Getting hired as a designer in tech: 5 tips from the recruiters themselves

Landing your first design role in the tech industry is tough. AIGA and Wunderdogs have joined forces to bring designers the best advice and strategies for approaching their next move. Our panel of star design managers from LiveRamp (Hans-Frederick Brown), AE Studio (Amélie Beurrier) and App Annie (Amitabh Handa) shared their tips and tricks for job seekers in tech. We’ve captured the key insights for those who missed out on the fun:

Outreach

  • Be direct and ask for introductions

Being direct is an important skill when looking for a job in the crowded tech space. Amitabh recalled a candidate that reached out to him recently looking for introductions: “She reached out to me with a resume and a cover letter -- it was the perfect executive summary, constructive and a very easy-to-read pitch of herself. Her cover letter included some high stats about her accomplishments, KPI’s and awards. She also included a list of thirty companies she was asking me to introduce her to — and she classified them by size, from startups to corporations. She did her homework — so I introduced her to 5 people right away.”

Asking for introductions is always a good idea. If an interview doesn’t work out consider asking the hiring manager for introductions to companies that may be a better fit -- in the age of networking introductions have two-way benefits.

Portfolio

  • Showcase the impact

One of the most overlooked yet crucial components of your portfolio is an indication of the impact of your work. As Amelie mentioned, “Product managers would put lots of numbers in their resumes, alongside the description of their impact. But if as a designer you are able to claim some part of that impact and openly say “this is where my product was -- and this is where it is now”, and tell how the user experience has improved in terms of metrics, that will be a big win for me as a recruiter”.

  • Don’t overcrowd your portfolio with cases

A big newbie mistake is showing too many work examples. A portfolio review typically lasts 45 minutes to an hour. You want to keep time for questions after your presentation so sharing 2 to 3 projects is usually best. Hans added that “...if you are in a good relationship with the hiring manager, ask them for a quick review before you go onsite so you can align with the types of projects the team are looking for. The rule of thumb is to start with 4-5 projects in your portfolio - show them to your hiring manager and pin down the 2 or 3 that have the greatest impact. Hiring managers are not looking for slideshows.”

  • Be concise

When it comes to case studies lean into the journey not the destination, and be concise. “I’ve interviewed over a 100 people in the past year, -- says Amitabh -- I do not have time to read a long case study. It might be a really important project to you, something you’ve dedicated 6 to 8 months of your life to, but I do not have an hour to read a case study. 5 minutes should be enough - and this forces you to be concise. The same is true for the first impression of a resume or portfolio - I’d like to see an executive summary of who you are and what you are looking for. Next, I’d be interested in your skills - don’t show the software you know, as those are transferable skills - we are not looking for a tool user. We are looking to hire somebody who solves problems.”

  • If you’re a newbie, create your own cases

If you don’t have much experience you still have the tools to create an appealing portfolio. First, you can redesign an existing product: “Here’s what I tried to fix; Here are my goals and recommendations; I tested it with friends, and here’s the feedback” -- showcase how you work through all these steps. Or, do a real project for an NGO that can’t afford a designer - you’ll be able to combine a positive impact cause with building your portfolio.

Skills to help you succeed at your job

  • On empathy

Design roles are inherently empathetic. One of the main ways to judge if you’re a good fit is how well integrated into the organization you are after a few months . Designers have strong connections with multiple teams — engineers, managers, marketers, sales — you need to be able to quickly establish trust with everyone. When someone’s let go it’s often not due to skills, it’s because they were not capable of creating trust and others stopped listening to them. Designers have to influence — they are the force that pushes the product (or brand) forward.

  • On being a self starter

Being a self starter is another important skill for designers to possess — they should not need their hand held much. There is no expectation to deliver amazing design in your first few months: but you can gauge cultural fit, team bonds and how well you’re able to work without much direction. A good rule is to ask your manager about their expectations - in young tech co’s things change rapidly and you want to be able to adapt to changes and manage new expectations. The ability to identify work blockers and remove them yourself is vital: as a designer you will constantly have to manage yourself.

Working in B2B vs B2C

  • B2C

Working with B2B or B2C is a matter of personal preference. B2C has way more focus on UI and unlike B2B, your users can be anywhere (so it is easier to test and connect with your audience). A lot of focus will be on the organization’s brand. B2C is great for those who want to say “I have a million users using my product” -- something large and prominent, but it is often less challenging than B2B.

  • B2B

The main difference with B2B is 99% of the time users are buying your product to get a job done. It’s not about how many followers you have -- it’s about instantly solving a problem with your software. The huge emphasis on efficiency is very specific to the enterprise world. In the B2B space there are also more constraints — you have to negotiate with engineers on different levels because change, no matter how small, is complex.

In B2B companies project managers often consider themselves expert users of the product, this can mean they expect everyone to have the same level of technical understanding as them. With this is mind it is vital to support your design iterations with research that demonstrates the benefit of the updates to the customer, benefits the project managers may not have initially appreciated themselves.

In terms of UX and user research B2B can also be more challenging due to the multiple professional users, but it is highly interesting and you are given the opportunity to build a complex product.

Early design hire for tech startups

  • Junior designers shouldn’t be the first design hires

If you’re a junior designer and a startup is hiring you as their first and only designer, that’s a red flag. It is likely you won’t receive the support you need to succeed.

If you are a startup considering hiring a junior designer as your only creative, don’t. There is a huge risk you will not be able to provide the guidance they require and it is likely you’ll need to re-do their work at some point in the not too distant future - which will not be cheap.

If you can only hire one designer look for an experienced professional who can make good and tough decisions rather than someone experiencing everything for the first time.

  • Design team vs Jack of all trades

When looking for their first designer many small teams search for a full stack designer or a Jack of all trades — this is often not a good idea. It is better to find somebody great at the one thing you predominantly need help with. Ask yourself: what is this person going to be spending over 50% of their time doing?

Your first hire should be experienced: a system designer capable of creating your end-to-end design system (interactions at all customer touch points). Then, if further resources are available expand your team by hiring specialized designers. Designers onboarded to solve a specific business problem. Repeat this process until your team consists of multiple subject matter experts capable of solving niche problems whilst working into the same system.

Thank you to our incredible speakers:

Amitabh Handa, App Annie

Amitabh heads up design at App Annie, an SF-based tech company that tracks market data and analytics for mobile apps. He has held various leadership roles, including product, web, and brand design for a range of companies including Evernote, Oracle, @stake, Fidelity Investments, and his own design agency.

 

Amélie Beurrier, AE Studio

Amélie Beurrier is a product designer & manager at AE Studio, a Venice-based software development and data science consulting firm. Her experience includes designing and building products for companies ranging from early-stage start-ups to large companies (Amazon, Hallmark), as a UX/UI designer, product manager and consultant.

Hans-Frederick Brown, LiveRamp

Over his 15+ year career, Hans has been a forward-thinking design leader/inventor focused on bridging the gaps between complex technical domains, user interaction patterns, and business outcomes. Hans currently serves as the Head of Design at Liveramp. Previously, he worked in similar functions at Elsevier, Docker, Platfora (acquired by Workday) and Autodesk. Hans holds a B.Arch in Architecture from the University of Montreal.

FAQS

How do vision and mission statements impact a company's long-term direction?

Effective vision and mission statements should ideally constitute important tools in formulating a company’s strategy. They should largely remain unchanged through the years, though a significant pivot may bring about new vision and mission statements. Together, they work to define the focus of the business and how it impacts the world. 

The vision statement is a representation of your company’s view of a better world. The mission statement reflects how it sets about to achieve this vision. They work together to create internal alignment and help with strategic decision making. When planning for the future, developing new products, or experimenting with new strategies, teams can perform a quick check against the vision and mission statements to ensure that these initiatives are aligned with the essence of the brand. 

In short, the vision and mission statements are powerful tools which can and should impact decisions across the organizations, making them important factors in a company’s long-term direction.

How does brand strategy influence the overall success of a business?

Your brand strategy reflects how your brand sees the world and its role within it. It is the framework that, ideally, should guide all your communications (both external and internal) and audience touchpoints, i.e. each interaction an audience member has with your business. 

Having standardized communication across all channels and touchpoints makes business processes smoother and positively influences your client relationships, ensuring you develop strong, long-term connections with your customers. It also simplifies strategic decision-making and aligns your team. All these factors are vital to the success of a business.

How do messaging frameworks help communicate your brand message effectively?

Messaging frameworks are structured guides that outline the core messages, value propositions, and differentiators of a brand. They ensure consistency across all communications, from marketing materials and social media posts to customer service interactions. By defining key messages that resonate with the brand's target audiences, messaging frameworks help ensure that a brand’s communications are clear and memorable. 

They also help organizations stay aligned internally and ensure that each member, regardless of their role, understands what the brand’s key message is and how to communicate it effectively. This internal alignment is crucial for presenting a unified brand image to the outside world.

What specific elements contribute to a brand's verbal identity?

A brand’s verbal identity should align your team on how your brand communicates and how this communication changes depending on the situation. It defines a specific and recognizable language through which your brand can deliver its message to your audience or audiences.

Typically, a verbal identity includes some, or all, of the following elements:

Brand personality: This captures the human traits or characteristics that your brand embodies, such as being adventurous, sophisticated, or reliable, which help shape how your brand is perceived.

Brand voice: The brand voice reflects how your brand reflects its personality across all communication channels.

Brand tone: While the brand voice remains consistent, the brand tone can change depending on the context of the message and the audience being addressed, ranging from formal and professional to informal and friendly.

Messaging frameworks: These are strategic tools that outline the key messages your brand intends to communicate to its different target audiences, ensuring that all messaging is aligned with your brand's mission, vision, and value propositions.

Messaging examples: These provide specific examples of how your brand's messaging might be applied in various scenarios.

Style and grammar guidelines: These outline your preferred spelling, grammar, and style, ensuring that your communication is consistent across the board. 

What are some key considerations when developing a tone of voice for a brand?

The first and most important consideration is the brand’s personality. While businesses are functional, they still communicate with people – and people primarily connect with stories and personas. Your brand’s personality will define a set of human characteristics which reflect how it sees itself in the world. By giving your brand these human attributes, you are making it both distinctive and easier to identify with. The tone of voice should reflect your brand’s personality.

It’s also important to consider your target market and your audience’s expectations. While having a distinctive tone of voice is important for memorability, there is such a thing as being too different. If all brands in your segment adopt a serious, professional tone, and you would like to be fun and playful, there is certainly space for that, but consider very carefully why you are doing it.

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FAQS

How does competitive benchmarking influence the development of a visual identity?
Competitive benchmarking is important in developing a brand's visual identity as it provides insights into the market environment. By examining the competition, a brand can better understand its unique value proposition and strengths. This understanding is crucial in identifying what sets the brand apart from others.With this knowledge, a brand can lean into its unique strengths when crafting its visual language. This approach ensures that the visual identity not only looks appealing but also reinforces the brand’s distinct point of view and competitive edge.
How does visual identity differ across industries, and how can a brand ensure it stands out while remaining authentic?
Visual identity varies significantly across industries, shaped by both the industry norms and the unique aspects of each brand. Understanding where your brand stands in the competitive market is essential when crafting a visual identity that both stands out and remains authentic.Industries have distinct visual trends that are often expected by consumers. For instance, financial services brands typically adopt a reserved, traditional look with a color palette dominated by blues and greys. In contrast, skincare brands often go for a lighter, more colorful approach with pastels. Being aware of these industry-specific trends is important because it helps to decide how much your brand should differentiate itself from these norms. This differentiation should be based on your audience's expectations and your brand's unique value propositions.For example, a financial services brand that emphasizes its use of innovative technologies might choose a more digital-oriented visual language. Similarly, a skincare brand that focuses on scientific innovation might benefit from a more science-based visual language.
What are the key considerations when creating visual concepts for a brand?
The visual identity of a brand should quickly and clearly reflect its strategic positioning. Designers begin the process of creating visual concepts by immersing themselves in the brand’s strategy to extract key narrative themes. These themes are then translated into a visual language that employs both emotional and aesthetic elements to communicate the brand's messages. This translation is crucial as it shapes how the audience perceives and interacts with the brand.When developing visual concepts, it's important to make sure they align with the brand's strategy and fit well within the competitive landscape: demonstrating key differentiators, but still fitting into the industry at large. The visuals should also be suitable for the mediums they will be used in. Whether for digital, print, or physical applications, the choice of medium can greatly influence how the visual concepts are designed.
How does visual identity contribute to brand recognition and trustworthiness?
Visual identity is key to boosting brand recognition and trustworthiness, especially in busy markets. When a company maintains a consistent visual brand across different platforms, it becomes easier for customers to recognize and remember it. This consistency is crucial for standing out among competitors.Having a consistent visual identity also shows professionalism and attention to detail. These qualities make customers more likely to trust a brand. When a brand looks the same across all touchpoints, from websites to products and ads, it tells customers the brand is reliable and serious. This builds trust and makes customers more likely to pick this brand over others that may not look as professional or consistent.
How do brand guidelines ensure consistency in visual identity across different platforms?
Brand guidelines are a key tool for maintaining a consistent visual presentation across various platforms. These guidelines typically outline the main use cases where the brand's visual identity will appear and provide comprehensive rules and standards. The guidelines include detailed instructions on how to use the brand’s assets, such as logos, color palettes, typography, and imagery. This ensures that anyone using these assets, whether they're designers, marketers, or external partners, can apply them correctly and consistently. It’s crucial that the entire team is familiar with these guidelines. It’s important to get team buy-in on the visual identity and ensure that the guidelines are easily accessible. When the whole team understands and follows the guidelines, the brand's visual identity remains unified across all touchpoints, enhancing brand recognition and trust.

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