Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Mistake I Made When Hiring a Graphic Designer and How You Can Avoid It

It was many years ago, as a design manager, that I had to hire my first full-time employee. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for. But, I figured what really mattered was getting a talented graphic designer. Education and experience was also important. It just wasn’t the biggest factor in my hiring process. I was wrong.

I hired a talented guy who seemed charming in the interview. But, after a few weeks I realized I had made a mistake. He didn’t follow instructions, and it took him too long to complete a design assignment. His work was a mess which left me working extra hours cleaning up
designs after him. Although I wanted to fire him, I figured I’d use the opportunity to train him better. However, in a few days, he decided not to come to work. He said he didn’t feel like coming in. He wasn’t sick or running late. He just decided to stay home for the day. And the next day he quit. And that was it, until a few months later he showed up for a visit. More on that later.

This turned out to be a valuable learning experience for me. I learned that talent was not as important as I first thought. I paid more attention to the next group of applicants’ educational and experiential backgrounds. And, long story short, I ended up hiring a great graphic designer who worked well for me for 7 years.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The new designer was very talented. But she was a mix of education and experience that put her talent in the appropriate context. Here are some things I considered when I was looking to hire creative talent the second go-around.


A person who has been through a 4-year college program or 2-year associates has demonstrated some perseverance. On the other side there are enthusiast designers who quickly abandon a formal education because it was not what they expected. It acts as a natural weeding out process.

Also in an educational environment there is freedom to explore one’s style and design philosophy. And students can learn basic design principles which transcend the communication medium.

But there are practical downsides. In this protective environment, there is hardly any interaction with real-world clients with real-world deadlines and real-world personalities. Without practical experience, graduates will require on-the-job training and emotional equipping.


A person without a college degree can be a fine designer, as long as they have good talent and a fair amount of practical experience. The clear advantage of experience is that the designer will be prepared to work with clients and will have developed good working habits. They also tend to have realistic expectations and meet deadlines because they have learned to work efficiently.

However, one of the downsides of no formal education is that working designers have little time to develop their style and design philosophy well. Deadlines usually drive their work rather than strong concepts. And sometimes these designers lack the resources to explore creative solutions on a consistent basis.

When I looked for a new designer I tended to look for a combination of education, experience, and talent. And each trait carried a different weight depending on the job requirements. For instance, if I wanted a production artist, I would consider some education to be necessary, talent to be optional, and experience — in efficient design production and following directions — to be critical.

Oh, and what happened when the designer who had quit showed up a few months later? He came to apologize for his immaturity. He thanked me for the help and the opportunity I had given him. And he went on to better pastures. I’m glad he considered me a help. But he also taught me an important lesson.

Photo courtesy Obtuse Photo of

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