Thoughts on interviewing

While I take a break from redoing my website, I was thinking.

Once upon a time…

For a while at eBay, I was one of the regular interviewers for product manager and developer candidates. As a PM, my workflow was essentially, “Don’t do dumb things.” I certainly wasn’t qualified to ask about their theories on statistical analysis or financial reporting. As a developer, I was best qualified to weed out idiots, liars, and fakers. Instead, I focused on the thought process of solving a problem and unique skills our candidates – and the dreaded cultural fit interview.

Now that I’m in design full-time, I’m thinking about how we interview people again. I don’t need another designer to walk me through their entire portfolio. If I approve you for an interview, I already think your work is nice. I’m bringing you in because I want to hear you talk about how you think and learn about the you that isn’t wrapped up in pixels (and yes, make sure you didn’t fake your portfolio).

To this day, I think culture fit is important. This is not an excuse for a monoculture. This is not a desire to hire people to go drinking with. This is not about finding someone I want to be stuck on a desert island with for a good time.

Coworkers who blow stuff up

For those who missed it, the stars of the now-ended Mythbusters, Jamie and Adam, don’t like each other. They aren’t friends, they don’t go out to dinner, and they don’t miss each other. They did, however, make very good television. Why?

  • Complementary skills
  • Complementary personalities
  • Boundaries
  • A shared goal

It’s not supposed to be fun

I knocked the ‘desert island’ metaphor above, but if you twist it you’ll see a reasonable approach. Being stuck on a desert island isn’t going to be fun. I want shade, fresh water and food – I want to get off the island alive. What’s your toolkit like? What do you prioritize? How do you tackle adversity?

No, we’re not getting stuck on a desert island anytime soon, so let’s drop the abstract metaphor and make people answer some hard questions (or as hard as they get in an interview, anyway). Work *isn’t* always fun. It can be stressful, heartbreaking and generally irritating. I want to know that you’re aware of yourself and won’t run for the hills the first time things get hard and tempers fray. Remember, there are no trick questions here.

Tell me about saying, ‘No.’

Everyone has a line they won’t cross. Where is yours?

Tell me about being wrong.

What’s an opinion or assumption you had that changed recently? Why did it change?

Tell me about being right.

How did you convince others? Were you vindicated after the fact? How do you define, ‘right?’

Tell me about a bit of good luck.

We’ve all gotten lucky. Be honest with me.

What’s the last thing that stressed you out?

What did it take to resolve the situation? Did it bleed over? How do you handle stress?

If you started a business, what would it be?

Starting a business is no easy task. What do you think is worth the stress? Then, build a plan. Find your knowns and unknowns. Prioritize. Iterate. Where do you want to end up?

Credit where it’s due

Slack HQ
Zoe Henry @ Inc.com

I’m not alone in this

The most frustrating projects I’ve ever been involved with have been the internal projects. That website for Tender? Oh, the arguments.

Working on a personal site is just as irritating, but the arguments are just with myself.

Besides the usual ennui and self-diversion around actually designing anything, I’ve been focusing my time on finding a way to write about what I do at eBay. My job title might be “Senior Product Manager” but the fact is my actual responsibilities have been Designer, PM, Developer, Scrum Master, and probably a few others through the last 4 years. Much of the design work is not the most visually exciting. And how, exactly, do you put ‘helped build a new product team’ in an otherwise traditional design portfolio.

Why are we here?

It’s one of life’s great mysteries, isn’t it? (Red Vs Blue, S1 E01)

Every time I sit down to redesign my website, I think “I don’t really need to mess with this,” and go back to playing FIFA. I don’t claim to be disciplined with my free time. If I’m not working, working, working on my house, or spending time with my family, I have a hard time wanting to do yet more work.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is “why is this website here”? I could show off my work on Dribbble or Behance. I’ve got my Linkedin page up to date.

So why a website? I suppose it’s about vanity. Those services all force you into their methodology, their mode of thinking. A personal website, regardless of profession, is your personal statement. Perhaps that’s too grand, but why else? So. Maybe I need to rethink how I’m approaching this. Maybe it’s not about the work presentation, but my presentation as the primary goal. When I design something for work, one of the immediate question is, “What is the primary goal?” This lets me isolate 2 or 3 key elements to begin with. I think, this time, my primary goal is the section normally labelled “about me” or “cv” or whatever the term-of-the-week.

Links that I’m thinking about:

Kulthouse
Vito Salvatore
Buzz Usborne
Lucas Hirata

Is prototyping important?

Don’t be an idiot. Of course it is, and there’s nothing wrong with someone asking you to build prototypes as a designer. It’s just another way to express your vision, and frankly, way better for it than static mockups. Asking if prototypes are important is like asking if wireframes or user research are important. As projects pass a certain size, learn to love prototyping.

Do all prototyping tools suck? Oh god yes. From Pixate’s lack of support for basic features to the mess that is Origami & Quartz Composer, every tool is still terrible in many unique ways, and NONE of them help you actually build an app. God, I miss Flash sometimes.

Thanks for asking.

QShould designers learn how to code?

ASure.

Do they need to?

I don’t know. When’s the last time you asked a print designer to create a Postcript file or PDF by hand? You never have. At most, your average print designer will do some basic pre-press prior to delivering the files. Then it goes to specialists who will tweak trapping and overprinting. Then it’ll go to plate/press/whatever you want to call it. I might be living in a fantasy land, but the fact that interactive designers even get ASKED this shows how bad the state of our tools are that even the most basic websites can’t be built with GUI-based tools.

To look at this another way, should developers know how to design?

Of course not! Programming at high levels is a specialized skill, best reserved for… oh, yes. Specialists.

Look, this isn’t complicated. Some projects can get by with minimal design work – a basic to-do list app can scrape by with mostly default UI elements. Some design projects SHOULD be able to implemented with automated tools. Some products need a full staff.

On Flat Design

QIs flat design bad?

ANo

No matter what Eli Schiff argues, it’s just a style. A reaction to what came before – the green felt abomination of Game Center, the rich Corinthian leather of Calendar, or random cartoon characters in the interface.

badargument4
This is dumb. This? Don’t do this. iOS and Android have plenty of obvious buttons. This is a deliberately bad comparison, because in the right context either is a valid button. Hell, if you don’t think colored text is occasionally viable in a user interface, I think we need to talk about this little thing called hyperlinks.
Don't do this
Actually, I think the Safari and Remote icons are just fine. It’s a question of style. Neither Game Center icon is good. Nice switcharoo on the Facebook icon, though. The actual app icon is relatively unchanged, except for the subtraction of the gloss-thing at the bottom. Also – that’s not the Instagram icon!
Wait, are we defending random cartoon characters in a clipboard UI?
Wait, are we defending gradients everywhere and random cartoon characters in a clipboard UI?
badargument3
Yes! This is a good example!

Flat design isn’t why designers are encourage to code, it’s not why prototyping is important, and it’s not why design careers have the lifespan of a mayfly.

Arguments in bad faith don’t help.

I do agree with Mr Schiff that it’s highly overblown as a design trend, and needs to be de-coupled from our perception of modern design. Everything else? Where the fuck was he when Flash was cool? I have one name: 2advanced. If you know what I’m talking about, you’re cringing inside.

Redesign, Part 2

If you treat a website like a problem, the first thing to ask yourself is, “Has anyone else solved this?” I’m not advocating for theft. I’m advocating for research. No one will have solved the problem of representing ‘You’ on the internet. However, you can see how other people represented themselves, how they display their work, and so on. I tend to do this in Evernote, capturing screenshots and links.

What am I looking for? I’m looking for people we tried to solve the problems I listed in Part 1, and whether they succeeded or failed. Granted, failure is relative here. For example, if I notice you’ve tried to make your personailty known through your site, you’ve probably succeeded. The failure is secondary – instead, I know to treat the subject differently.

I also like to identify trends. The one I currently like involves moving away from ‘slideshows’ and towards a ‘case study’ style of presentation. It can easily become overbearing, but I think some designers pull it off well.

I think all three of these show this to one degree or another.

Personality

Whether you’re an individual or agency, your website is how you show what makes you unique.

  • http://process.iancoyle.com/ – shows the personality through content, but navigation suffers
  • http://www.ashsmash.com/ – the written content on the site gives a clear glimps into Ash’s personaily, but I question the value of linking every social network you’re a member of. And yes, that means I’m judging here about a Twighlight soundtrack being on her Rdio favorites.
  • http://jessicahische.is/ – despite no overt personality outside of the “thoughts” section, all of the visual details tie into her work.
  • https://unclegoose.com/ – yes, it’s an ecommerce company, not a designer or agency/studio. Hush.
  • http://metalab.co/ – Personality sometimes means serious. The language may be a little generic, but overall, you understand metalab is a serious company – they want to make things that will be used, and useful.
  • http://shlshk.com/shell-who/ – an amazing way to explain the nature of a company that is one person, with a network of regular collaborations.
  • http://www.codeandtheory.com/ – that’s one hell of an intro

Navigation & Content

There are two basic ways work is presented: one page sites and the traditional work/about/etc divide. I don’t know if either is right. Single page sites are nice, but often lack ‘craft.’ To expand, it often feels like the designer didn’t bother to make decisions, and instead just decided to throw everything in that could fit. On the other hand, do single designers really require much more than a couple pages? If everything is a separate page, how do you call out the relationships between your work and your CV and your other content? I’ve got no answers here.

Redesign, Part 1

Doing it right-ish

Given my newfound role as a manager, and all of the process and research experience that goes with it, I’m going to try to be a little more methodical about how I redesign danielboyle.net this time.

What’s good

  • Flexibility – it displays well in on tablets and desktop
  • Content updates – PHP build sit off of an XML file

What’s bad

  • There’s little sense of personality.
  • With more of my day job focused on thinking and writing and less on pushing pixels, that work gets segregated to my blog
  • Better integration of side projects
  • The smartphone experience isn’t ideal.
  • Lacking animation
  • Bloated code

Notice I left out design. Really, the design is OK. But it looks a bit like a wordpress template, and given how I want to change the content, I don’t think it’ll work.

But really, content is king

Yes, I pulled out an awful cliche, but it’s true. I have a couple school projects masquerading as “personal” projects. I’m over 10 years out – that’s not right. Also, there are many projects that don’t represent my. Yes, that Tecaté Chicas calendar was fun to make, and has given my great insight into the retouching process, but that’s not the type of work I want to do. Also, even outside of increasing my writing about design, work, craft, and life, my projects deserve more than a couple sentences – particularly when they’re collaborations with other designers, developers, and managers.

Why will this time be different?

I’m taking advantage of Evernote to catalogue everything I like when I look and individual portfolios and agency sites and preemptively preparing content. Also, for once in my life – I’m doing this because I want to, not because I’m afraid of getting laid off tomorrow.