Is there some kind of test equivalent to what the FizzBuzz test is for developers, for graphic designers? That is, a short and simple question/task that can be asked/assigned just to determine whether a candidate has the basic skills needed to be worth considering at all.
I was recently involved in helping to recruit a new designer and I was asked to design the part of the interview that would test for the right kind of practical creative thinking.
“Interpret this brief” tests
What I went with – which seemed to work quite well and got very useful results – was to:
- Give each candidate a plausible, basic design brief
- Everyone gets the same one, naturally. We based ours on real briefs that we’d had that were clearly linked to events that had happened in the past – so it was clear to candidates that a) this is a typical example of the work you’d be doing (always useful) and b) this is job that was done in the past, so there’s no need to worry that we might steal your ideas
- Give them about 20 minutes in a room with pens, paper and a flipchart (no computers!), asking them to sketch out one or two initial ideas
- We made it very clear in the task brief that they wouldn’t be judged at all on the quality quality of any drawings they made, and that it was all about the way they approached thinking about the task and developing ideas.
- After they’d done so, as the first section of the interview, invite them to explain their ideas and sketches – and also talk about what questions they would ask the client or account manager to develop the ideas further, and also about any ideas they came up with then decided against pursuing (with reasons).
- A nice bonus here is, it seemed to work well as a “warm up” for shy candidates who would otherwise struggle to talk about themselves in the interview. Talking about yourself in an interview is rather weird and unnatural, but every designer or design graduate has some experience in talking about their work and ideas.
This was very informative – real insights into how the candidates think, and what kind of ideas they come up with. There are of course some limitations:
- It’s a subjective test. I can’t think of any way to test anything like this which could give something objective like a numerical score.
- Obviously it only works face-to-face, and like anything in a face-to-face interview, more articulate people will be at an advantage.
- It’s not just testing creativity and idea development, but also experience dealing with briefs and working with clients or account managers. For us that was a good thing, but if you were looking for a test that gives nothing but pure raw creative talent to invest in nurturing, more experienced designers would be at an advantage in this test.
- You’ll need to be careful about the task you set: it has to be plausible enough for the results to be useful, but also can’t seem like an actual job else there’s a risk you might be accused of exploiting the interviewees for free ideas you might use uncredited.
- It also tells you a little about how the candidates work under pressure.
But as a test for design aptitude that isn’t related to things people can pick up on the job or with training like software skills, it did the job and seemed better than anything else.
Portfolios been mentioned in other comments and answers. Looking through a candidate’s portfolio is still the most important test, but it’s hardly foolproof, especially for seeing core aptitudes like creativity.
Many junior designers work to a senior or art director’s specifications and signoff, so for many (but not all) junior / lower-middleweight candidates, much of the portfolio will be someone else’s creativity and attention to detail on show as well as the candidates’. You also need to take limitations imposed by clients into account – one candidate’s portfolio might seem much more creative than another, but they might simply have been lucky to have more open-minded clients.
People sometimes include self-initiated, pro-bono and/or much earlier college/freelance work to be sure that there’s plenty of work that is 100% their own, but not everyone will be able to do this.
I’d suggest considering using a test like above if:
- You have a reason to believe that the work they do for you will be through a different process to what they’ve done before
- You’re interviewing candidates with very different backgrounds
- You’ve already seen the candidates’ portfolios online (increasingly common) and you don’t think you’re able to fairly compare like with like based on this alone.
Never give homework tasks
It might be tempting to see what people can come up with in their free time, but by doing this you:
- Discriminate against busy people. People with a packed workload, a packed social calendar or family commitments filling their free time will be at a significant disadvantage
- Deter in-demand people. If someone’s very good, has a decent job already, has nearly secured a good alternate job offer already or is a strong enough candidate that they can choose who to work for, they’re probably exactly the kind of candidate you want, but the inconvenience of the task might be enough to deter them from applying when they’ve got similarly good options elsewhere.
- Outrage the many designers who detest anything that smells like spec work as a point of principle.
- Test the wrong things. Raw creative ability and aptitude will be mixed up in unrelated things any talented candidate could quickly learn on the job, like software tricks, familiarity with this sector or style, and other domain-specific techniques or knowledge.