I'm creating a desktop (PC) application. A dictionary / thesaurus / spell check tool that works across applications (explorer / browser / spread sheet etc..)

I know my own intuition on UI sucks and ditto with my graphic capability. I plan on reaching out to hire help but would like suggestions on what I should be looking for.

  • As I look through the answers I noticed nothing on a metrics perspective. Being a bit analytical should I be looking for designers that have work that has attracted a lot of use?
    – John
    Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 16:52
  • 3
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the hiring process.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 14:48

6 Answers 6


Well - you'll be looking to sell yourself or your company to the right hire, because the right hire is going to be the one who has to make a choice between you and someone else.


  • I think that this should have gone negative. In my perspective it does not align with the question. In fact I would suggest anyone that voted this up has a poor understanding of the user. For the need is to have criteria to identify a good UI designer. So the answer has 0 usability for someone trying to identify a good designer. I realize that quality candidates are difficult to get, that's true in almost all fields, but I was not asking how to sell the job to a UI person so I got the best no it was to have criteria for identifying a good UI expert from someone who isn't an expert.
    – John
    Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 16:39

These all have some great suggestions:

  • Neither of those questions really has much in the way of meaty answers... Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 14:25
  • I guess what I meant was, this question has essentially been asked already. Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 19:17

Ask them to design something. Give them a domain you work in every day, and a pencil, and ask them to sketch out a simple one or two screen prototype.

Ask them to test the design, with one of your coworkers as the subject. Observe not just how the design goes, but how the testing goes.

Observe their process. Do they understand your requirements before sketching? do they iterate their design as they get user feedback? Does their design seem like it might work? Does it work when you try to actually use the prototype, or do they have to spend all their time explaining it to you? Would you be able to get your work done using this design?

Check their portfolio if you are interested in their skill at visual design. Have them show you something pretty they made, and explain why and how they made it that way. What worked? What didn't? It's hard to do visual design on the spot with only a pencil, but you could also ask them to do something bounded, like logo design.


Ive been using this description and it's been working well to attract the right people.

Questions I ask in the interview:

  1. Who are your influences? I really want them to cite more than old bosses or friends. I want to hear that they have read on the subject, that they are students of the craft. I want to hear that they take the craft seriously.
  2. Sample design challenge. I show them some random design challenge and ask them to think out loud. I want to hear how their mind works. Where do they go first? Do they start hedging and demanding more info before saying anything? Do they only have one idea? This kind of thing reveals alot on how people think when under pressure.
  3. Show me your work. This tells me 90% of what I need to know. Do I look at it and think, "this looks professional" or do I look and say "1998 called and wants its UI back"

I hope this helps.


As with most skills a candidate's previous performance is the best indicator of future performance. If a designers portfolio is solid and they have executed well on a variety of design task you should trust that she or he has the right skills for the job. A candidate should be able to articulate why his or her designs were successful, whether that's saying "users were able to do X faster and easier based on these metrics" or "we sold X times more widgets after my redesign." A portfolio of photoshopped ideas and talk about how much better the designer could have made some product or other do not count as previous performance.

Also, part of a designers responsibility is to translate complex features and ideas into a usable, easy to understand tool, and as such the design candidates in question should be able to explain their design reasoning in plain english without jargon. If a designer says, "I don't understand why there are so many features..." they're probably on to something. If a candidate makes you feel like you don't understand what good design is they may just be talking hot air (if you don't understand what he or she is saying how do you know if it's right or wrong?).


Determine your requirements

I don't think anyone has sufficiently answered this question yet, so here's my attempt. First of all, it looks like your priorities lie with UI design and visual design, so that limits your pool of people somewhat. You're not looking for a "user experience designer". A UX designer is going to be someone with a very broad but relatively shallow set of skills ranging from user research and testing to strategy, wireframing, prototyping and implementation. It sounds like you need someone to design the visual look and feel of your user interface and do it well, based on an architecture and business case you define.

Discover the right person

So assuming the above, here are some things you should be looking at:

  • Proven knowledge of user interface conventions on PC platforms. The person you hire should have demonstrable ability to design desktop apps. A lot of the people in the market right now are proficient at web design, but there's a decreasing number of people well-versed with desktop design. So it's critical that you look at that. Secondly, they should be experienced with following user interface design conventions for the platform they'll be designing for (Windows?). Note that Windows 7 has separate guidelines to older platforms like XP. There are a lot of questions on UX.SE dealing with platform guidelines so look at those for what you should be tracking.

  • Knowledge of the boundaries and limitations of PC software. Beyond knowing how to design the UI, the designer should know what's possible and what isn't at a conceptual level. It's no use creating a UI that would be very expensive or time-consuming to implement, so make sure to grill the designer on working knowledge of paradigms familiar to software engineers (think controls, programming interfaces, database models, etc).

  • Visual design expertise. Graphic design and visual design overlap but there's a subtle difference, mostly in the fact that visual design is a more specific form of graphic design. So your designer is going to be "dressing up" the user interface to meet your goals but not designing, for instance, typography, branding, or print materials. Look for expertise in using design knowledge to simplify screens by using the rule of thirds, using contrast to clarify and guide the user, knowledge of what typography works best on PCs for various screen/window sizes, etc. rather than asking whether he or she knows how to use Photoshop.

  • Ability to work in parallel with you. The best way to work together with a designer is to work very closely and simultaneously. This doesn't work so well in very large teams, but it sounds like yours is small, so your designer shouldn't have a problem with producing work that can be integrated into working prototypes immediately, taking feedback on that work and then quickly iterating to find the right design. Some designers have a problem with that and prefer to prefect their work before presenting it, but for UI and software design that can get in the way of meeting sprint deadlines efficiently.

Finally, here's one you might not want to hear but one I think is important (remember it's coming from a user interface designer):

  • Ability and desire to take the lead and argue with you. Even though you're the creator of the software, as a UI designer this person should have more experience with how people use software and a stronger ability to empathise than you. That's just the nature and focus of the job. As a result, he or she should ideally be able to argue for the user when confronted with design challenges. When you talk with prospective designers, make sure you ask them what challenges they faced while designing and how they solved them. You're likely to hear some about "management not understanding" or similar and how the designer did or didn't convince them to side with their argument. The extent to which the designer is able to do this "politically" shouldn't be underestimated.

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