How should we hire web designers?
February 10, 2007 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Help us hire a web design intern.

We are a small software shop that sometimes does web work. We sometimes use freelancers, but we have a couple of low budget speculative projects in mind. For that, nothing beats a smart intern.
I know how to hire and interview programmers. I don't know how to hire or interview designers. What should we ask? What should we ask them to do to prove their expertise? What shouldn't we ask? What would help us make the best hire and ensure the hire has the best job for them?
"Hire me instead" is not a useful answer.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"What should we ask them to do to prove their expertise?"

If you want someone with expertise, you should hire a professional. Interns, who are valuable contributors to any industry, by their very nature are still learning. You are there to teach them, not exploit them.

You are not looking for an intern, you are looking for free labor. Big difference.
posted by sandra_s at 9:51 AM on February 10, 2007 [6 favorites]

What should we ask them to do to prove their expertise?

How do you get programmers you are looking to hire to prove their expertise?
posted by jca at 10:08 AM on February 10, 2007

I have no idea where you are located but I assume that you have a pipeline into web design, cs, design or tech comm programs that would have students who want to be interns and where you would be able to put the word out that you are searching for a web intern. The benefit is that it is in the program's best interest to only forward decent candidates for you to choose from and you can ask the faculty questions.

If that is the case then all graduate and upper level students should have a portfolio that you can peruse. An example of student web portfolio snaps. The portfolio gives an idea of what the student's aesthetic taste and approach will likely be. I usually start with their resume and portfolio and if they are seniors without a portfolio that is a bad sign.

You need to put together your requirements for the projects in mind and the skills you would like the candidates to have such as, Perl, PHP, MySQL etc., Just remember that you will not necessarily be getting the god of design or web app development if they are a student OR if you plan to be cheap (the really good students may already be freelancing and are quite aware what the market will bear).

Another alternative is to volunteer to be the client for a class broken into design teams where you choose the best of the lot at the end of the semester. The drawback is if you get a class that is crappy you will get a crappy design and have to use it.

To summarize:
1) scope the project and the skillset requirements;
2) connect with a program at a university or tech college in your area to hash out the internship;
3) resume and portfolio for the first cut;
4) you have hired professionals before -- it is the same methodology

Email me since I have done all sides of this.

Good luck.
posted by jadepearl at 10:12 AM on February 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

you are being the stereotypical bad employer.

internships are supposed to teach interns, not use their already acquired skills as cheap labor. it is unethical of you to abuse their hopes like this.

the point of an internship for a young web developer or designer is to be around more experienced such people (being an art director myself, I have been there) and get professional feedback on how they are doing. the idea is to work for people like them only with a couple more years experience and learn from how they do it.

you are unable to provide this and you will disappoint any intern worth his or her salt.

all you have to offer is money.
posted by krautland at 10:13 AM on February 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you're in the dark about hiring a designer it doesn't really seem like you guys have much to offer a designer. Like, uh, useful designing experience. PS, the answer is ask for a portfolio.

Maybe you can find a coder who does their own design and whose website isn't a trainwreck; it would probably be a more useful experience for the hapless intern.

(PS "Smart intern" is kind of an oxymoron. Smart people of any age and expertise/experience level do not come so cheap. Hopefully you're paying this intern, though. )
posted by shownomercy at 10:16 AM on February 10, 2007

never ever hire an intern unless giving back to the professional community is your priority ... hiring them for cheap/free labor is unprofessional and hurts the design industry overall. recently groups like the aiga and gag and other unions have come out against unpaid internships and other free labor deals (like design contests) where firms want to get something for nothing and have very little to offer the intern. the whole point of an internship is that they are learning beside someone who knows what they are doing - that they work with someone who is a master or at least very accomplished in his or her profession - and that the intern picks that up.
posted by luriete at 10:34 AM on February 10, 2007

I disagree with everyone who says that interns start out dumb or bad. A lot of teenagers are excellent graphic designers, html coders, or web developers (it's not clear which of these three you actually want) but they don't have any experience in a business environment.

One of the main benefits to being an intern is finally having a company name to write in your CV; instead of "good at x, y, and z" you can say "performed x, y, and z for Company such-and-such".

As far as hiring web "designers" -- I would hire people who are good at drawing, have a clear artistic flair, and know their way around a computer, NOT just a single design app. That way if they're used to one kind of program but you have another they adapt quickly. Also, if they can draw that means that they have visual fundamentals, instead of only being able to make nice looking things with their computer (I speak from experience -- I can't draw worth crap, and although my web pages look fine they clearly reflect a lack of artistic depth). If you want an HTML coder or a web developer, then you're actually looking at the same problem-solving skills as a programmer.

The ideal internship is one in which they learn how to work in a company environment. So, whatever you do, don't just throw a project in their lap and walk away.

Also, pay them. You don't have to pay them as much as a normal freelancer, but you should definitely pay them.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:41 AM on February 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

The answer as to how to hire a web design intern: You offer them something in exchange. They're offering you to their labor and their training, and it's up to you to do something with it to make THEM benefit as much as you benefit. If you hold something back from the relationship, it won't work and you won't attract one. You either need to offer them money, a job after they graduate, the ability to work with a professional web designer, or SOMETHING that's equal to what you're getting from them.

I'm with the rest about saying that interns as free/cheap labor is a bad idea, and most of the people in the industry get told that by their professors..
posted by SpecialK at 11:07 AM on February 10, 2007

A lot of interns work for free or cheap because their universities require an internship for them to graduate. The catch is that they have to work directly under a professional designer for it to count.
posted by idiotfactory at 12:08 PM on February 10, 2007

A lot of interns work for free or cheap because their universities require an internship for them to graduate.

any design student worth his salt can get a paid internship. if you seriously get a student in a creative field who wants to work for nada, you must be either extremely hot shit yourself and extremely valuable as work history on a bio/cv (considering the original post, I doubt this is the case here) or I'd be very very suspsicious.

again, just to be clear: don't take advantage of internship programs just to get cheap labor.

anyone who does that deserves everything they have coming their way.
posted by krautland at 1:08 PM on February 10, 2007

mm. i don't know that i completely agree with the notion that someone who's qualified (that is to say, has good-looking, well-executed work) necessarily has nothing to gain from the position you're looking to fill. i can say from personal experience that knowing how to design and code and having known how to do so for years doesn't necessarily prepare one for the professional environment. when i first started doing freelance work, two years ago, i actually found having to be accountable to deadlines and remain in constant contact with my clients and their ever-changing, often nonsensical needs and desires (the work was being negotiated via phone and email, not in person) to be a complete shock to the system. it really would have been a valuable experience to have had an internship (where expectations are significantly lowered) just in order to pick up some of the skills necessitated by the business end of design work.

that said, you're looking for someone with a nice portfolio and a meager CV. if you aim to get someone who has a significant amount of workaday experience, you're being exploitative and should really just hire someone outright, even if you're able to find someone willing to work for peanuts.
posted by wreckingball at 7:27 PM on February 10, 2007

Do you want a graphic designer who can make logos, illustrations, and icons? The design department in any art school will have these kids. Ask for a portfolio.

Do you want a web designer who knows about layout, typography, and web trends? Knows the tenants of user-interface design? Major universities tend to have inter-disciplinary programs that pull end these types of kids. Ask them to give you an overview of the major issues with web sites today and how they would solve the problem of displaying a whole ton of information given the current limitations of today.

Want someone to code standards-compliant, web 2.0 front end sites? What flashy little interactions that make it easier for your users to get the data? Ditto the above, but also talk a lot about their coding philosophy and ask for concrete examples.

Want someone who can create databases and do backend development? You want a web programmer, and look for Computer science or Management of Information Systems students. Ask them about information architecture and structuring their systems.

The main issue is people who know how to do visual design tend not to be the ones who know how to code for the web tend not to be the ones who know how backend applications work.


As far as everyone saying don't use interns as cheap labor, I agree. They should be learning a lot, and be getting a variety of projects for their portfolios, and perhaps school credit, as well as monetary compensation.
posted by lychee at 10:54 PM on February 10, 2007

I agree with lychee, figure out wheter you want a decorator type or an interface usability type. Both will probably call themselves web designers, but they'll value completely different things. I'd argue that unless you're a clothing brand, you're looking for the latter.

Also, this is good:
Interviewing Web Developers - 20 Good Questions to Ask
posted by cheerleaders_to_your_funeral at 5:17 AM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

i think you're looking for a junior web designer.

unless your company looks great on a resume (and with the anon posting, i'm guessing it doesn't) i can't imagine you getting any super-smart interns.

as others have said, ask for a portfolio. Should take you about 30 seconds to judge if someone is suitable.
posted by kamelhoecker at 9:58 AM on February 11, 2007

It may sound like too easy of an answer but I've had good luck with Rentacoder, they do a reasonable job and are unbelievably cheap.
posted by GregX3 at 9:37 PM on February 11, 2007

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