is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
At Behavior, we tend to have this same discussion over and over again every few months: “We need some good designers. How come there are so few good designers out there?” It drives me bats. There were record numbers of design graduates at the end of the last decade, and in theory when the Internet bubble burst, they all flooded the job market, looking for work. Though we have a small stable of talented, dependable visual designers, we’ve found it difficult to expand their numbers.
What’s so tough about finding these people? After all, there’s no shortage of candidates out there with Web design skills, and no shortage of eagerness to work, especially in this economic climate.
In fact, we’ve benefitted from this flush job market in hiring information architects and design technologists — front-end developers who can knock out quality HTML, PHP, Flash etc. When it comes to visual designers, or graphic designers if you prefer, we’ve had less luck. Each time we post a ‘help wanted’ notice, we’re inundated with substandard résumés. It’s depressing, actually.
Well, What Are You Looking For?
Perhaps our foremost requirement is that a designer should possess the ability to think critically, and to be able to act on that thinking. Our experience with designers has required lots of management, lots of ushering designers through each phase of a project and directing their actions every step of the way. Way more than we’d like to be doing. In contrast, the best design talent we’ve worked with knows how to disassemble complex interaction challenges, parse client feedback, develop design comprehensives with propriety, and transition concepts through production.
“Our requirements: the ability to think critically and to be able to act on that thinking, and the ability to communicate design ideas not only to clients, but also to one’s own project team. That’s it!”
This goes hand in hand with communication skills. It’s a gross generalization, but so many of the visual designers working today are poor communicators, save for their skills in turning out beautiful work in Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Obviously, the ability to communicate the ideas behind a design approach is an important skill for presenting to clients, but it’s just as important for presenting and defending ideas on a project team. Our creative process requires that designers articulate the rationale behind their work — not simply to justify its existence, but also to contribute to the dialogue that propels a successful design team.
This seems a dim view of the design population, but I readily admit that the design talent that we’re working with is terrific. They’re talented, motivated and fun to work with. I know there are+