Qualities of a great designer

When I am hiring a designer, I often look for things that are hard to teach. I can teach you Figma skills. I can teach you technique and vocabulary and a bunch of design details. I started compiling a list of things I value. Let’s take a look.

It’s also interesting to think how many of these improve or actually decline over your career, if they change at all.

Note: List is in alphabetical order


This is the ability to work around a problem. This is how to use the tools and resources you have vs the ones you wish you had. Coming up with Plan B or C or D etc, is a key part of doing a good job. A good problem solver is typically adaptable.

Interview question: Describe a time you didn’t have enough time or resources. What did you do?


This may also be thought of as transparency. People who smile to your face and then stab you in the back is a common form of inauthentic behavior. This isn’t a prerequisite to being a good employee, but it’s something I do value.

Interview question: Describe a coworker who was difficult to work with. How did you handle it?


It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing. A great designer is willing to look stupid to follow their instincts. Most designers/people are afraid of being ostracized.

Interview question: Describe a time you were nervous because you took an unpopular opinion.


This is a key attribute in many fields. People who were collaborative as children are usually collaborative as adults. When I ask designers to pair design, some people are excited and others hate it.

Interview question: Describe a time you were working on a team and wanted more responsibility or wanted to be involved more.


Someone once told me that I have the ability to take a step without knowing if the ground would be there. I always loved that compliment. I value that ability to try with confidence and then learn from the experience.

Interview question: How good are you at your job? How do you know?


The ability to come up with new ways to solve problems is extremely valuable. It exists in every field. You can be a creative programmer, accountant, salesperson, and every job imaginable. Every job has problems and creativity is something I value in people.

Interview question: Walk me through a time you came up with a novel solution to a problem. Something people didn’t expect.


I love the scene in Ted Lasso about curiosity. My most important rule for designers is Rule #1. If you don’t understand it, you can’t design it. The only way to be good at this rule is to be curious. You should never lose that 5 year old inside who wants to know “Why, why why?”

Interview question: Tell me about some crucial hidden detail in your last project. How did you learn about it?

Detail Oriented

In my opinion, the best and worst parts of products are in the details. I value this more than any other characteristic. Too often people just do the minimum. Going to the limit of the details is what makes a designer world-class.

Interview question: Tell me about a coworker who is great with details and one who isn’t. What are some examples of why you think this?


Sympathy is imagining how you would feel in another person’s situation. Empathy is understanding how the other person actually feels. I find that most people are the former and not the latter. I wish we taught this in schools.

Interview question: Give me an example of a time your instincts about a users point of view turned out to be completely wrong.


Energy is a key ingredient for success. There is a book by Ron Clark about employees carrying a bus where there are runners, joggers, walkers, and riders, which does a nice job of describing energy in workers. It’s a good metaphor.

Work-Life balance is an important concept. I try to respect it. For myself. I truthfully have been terrible at this. My work has come first. Maybe this is a true flaw on my part. I do my best to not impose my own style on others.

Interview question: Let’s say you had a full plate of work, but there was something else you wish you had time to do. How do you balance that?


This can be a good and a bad characteristic. You can focus so much in the weeds that you lose sight of the bigger picture. However, I find that people who can take their lens and apply it for a period of time, can achieve amazing results.

Interview question: How do you think you react to an unstructured chaotic environment? (Not that we are like that! Lol!)


Some people see the facts and absorb them. Other people see the facts and realize broader truths that are between the lines. Insight is incredibly valuable and difficult to teach.

Interview question: Tell me about a time that you realized something that others may not have seen.


It’s not the most talked about quality of a coworker, but I think it’s important. Everyone thinks they are nice, but as an observer of human behavior, I can see this is not the case.

Transparency: There have been many times when I have not been kind to interviewees or other coworkers. I have not always been my best self. I am not trying to hurt people, but I have been callous, thoughtless, and self-centered on numerous occasions over the years. I am responsible for those lapses and try to be better each day.

Interview question: Let’s say you were in a meeting and someone said that you were rude to them. Maybe in this case, you had a bad day and were curt. What would you do?


It’s surprising to me how illogical people can be at work. Sometimes it is an emotional response. Other times, it is the status quo. For whatever reasons, decisions are not always made from a place of logic. I value people who can detach when it is needed to make difficult, but logical decisions.

Interview question: If your boss is wrong about something, how would you go about convincing them of their erroneous judgement.

Natural Leader

This is maybe the most important quality of a great designer. They are the ones who bring everyone together. I value servant leadership most of all. Note: different kinds of leadership.

Interview question: Describe a time when you led a group of people through a difficult situation.


This is similar to insightful, but with a nuanced difference. Insightful is seeing a hidden meaning. Perceptive is picking up in clues. Perceptive is noticing that a user is unhappy even though their words are positive.

Interview question: Describe a time you picked up on some detail that everyone else didn’t notice.


Similar to energetic, but again with a twist. Energy is great, but you can often get lost if there is too much to do. Proactive means getting ahead of the work. It means that you take steps without being told. This is the classic self-starter.

Interview question: Describe a time you started working on something well in advance of your manager asking you to.


Smart deserves its own blog post. There are so many different ways to measure it. Memory recall, connecting the dots, coming up with a good solution, emotional intelligence, quantitative skills…there is so much one can be smart about.

Interview question: no idea. Just do your best. 😀


The last quality is taste. A great designer knows good from bad. They have good judgement and sense of design. When looking at a designers work, do they even know if their design is flawed?

Interview question: critique your own design. What could be better? What does awesome look like?


How do you feel about these qualities? Do they resonate? I hope this list is helpful. I have had it on my mind for quite some time now.


Whatya think?