10 QUESTIONS A UI UX ART DIRECTOR ASKS BEFORE HIRING YOU

(FROM AN ART DIRECTOR)

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John “The Wingless” Burnett

UI UX Designer, Art Director & Remote UI UX Mentor

10 QUESTIONS A UI UX ART DIRECTOR ASKS BEFORE HIRING YOU (FROM AN ART DIRECTOR)

CAREER GUIDANCE AND PREPARATION

SECOND EDITION

As an Art Director and Mentor, I’ve seen almost a hundred portfolios from Designers I’ve had to either veto, approve or build up one piece at a time with a mentee. I honestly think Portfolio design is what spooks junior designers the most. When your application is passed over (as it must in your burgeoning career) – you’ll never know if your portfolio was lacking any one piece, not enough information, too much information, or if the whole thing was just fine… and… that’s life.

But what if you could have insider knowledge about the decision-making process an Art Director follows? Far better to make a strategy knowing your opponent’s end goal then to construct in the blind.

To that end – in this Age of wanting to give back generously to students (and soon to be students?) I’ve made this cheat sheet on what questions I always ask myself (as both Art Director and Mentor) when I look at your work.

THE QUESTIONS A UI UX ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

AN ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

IS MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU A GOOD ONE?

  • Art Directors are powerful art-whisperers, discovering worlds about you the instant we see your work. In fact, we’ve likely made up our minds by the time the light hits the back of our retina.

 

  • No need for long-winded case studies. In fact, we are hiring you specifically for your work to speak for itself. If your Portfolio is unintuitive, cluttered, or blissfully unaware of its audience – well then, I hope you’ve explained that in your case study as well. If, like many mentees, you are terrified of only showcasing a few sentences remember: in context, an Art Director will be looking at your work while you explain it over a phone / Zoom meeting.

 

  • Additionally, Art Directors can tell if your Portfolio has rich variety or just a bunch of filler. If you’re going for a digital role, make sure you’re not presenting a majority of print work. If all I see are UX wireframes, why would I risk putting you on the art-heavy UI role? Oh, and mobile and console games are worlds apart; be sure you are applying with at least a few examples of your awed respect for the disparity.

AN ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

WHAT AND WHERE ARE YOUR SKILLS?

  • Art Directors will look at your Portfolio like people look at nutritional information on the back of the box. Make things easier for them and for you: immediately show them that you solve their kinds of problems (or stop things from going too far if you don’t have the expertise!).

 

  • If I’m hiring a web designer, I absolutely want to see WordPress or React immediately. If I’m making a game in Unreal and I only see Unity, I can’t go any further with you. If you say you know Figma but I don’t see any Figma designs… that could work… until you get the worst case of imposter syndrome ever when your boss tasks you to present your Figma file to the entire team.

 

  • Fun fact, some students come to me only knowing Illustrator, an absolute no-no in game UI UX Design. The assumption you know Photoshop is so innate that it’s quite possible nobody would bring it up during the entire interview process. Imagine getting hired only to horrify your Strike Team with your inability to even open a .psd – let alone edit one – to say nothing of your ability to enchant one.

AN ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

IS THE WORK TONALLY APPROPRIATE?

  • It’s tricky to describe, but an Art Director can tease out whether your style(s) would be congruent with the project slate. If a company lists a singular project you’ll be working on, make sure the mood and tone of your work is a reasonably close fit.

 

  • If you’re applying to make something similar to Fall Guys, but all your work looks like Silent Hill – I can’t risk the project on the possibility you’ll grow into it. If you’ve made lots of coder-facing apps that are ugly as sin, I can’t be confident that you’ll make my dispensary app beautifully user-centric just because you really want it this time.

 

  • This is why a broad variety of platforms, genres, and emotions are so important. Don’t give Art Directors like me a moment of reflection to say, “None of this fits.” At worst, give me a reason to say, “Well, they’re pretty strong all-around…”

AN ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

HOW MUCH OF THIS WORK IS YOURS?

  • Games and apps are huge undertakings, so it’s common to be a singular, shiny gear in a grand mechanism. But if I removed your gear, would anything shutter to a stop? How do I know what proportion of the work is yours versus the team’s?

 

  • Art Directors are used to applicants presenting panoramic screenshots with their contribution really only being only a pixel or two. Instead, showcase process and growth: wireframes, concepts, storyboards, anything that shows your part of the project was done with style and grace.

 

  • Always include a standalone sentence that lists your duties on the project (Conceptualization, wireframing, iconography, art asset creation, integration [Unity, Unreal], etc. etc.). Explicitly state your Herculean feats & labors.

AN ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

ARE YOU PANDEMIC PREPPED?

  • Remote working is slooooowly (you’d think it would be instantaneous for people who work with computers, but here we are) coming into vogue. If you’re lucky to be working remotely, you’ll definitely need to prep technologically and professionally.

 

  • Spend the money to get a camera that sits on your monitor. $30 USD can buy you a fine 720p camera. You absolutely don’t want to be the only one on a camera phone or the person who is always a black square on Zoom meetings. Oh, and secretly – your bosses will interpret a lack of camera as not even being able to do the bare minimum.

 

  • Corporate culture takes a big hit remotely, so feel free to have fun with your Teleconference backgrounds, especially on Fridays, but don’t go overboard. Constant animation and distraction can add the wrong kind of personality into the mix. Oh, and be sure to hit the mute button like a gunslinger when you don’t have anything to say.

AN ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

IS THIS STUFF REAL OR MADE-UP?

  • The challenge for all junior designers is how to showcase professional work when you’ve never been a professional before. This isn’t an impediment, and junior-level roles obviously skirt this issue, but it is still definitely noticeable.

 

  • Very few Art Directors are going to Google the projects you’re showing, since we’re not here to authenticate the project (and we categorically don’t have the time or interest) – we’re here to quickly vet your craftsmanship. Fake work has the disadvantage of existing in a vaccuum – raising quite a few uncomfortable questions like, “Yeah but how would this actually…” and “So how do you get to this screen?”

 

  • Yes, a real project showing real skills functioning in the real world is the ideal. But fake projects still demonstrate your skill, and the whole point of a portfolio is to get you better work than what you have at present. Practice and passion will never be detriments… so long as the work is polished.

AN ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

DOES YOUR PORTFOLIO SHOW VARIETY?

  • Art Directors will fast-track you because you have something hauntingly similar to what they’re working on now, or you’re a strong generalist. You’ll rarely luck out on the former, but you can always build towards the latter.

  • Don’t be ashamed of a little eclectic, unrelated work, so long as it sets a high quality bar. In fact, a variety of work at a high level of craft counts for much more than a competent portfolio with a hyper-narrow focus. We want a Shapeshifter – show us how well you fit the shape of your containers.

  • Game Art Directors in particular are very interested in the technological breadth of your work. PC, console, mobile, web, video, HTML5, Unity, Unreal. Each platform and tool presents unique challenges – meeting all those challenges head-on shows me you belong in mobile infantry (which made me the man I am today!).

AN ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

ARE YOU A BAD ENGINEER?

  • Don’t let your work highlight rancidly terrible UX. Are you showcasing ridiculous navigation, are your systems painting Coders into a corner, did you make a bad Designer’s idea even worse? Do not make pretty, broken things.

  • If you had nothing to do with the UX and you think it’s stupid-bad, dear God, say so! Label it “Client’s Wireframe”, “Original Client Supplied Draft”, “Inherited Concept and Design” anything that says, “Oh Hell No! I had nothing to do with this!”

  • Remember: app and web-centric Art Directors will have eagle eyes for UX flaws, poor navigation and erstwhile bad designs. Game Art Directors, on the whole, to have UI UX in their blind spot.

AN ART DIRECTOR WOULD ASK...

ARE YOU A BAD ARTIST?

  • For vanilla app & web design, you can get away with not being a particularly good artist for an entire career. But in game design, you’ll definitely need to show a Journeyman competency with Photoshop.

  • For all UI UX Design, you’ll want to demonstrate Artistry – aka – using very little to great effect. Simple shapes, line, gradients and typography can build you an empire – especially when technical bumps shatter more elaborate designs.

  • Are you detail oriented? Ornamentation, fine pixel perfection, squeezing faster times out of tedious techniques – these are also the hallmark of the good Artist. For example… a *really* detailed Artist would have realized by now that there are only 9 questions here, not 10!

Are you interested in even more UI UX Design education? How about a remote 1-on-1 Mentorship?

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THE UX SPACECAMP

I run my own personal 1-on-1 remote Mentorship program that teaches you how to make app and game UI UX Design. With my program, everything is bespoke: the program, the projects, the pacing, the potential. If you’re tired of trying all on your own – or just want to stay safe while moving forward, check out my Mentorship program. Monthly and hourly consults available!

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