With design playing an increasingly important role in product development, even large design teams are sometimes forced to rely on a little extra help from freelance talent.

As the so-called “war for talent” rages on, more and more companies are working with freelancers all over the world in an attempt to hire the best and brightest designers. However, while it's easier than ever for large teams to work and collaborate across multiple time zones, actually hiring a remote UX designer presents a range of unique challenges that design managers must overcome if they want to land top design talent.

In this post, we'll be taking a look at how to interview and hire remote UX designers for your next project. By the end of this post, you'll have a much clearer idea of the challenges you're likely to encounter while searching for remote designers, as well as some considerations you may want to think about long before you post that job ad.

Should You Hire a UX Specialist or a Generalist?

The first question you should ask yourself is whether your project needs a specialist or a generalist.

Hiring a specialist has several advantages. For one, specialists often possess a mastery of one or two highly focused skills or disciplines honed over many years of experience. After all, you can't specialize in something unless you've been doing it for a while. This makes hiring a UX specialist an ideal option for shorter-term projects with clearly defined design briefs and project parameters. Specialists are also the perfect choice if you're in need of someone to perform a highly specific role on your design team or to support your in-house designers with specialized tasks.

However, hiring a UX generalist also has a range of benefits. As the name implies, generalists can do lots of different things, making them the Swiss Army knives of your design team. They're adaptable, can work across every stage of the UX design process, and can be moved and reassigned within design teams easily. Hiring a UX generalist is a good idea if the scope of your project is still subject to change or if you anticipate the need for a more agile team that can respond to stakeholder feedback.

Of course, both specialists and generalists have their downsides. Specialists excel at one or two highly focused tasks, but this makes them less flexible and adaptable. Similarly, generalists can handle a wider range of design work but sometimes lack the specialized expertise to handle complex design work or project roles.

What UX Design Skills Should You Hire For?

This might sound obvious, but it's crucial that you be as specific as possible when listing the desired skills your remote UX designer candidates should possess.

Many companies are purposefully vague when it comes to hiring for specific skills. This is usually due to fears that being too specific will restrict the pool of potential candidates too narrowly. However, being too ambiguous about what you're looking for can result in you being deluged with resumes from unsuitable candidates.

Another reason you should be as specific as possible in listing the skills your candidates should have is that working with remote designers is entirely different than working with an in-house designer. There's a great deal more trust involved, as overseeing a remote designer's work isn't as easy as checking in with a designer for a quick face-to-face update. This also typically means more autonomy is required of potential candidates, meaning that a strong, independent work ethic is just as important as their actual design skills.

Regardless of your project's brief or scope, one skill you should proactively hire for is clear, concise communication. Design might be an artistic discipline, but it's also rooted firmly in communication. Prospective hires should be able to clearly explain their thinking in simple, easily understood language. If they can't, this may be a sign that a candidate's designs are as messy as their thinking.

Something else to bear in mind is the distinct difference between tools and workflows. Far too many designers focus on learning how to use specific design tools rather than mastering design principles. Yes, it's important that your candidates know their way around industry-standard tools, but knowing a software program inside and out is no substitute for mastery of design fundamentals.

What About 'Soft Skills'?

Yet another consideration you should bear in mind is that so-called “soft skills” such as problem-solving, communication, and leadership can be just as important––if not more so––than specific hard skills.

Soft skills can be harder for prospective candidates to quantify in their initial application, which is why soft skills should be a primary focus of your interview process. Ideally, during the interview process, you should try to gauge whether a remote UX designer can take constructive criticism well, how they handle emerging problems, and how well they can communicate their ideas.

How Should You Evaluate Remote UX Designers?

It's one thing to know exactly who you're looking for and what skills they should possess, but how should you go about actually evaluating whether or not a candidate can handle the demands of the role?

This probably goes without saying, but a strong UX design portfolio is only the start. Due to the unique challenges of working in distributed teams, it may be necessary to ask prospective candidates to complete a short aptitude test or design task to see how they handle the work. If you do decide to go this route, be sure to structure your design tests in a way that reflects the realities of what that person's day-to-day work will be like. When devising design evaluations, be sure to create project deadlines that are both realistic and reflective of the kind of turnaround you expect from the successful candidate.

Also, if you can, try to pay prospective designers for their time if you ask them to complete an evaluation as part of the application process. The best working relationships are based on respect. By offering even a nominal payment for a designer's time, you're demonstrating that you value a candidate's time and aren't just looking for a freebie design job to save a few bucks.

How Should You Interview Remote UX Design Candidates?

There's a lot to think about when hiring a remote UX designer, but it's important not to neglect the interview process itself.

When it comes to interviewing remote candidates, video calls are hands-down the best option at your disposal (excluding an in-person interview, of course) for evaluating remote UX design candidates. Video calls allow you to read a person's body language in ways that a phone call or email chain cannot and also give you a much better idea of a candidate's communication style and demeanor.

Something to bear in mind when interviewing remote candidates is that the goal isn't to try and trip candidates up with “gotcha” questions or irrelevant curveballs. Many of the world's leading technology companies have taken a lot of heat for asking increasingly unfair questions in technical interviews, despite the fact that there's very little correlation between a candidate's performance in an interview scenario and how well they're likely to perform the role.

Remember––you're trying to build a relationship, not embarrass a complete stranger.

How Should You Onboard Remote UX Designers?

Regardless of whether you're hiring a part-time freelancer for a short-term contract or looking for your next in-house UX superstar, it's crucial to treat your newly hired UX designer with courtesy and respect. This means onboarding them just as you would for an in-house designer's first days in the office.

Introduce your new designer to your team, either by a video conference call or a channel-wide announcement in Slack. Ideally, you should have onboarding documentation on hand for new hires to familiarize themselves with how you and your team work together.

This documentation should include:

  • Links to your company intranet, wikis, and any other important internal resources
  • Guides to office/company policies, such as an employee handbook
  • Login credentials for software licenses and necessary online services
  • A list of important contacts such as project stakeholders, department heads, and team leads

You should also establish clear expectations for project deliverables and internal communication. This includes how frequently your new hire will be expected to join team meetings, how and when project assets should be delivered and to whom, and how your new designer should communicate problems as they arise.The more guidance and information you can give your new hire, the smoother the onboarding process is likely to be.

Help Wanted

Hiring remote UX designers is much easier than it used to be. Telecommuting is rapidly becoming the norm rather than the exception, but this doesn't mean you can cut corners when it comes to hiring remote talent.

The most important thing to remember when hiring a remote UX designer is that remote work is nothing more than a means to an end. The fact that a candidate might be on the other side of the world should have little to no bearing on how you look for talent, how you interview prospective candidates, and how you work together.