How to spot strong design culture as a jobseeker

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

In celebration of World Interaction Design Day, I had the privilege of joining The Fearless Community as they hosted Jared Tredly for his talk unpacking “Design Culture and Ways to Identify It.” His insights resonated strongly with me because as a fairly new designer perpetually seeking out guidance, a common theme that I’ve gathered from seasoned professionals is that one of their biggest challenges is actually getting design the proper seat it deserves at the table—whether that’s the constant challenge of pushback from the higher ups not realizing the value of their design or the issue of not having adequate resources or foundational support in their role.

In searching for my next role, I’m determined to make sure that the organization I join not only embraces good design culture, but actively works to cultivate it. Now the question is how do you spot that in a potential employer?

Here are a few key things you can do in order to paint yourself a clearer picture of a company’s design culture.

Looking for structural fit

The structure and leadership organization at a company can reveal a lot about its values. By digging into the hierarchy of the design positions already in place and examining the leveling (in terms of how high these design leaders sit), you can start to understand how much value is placed on design in that organization. This is something you can ask about at interviews or do a bit of your own research online. In chatting with product designers at prospective employers, this is one of my starting points that I like to inquire about so I can determine if the company is a right for me.

Additionally, the physical layout and space of the office can also hold clues as to how much the design process is valued. Meeting rooms with whiteboards and walls to facilitate workshops and testings are all good signs to see.

Integration of the process

As more and more businesses start to see the value of design thinking and the design process, the way they decide to integrate it into their organization matters. The design process is not meant to be simply added on by being sprinkled into the existing product development process.

To gain more clarity about where design sits in your favorite company, it helps to not only speak with designers, but also engineers, managers, and other cross-functional team members to learn about how they are interacting with the design team during the development process. It’s important to understand how the design team communicates with the other departments. Ideally, you want to see strong cross-functional collaboration with the engineering and the product teams. A design team that is very much isolated on its own island to complete “requests” without much back and forth feedback is a glaring red flag.

A design-forward mindset

Building a strong design culture involves more than just implementation of innovative design tools, methodology, and processes. Strong design culture stems from a mindset that design is valuable and valued by the organization as a whole — something I will keep at the front of my mind during my own job search.

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