Four Key Traits for Designers

These are the traits that I look for when hiring designers. These are also the first things that I teach when training new designers.

Know What is Essential

Designers need to understand the soul of their product plus its constraints (including technology and platform limitations, budget, corporate goals, and their team’s skills). Once they have an understanding of what they want to make, and what their constraints are, they can finally set about the task of providing solutions.


It is no good if only the designer knows what is essential; they must communicate that knowledge to the rest of the team. Designers must be able to communicate ideas verbally, in writing, and visually. They are in a key position to facilitate cross disciplinary communication within a team as they have one foot in the arts and the other in the sciences. They’re a better programmer than most artists and a better artist than most programmers. They serve as a bridge, translating artist speak into engineering speak and vice versa.

Right Attitude

Designers must have an open mind. They need to be receptive to critique, others’ ideas, and new ways of doing things. They should be eager to learn and to continually improve their skills and knowledge. They must be proactive in providing solutions.

This is the most important trait for newbies since it is the foundation for them getting good at any of the other traits.

Provide Solutions

At the end of the day, design is all about providing solutions. A good habit is to provide three solutions to every problem, stating the strengths and weaknesses of each solution. These solutions need to be presented through clear communication.

This entry was posted in Design, Game Dev. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Four Key Traits for Designers

  1. tomo says:

    First comment!

  2. tomo says:

    Great points. I think this could be squeezed into similar traits for a technical solutions provider (software architect).

  3. lion says:

    Other traits that are important but which I didn’t include:

    An Eye for Quality

    Designers should be bothered by bad performance, bad ergonomics, bad aesthetics, etc. Maybe this can be a sub point of Right Attitude?

    Be Smart

    I have a few spacial reasoning and algebra questions on my design test. Getting them correct doesn’t determine if a candidate passes, but it doesn’t hurt. Being smart may also be a prerequisite for knowing what is essential?

  4. tom bentz says:

    Totally agree that these are fundamental!

  5. lion says:

    I’ve been cross-posting my blog on Gamasutra. A reader there had a question that I responded to. I will duplicate that exchange here:

    Geoffrey Kuhns

    Those key points are pretty safe to say, since I don’t know who’d disagree. But, the breakdowns are insightful. Of course, designers need to provide solutions, but the suggestion for offering three, complete with pros and cons, is good advice. Also insightful are the brief comparisons between the skillsets of different team members under Communication.

    Thomas, you said, “These are the traits that I look for when hiring designers.” What have you found to be the most effective ways people exhibit these traits?

    Thomas Grové

    First candidates take an aptitude test. Then they interview. Then they have a two month probation during which they do about two weeks of training. So we have a few opportunities to see if the candidates fit our needs. Some of these traits are hard to prove but I’ll try to outline some of the ways that we look for these to be exhibited.

    Know What is Essential
    Have a candidate play some games and then ask them to suggest removing some graphical elements or features and why they chose those elements. Hopefully they don’t suggest anything core to defining the game.

    We can see the quality of their writing in the test, their speaking in the interview, and there are also some opportunities for diagraming/labeling in the test. If we are unclear on a point we can ask them to explain in more detail to us. Sometime I ask them to show me what they mean on a white board.

    Right Attitude
    This one will come out in the probation period for sure. But you can also get some sense in the test or interview if they might be lazy. For instance, I don’t think any of the test questions are very difficult, but sometimes people leave them blank. I’d like to see that they at least gave it a solid try. There is one question that is difficult for a lot of people but can be solved by almost anyone if given enough time. If it was done incorrectly I’ll often times ask the candidate to re-do it for me. How do they respond to being asked to redoing something?

    Provide Solutions
    Quite a few of the test questions are asking the candidate to provide solutions. I care more about their thought process as to how they came up with the solution or why they picked the solution than the solution itself, so if that isn’t obvious from their answer I will probe deeper in the interview.

    The Wrong Answer
    A lot of people like to talk about a game’s story or art. When asked to specifically talk about the game rules or systems or activities they still talk about the story or art. They tend to like Final Fantasy 🙂

    Also some people coming from QA are clearly only applying for an increase in salary and not because they want to be a designer.

  6. Quan says:

    Nice post Mr. Lion! I guess that I’ve learned one thing or two :D.
    Why don’t you share this post with all gd in GL, people will love it 😀 ?

    Btw, I like Final Fantasy too :D. That is one of reasons make me a GD!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *