Hiring whole teams and Figma Designer Advocates with Anthony DiSpezio

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How do product teams hire UX Designers? Anthony DiSpezio, Designer Advocate at Figma, explains the most significant factor in cross-functional team hiring and how this may very well be why you are not hired. In the second part of the episode, Anthony describes the role of Designer Advocate at Figma: a mix of hands-on design and advocacy. To be hired for this role, you need to be a Figma expert with a knack for communication!

…an example where candidates have really stood out for me is when they approached their presentations, such as portfolio reviews, or in person interviews, or remote interviews, by preparing to anticipate the needs of the interviewers, which is, I think, a really important piece.

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Anthony DiSpezio

Designer Advocate @ Figma

Timeline

00:00Introduction 02:39Hiring whole teams 04:25Why you may be rejected 06:48The skill compass 10:29How have candidates blown you away? 13:46The Designer Advocate role @ Figma 17:57How Designer Advocates are hired 23:14Where to find Anthony

Behind the mic

Anthony DiSpezio

Designer Advocate at Figma.


Filippo Lovotti's with an intrigued look

Filippo Lovotti

In case you missed my barely audible accent, I was born and raised in northern Italy, near the Milano area, and moved to the USA a decade ago. I started venturing in the realm of pixels and websites during high-school, but at the time, I had no idea design would become my career, my biggest passion, and such a vital part of my life. Nowadays, UX design, strategy, and mentoring take up most of my days. And I love that. When I’m not behind a screen or recording podcasts, you’ll find me drawing with pen and ink or training at a local park for my next Highland Games competition.

Show notes

How do product teams hire UX Designers? Well, they do it a tad differently from Design teams. Anthony explains how understanding gaps and overlap of skillset in this team scenario is a priority for hiring managers.
And this very reason may be why your application ends up rejected. It’s not you; the team you want to join may need a different set of skills.

Anthony then explains the Designer Advocate role at Figma. It’s a fascinating position that mixes some hands-on work, but mostly evangelizing and communicating the advantages and amazing things Figma can do. An example would be demoing Figma for organizations, something Anthony has done hundreds of times.

When it comes to hiring for Designer Advocates, the process in itself is not that different from any other – the critical part here is having a solid foundation on Figma, of course.

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Transcript

Anthony DiSpezio 0:00

You might have a particular let's say shape as far as skills that you feel that you can really have a lot of depth in versus ones where you may just have some more surface knowledge. It's really important to remember that the same is true for the team, the team itself may have certain skill sets that there's a lot of proficiency in other areas where the hiring manager may know that this is a place where we need to grow.

Filippo Lovotti 0:22

This is the industry of UX season two, inside the UX hiring shortage. We talk to the experts to bring you the strategies, the thinking process and the reasoning behind the hiring decisions in the UX job market. Let's dive into the episode.

Filippo Lovotti 1:00

Hello, you wonderful UX sirs. Welcome back to another episode of the industry of UX. I'm your host, Filippo Lovotti. I'm glad to be here with you. Today, I bring you an amazing guest from my favorite design tool. I have the honor and pleasure of chatting with Anthony spaceil. Designer advocate at figma. Anthony has almost eight years of hiring experience under his belt. And he has held both the hiring manager role as well as the supporting individual contributor role in the overall hiring process. One thing I found particularly interesting about our chat is Anthony's perspective on hiring from a cross functional standpoint. So when it comes to bringing designers on the team, how they are feeling the skill gap, have the whole team, not just UX is really the main focus. In the first part of the episode. Anthony walks us through His hiring experience and goes over one big reason why candidates are rejected. In the second part, we talked about the designer advocate role at figma. And how they hire for it. Before we jump in. I have one small announcement. We're taking a quick season to break. And we'll be back with Episode 10 in about three weeks. Let me know what you think about the episode by tweeting at industry UX, no offense to Android users. But if you have an iPhone, leave us a five star rating and review on Apple podcasts. It helps us produce a better show and bring the podcast to a bigger audience. Okay, on to the conversation we can can can you cover a little bit about your hiring experience? Kind of give us a little bit of a short overview of what that looks like?

Anthony DiSpezio 2:46

Yeah, yeah. So I've been hiring for design roles. And for designer advocate roles for probably almost about the last seven or seven or eight years right now. So at my previous company was doing a lot of design hiring even some front end developer roles, I would sit in on hiring teams for them as well, more recently at figma have been doing a lot more hiring of designer advocate roles, which have a little bit broader, a little bit broader context. But yeah, that's sort of been my position. So far, I've sat on hiring teams of sometimes as a as a design lead other times in other contexts as well. So it's sometimes been in a hiring manager context. And other times, it's just been as another IC being part of the hiring process as well, too nice.

Filippo Lovotti 3:31

I like to have both the experience of the hiring manager and the supporting IC or supporting role in hiring an entire or different maybe role outside of UX. So I would like to talk a little bit about hiring an entire team, because this is one of the things that we hear the most in in UX, especially when it comes to people being rejected for a particular role. There is a lot of questioning why was I really rejected. I was I know that I'm a junior or mid level, I have all this great skill set. And so I don't understand why I was not a good fit for this role. And definitely timing plays a huge role. But in your experience, what is the difference between hiring, say, one person for a particular role, maybe the second person on the team versus actually getting in the mindset as a hiring manager of, Hey, I

Anthony DiSpezio 4:25

have a few roles that I'm going to hire for in the next few months. And I have to hire an entire team. Right, right. And I think you touched on something really important there, which is the size of the team and the amount of headcount that you have or or the pathway towards how you see the team growing is going to have a big impact. I think as a hiring manager on the types of people that you're looking for and the types of skill sets that you're looking for the maturity of a team, much like I think with a company drastically shifts when you go from one to two, right? That's probably going to be your biggest shift of all because now you've got two people who are actually working together, communicating And then from there two to three, also big jumps. And then you start to, I think look a little bit more towards a little bit more, I guess of specific skill sets and things like that. So often often in tech, I think I find, there's always a conversation around, you know, the generalist, or, and I know you've covered a bit of this on your previous previous episodes as well, too, of just sort of talking about the T shape of the designer, or the wedge shape of the designer or anything like that. I like to remind myself always, and I think this is good for anyone who's looking for positions in this is that you might have a particular let's say shape, as far as skills that you feel that you can really have a lot of depth in versus ones where you may just have some more surface knowledge, it's really important to remember that the same is true for the team, the team itself may have certain skill sets that they that there's a lot of proficiency and other areas where the hiring manager may know that this is a place where we need to grow. So when you're trying to add, there's a great exercise, if you haven't done it, definitely check out like skill campuses, right? Because skill campuses offer you sort of a visual circular approach to how you look at different skill sets, right. And then the activity is that you can run this with everyone on your team and what you identify as areas of overlap. But more importantly, you identify areas where there's definitely a gap across everyone on the team. And so that's going to definitely impact I think, as a hiring manager, what skills you're looking for. And ultimately, that can be, I think, a little bit of a disconnect, sometimes in the hiring experience, because someone might say, Oh, I didn't get hired for that job. And it, there's a very good chance that it's not that had anything to do with your skill set, but just had to do with the fit for the team versus your particular skills. So I think it's always important to remember that he's that sometimes it's just what the team needs at that moment in time can be the bigger factor.

Filippo Lovotti 6:47

Yeah, definitely. And you mentioned skill compass. And I wanted to know, this is the first time hearing of this particular is that is that a website? Is that a product?

Anthony DiSpezio 6:58

Ah, great question. It's more of a concept. It's a it's an exercise that you can run with a team at the professional development exercise, there's probably branded versions, there's actually not a direct segment too much. But there's a there's a free community file exercise that you can go and download, which will basically have the instructions of how to do the exercise, I'd say it's about a 45 minute exercise, it's a lot like the sort of T shaped exercises, it's just that visually, you've now sort of actually turns it into more of a compass into more of a circle, right, which when you layer, your team's compass is on top of each other, you begin to see a little bit more of that sort of where you have gaps. And you could do this with the T shaped model too, as well. But the thing that I like the metaphor I like in this field compass is that you have a wheel and the wheel is sort of rolling, and you want those areas of the wheel to be filled out. Because otherwise you have a very bumpy ride, if you've only got a few areas where you're missing some skills, that makes a lot of sense. Well, personally, when being a hiring manager, I've done similar similar exercise, but just to understand exactly Hey, we have a need, because normally when when I hire is because there's lack of bandwidth most of the times. And so with that, you need to understand, okay, so for this particular role, do we need someone that is more geared towards a production or someone that is geared more towards the strategic thinking of a particular role. So maybe, that tells me maybe a junior or mid level is going to be better right now. And then we're going to help them grow higher to like senior or lead, or maybe this requires a lot of autonomy requires a lot of leadership. So maybe a lot higher level I

Filippo Lovotti 8:38

see would be a better fit. And then when we talk about manager type positions, that's a completely different conversation. But normally, it's the lack of bandwidth that forces us to hire at this moment in time. And so when that happens, we're going to look at, yes, you know, what do we need? What what type of designer Do we need right now. And then we look at the type of work that it's coming down the pipe for this particular role, and then understand exactly the skill set. On the other hand, like we need to, it's almost like once you have that pillar transferable paper, where you sign one piece of paper and you have signed like three or four underneath it. That's kind of the way we do it. Like, you understand, because yeah, when it comes down the pipe, you understand like, what, what, what is the skill set that best matches that. And you know, there are good good things or bad things about thinking about it that way. But sometimes you're just so strapped for resources in time that that's the process, we the best way of going about doing it.

Anthony DiSpezio 9:36

I think you made an important distinction there too, which was when you talk about things like hiring for more junior roles, it doesn't necessarily mean Junior responsibilities. It just means the level of autonomy, as in, is this someone who can be comfortable with more of that self management or that some of those skill sets that I do find that you grow over time, versus someone who needs a little bit more hand holding or tasks that may maybe Easier to tackle and to get through. So So I often will try and remind this to myself into teams as well, which is that like, we're not hiring someone to do the work that we don't want to do that should never ever. They should always just sort of look at it more from the perspective of like, as you said, this is an area where we need more hands on deck, or this is an area where we think somebody could operate with a bit more autonomy or maybe without autonomy, depending on who you're moving around on your team. Exactly. So how have candidates blown you away during hiring processes? How, what are different things that they have done during the hiring process that

Filippo Lovotti 10:37

made you say, Whoa, this is this person is hitting a new high, and we need to raise the bar for the next candidate?

Anthony DiSpezio 10:44

Yeah. And there's actually a second question there too, like the the impact that it has on your inevitable comparison between candidates. And that kind of thing works when you're raising the bar or something like that. But right examples of I think, where candidates have have really stood out for me have been ones where the approach to their presentations, so be it portfolio reviews, or, or in person interviews, or remote interviews, or anything like that. The anticipation of needs is, I think, a really important piece, meaning those that can prepare for a handful of scenarios, and have sort of the areas that they want to talk about get to getting to their points quickly, but also understanding that they're going to, you know, they're anticipating questions around, you know, maybe a particular person in the hiring team wants to know more about something. So they may have prepared additional resources on that front that they weren't necessarily going to cover, right, it's almost like you have you're hiring your portfolio and your case studies or, and anything like that, you have them almost modularized to a point where you are confident to adjust your story, and adjust what aspects people are willing to talk about. And it feels natural, it feels like something that you've actually have a lot of confidence about in the way that you do it. So that for me has always been, I think, a really powerful one. Certainly also, I think, people who can can really understand what it is that we're looking for in in UX hiring as well, as far as I don't just want to see your final designs, I don't just want to hear about how well the project went, I want to hear about the struggles, I want to hear about the unknowns, I want to hear about how you chose to tackle and solve those problems.

Filippo Lovotti 12:32

So what would you say to those that somehow think that winging it, and you know, coming in with, with a fresh perspective, or coming in with not a lot of preparation, because they want to be as genuine as possible that, hey, this is what almost like everyday working with me is going to be meaning, you know, we're going to have conversations that we haven't prepared. And I want to give you a realistic expectation of what's going to be what would you say to these folks,

Anthony DiSpezio 12:58

I would say that I understand where you're coming from, and I understand that the value in wanting to be genuine and that and that makes a ton of sense. And don't lose that hold on to that you're gonna have moments I think in the hiring process, where you're going to get to show that off and showcase how you can work, how you can ideate on the fly. Ideally, you're going through a hiring process where you get to maybe even have have an exercise with with the team, right where you're actually getting have a moment to showcase those that skill set. I would also say that when I've seen people attempt to just sort of wing the whole thing, it's very obvious, and it doesn't give me the sense of trust or sort of Yeah, honestly, the trust that I'm that I'm looking for and hoping for in a candidate. It's kind of a reverse concept in the sense that I think preparation actually allows you to relax and be more confident. In fact, I think, by being prepared, you actually end up sounding a bit more like yourself, if you're just trying to wing it. Or the worst part about winging it is that you might be there trying to impress people, right? I often find that that can be that the candidates that I've seen who just try to wing it, they think that they're there to try and impress me when in reality that's not what an interview process is. I don't want to be impressed. I want to be inspired by your work. Right. I want to see what's going on there. Yeah, yeah, so I that's why I say even just a little preparation can go a very long way because that will give you confidence. And again, you'll have that time to showcase your while ideation skills or you're very exciting and and tip of the tongue sort of, like conversational side. So

Filippo Lovotti 14:35

I actually wanted to ask you about the way you're hiring right now for figma as a design advocate, yeah. Is it something that I'm really interested about? Because design advocate is different from the regular UX designer or product designer role that you find on a particular product team or design team? So I would really like to explore more about what are Who is a design advocate? And how do you hire for this particular position?

Anthony DiSpezio 15:05

Great, great question. So designer advocates are a little bit, I find a hybrid role where you're sitting between product between your customers between the community, it's a fascinating position where, where what you're doing is is a bit in service of even your marketing teams and your sales teams and your product team. So it's, it's, it's a fun place to to play, because there's a lot of exploration there and a lot of different directions that I can go in. And it's also i do think, a relatively younger position, as far as companies are hiring for, I'm seeing more and more of them show up, which is, which is awesome, there's a good chance, I think that some people may have the skill sets that we're looking for not realized what the name of the role is, right? I think if you find yourself at an organization where you enjoy the product design work, but you almost enjoy the communication of the process, the bringing the teams together up leveling your, your the people on your own team, supporting others, things like that, where it may not necessarily be the I want to sit there and put headphones on and be a UX designer all day or something like that. But it's a little bit more of a, I want to play in this ambiguity a bit more as far as like how I can support the company in that sense. So I think that the important distinction when when we're hiring for designer advocates is that it's important for the candidate to understand that you will not be doing product design day in and day out. Right? That's, that's a bit of a shift. I think and, and so we certainly look for someone who understands that this is a different role. And it's going to be something that you're going to be spending a lot more time in front of people you are going to be talking spending a lot more time communicating design, communicating different things that we're doing. So it's a very conversational role in that sense as well.

Filippo Lovotti 16:49

Is there any hands on work?

Anthony DiSpezio 16:51

Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. We I in fact, I still do product design for figma, as well actually got to work on one of our features that we launched last quarter, which was great. So yeah, I got to actually help out with the adding bulleted, numbered lists into figma. So I was I was actually the product designer for that that particular project. Meaning I was embedded on the team, I had a pm I had I had development partners that we worked on we you know, worked in sprints, we shipped the feature, there was a lot of a lot of critique sessions, a lot of just sort of getting feedback, which is, which is great, because the designer advocates, absolutely, we want to make sure that we're not losing touch with our with our skill set. And what we are also representing in that sense, as well. And then the other a good portion of the job is also staying you end up I think learning a lot more about how the landscape of design looks for people at very different companies very different sizes, you end up having, I think a little bit more of a sort of a 10,000 foot view of what it would be like to be at a small company into 2021, versus being at a large company in 2021, you start to see some pattern matching across those as well, which can inform decisions of how you might help someone and that kind of thing. So

Filippo Lovotti 17:57

yeah, how do you hire specifically for the design? advocate position?

Anthony DiSpezio 18:02

Yeah, so hiring specifically for designer advocates, we're not looking for anyone who was previously a designer advocate, I mean, we would happily take that, but we just don't expect there to be people who are previously working as designer advocates. So generally looking for someone who has worked in the design space, whether that be design system design Ops, I see production UX, honestly, that I care more about, you know, I care less about someone's particular skill set and, and depth. You know, we do certainly want to make sure that we're hiring for different skill sets. But I actually care I think a bit more about someone's less about someone being a generalist, or being a specialist or anything like that I care more about someone's understanding of the landscape of design, and how different groups work together and have a bit of experience, understanding the motivations and the needs of not just the design team, but the developers and the project leads and the product managers and anything like that. So the analogy that I like to use is, I think a band plays together better when they know the parts that the other musicians are playing as well. They're not playing that part, but they know the parts, then and you're you're able to anticipate you're able to understand someone's motivation for their decision making process. That to me is I think, crucial. And I think a lot of the other stuff Honestly, I could. I'm not worried about teaching someone the other parts of the job.

Filippo Lovotti 19:32

Yeah, that is a great overview of how so what your mindset when you start hiring for the design advocate, but what is the process? What does that look like?

Anthony DiSpezio 19:40

The process I'd say pretty closely follows what I would consider a traditional or maybe not traditional, but a hiring for a design role. So we get a lot of incoming wrecks from people as far as looking at you know, wanting to get hired, those will get reviewed. There's a screening process which is usually in the form of a phone call or more Lately, it's been obviously a lot more video calls, right. And just, those tend to be just more of a sanity check, not not the person's insanity, but just ensuring an understanding that things that were written down and sent in are legitimate. And that this is someone who's actually interested in the position just so that we're not wasting each other's time. And then that will go into a more formal process of actually having a full on site. Again, it having been more remote, these tend to be entirely virtual but follows the structure follows. I think pretty similarly, in the sense that there will be an initial presentation, which you could, you could sort of align one to one with something like a portfolio review, except in this case, we actually give a prompt, so we actually give a prompt of we are, you know, you are going to basically lead us through what one of our customers sessions would look like. So we say interesting, we say we have a prompt where it's, you know, okay, there's a company of about 10 designers, and they've got, they've just their design systems team is just getting off the ground, or they've got a few designers that are just hitting the design system off the ground. They want to know, what is it going to be like working in figma? What are recommendations that you'd make about how they should structure their design systems? What are recommendations you should you would make about their, their process and their collaborative process of working together? So the candidate will get that prompt, I think about a week in advance, and then they will come on site the next week, and we will start with the presentation first. What's nice about that, is that and again, we're not necessarily looking, there's no right answer in that presentation piece. There's there's not a we're not there's no magic word that we're looking for someone to say. But what that does is that gives us a backdrop to build our discussions on for the later in the day. And it also just gives us a quick sort of understanding of where someone is both in their command of figma, but also in their ability to communicate

Filippo Lovotti 21:49

design, right, which is something that people don't quite even to this day, I feel that articulating design design decisions is somewhat given a back seat to the technical design skill set of like, how I can make something beautiful, but which is the mega, that's a completely separate conversation. It's

Anthony DiSpezio 22:09

a much larger one.

Filippo Lovotti 22:10

But so you're assuming that when you're hiring for a design advocate position, you're you want someone that is very well versed in figma. Of course,

Anthony DiSpezio 22:20

yes. Yeah, that that's, you know, we're not looking for are you amazing at auto layout? Can you do these insane, kind of like, like, like we're not there's a, there's a level of realistic understanding that we have of like, what types of skills we certainly want someone to be familiar with. figma, understand figma understand the differences between say figma and the tool like sketch or XD I think that that's, that's really crucial, like, what how, like, for example, the way that we approach the ideas of styling and figma is a little bit different than what you're gonna find in sketch or XD as far as the way that we you can use overrides, to build cascades of styles and and sort of map very similarly to how your developers are thinking about it would be one example. You know, and anyone who can articulate those sorts of things is what's important to us. So one piece that I left out that I think is crucial is that for someone who is I think more than anything, we pride ourselves on our empathy for designers and designers of different backgrounds. We hire for people who are confident, but you know, being kind and being dedicated and being just a good human is a huge part of this as well. We are not looking for the Rockstar designer, or the or the the the rogue or the maverick who's just going to make our lives more complicated and harder, which can be a really fine line. Because you know, we're hiring for a position where we're saying, hey, you're going to be in the limelight, you're going to, you're going to almost, you know, you're gonna you're gonna have a name, people are gonna know who you are. But at the same time, we need you to be a humble and modest person,

Filippo Lovotti 23:53

because that builds trust we we think we believe. Awesome. One more question to ask you, which is actually a double a two fold question.

Anthony DiSpezio 24:03

Yeah.

Filippo Lovotti 24:05

Actually, four question is actually two questions, by the way. So you're bundling the questions. Exactly. Number one is, are you open to mentoring? And number two? If people want to reach out to you after they hear this episode? Where can they find you?

Anthony DiSpezio 24:24

Yeah, great question. I'm probably open to mentoring it would probably probably want to know more. I love to mentor so yes, I'm open to mentoring. The, the I think the container that has created the space and what that mentorship looks like is really important to me. I've seen some more they're very successful and some where they have been a challenge for both the mentor and the mentee. Yeah, and as far as reaching out, absolutely reach out. I'm more than happy to share as much information as I can. Either anything we talked about today or or anything else, any questions anyone has probably the best way to reach me is social. So that would just be at a dispatch to a DSP easy. I Oh, yeah. Final Thoughts? Yeah, this is one that's actually kind of stuck with me. I think a bit is maybe not stuck with you. But I know it's a topic that's been coming up frequently a lot. I think Nielsen Norman even just did a just did a report on this, which is that I wouldn't make any assumptions about what a role is going to be and look at the team for the individuals not for the position that you're trying to, to have. Right? Remember that? hiring is a two way conversation, right? You are you it's not just the company interviewing you, you are interviewing the company, because and don't just look at the role. Don't read just what the description of the job is. Get to know the people as much as you can ask them as many questions as you can. Because ultimately, the title or position is fine. But will we learn and there's a great study, I think recently by Nielsen Norman, where they were they were with Nielsen group where they were saying, they interviewed a bunch of VMs, and a bunch of designers and a bunch of researchers and ask them well, whose responsibility Do you think this particular part of the job is? And the amount of confusion over who was supposed to do what or who thought that they were in charge of what and who should be doing which piece? You realize, I think the ultimate that the takeaway there is that you realize that those kinds of assumptions probably can't and shouldn't exist. And you should be thinking about the rules about the individuals that you work with. So take time to get to know people and make sure that it's a job that you want, not just a job that you're good at, it's really easy to accidentally take a role. Because you're like, I'm really good at this. I could just do this. Really stop and ask yourself, do you enjoy this

Filippo Lovotti 26:41

I hope you enjoyed the episode. If you are interested in any of the resources we mentioned, all the links are on the episode page of our website, the industry of UX calm. Thanks to Anthony for coming on the show. Thanks to Julian and podcast edition for the audio engineering work. If you have any feedback about the episode or the show, let us know by tweeting at industry UX. If you really want to help or say thank you from the bottom of your heart, please leave a five star rating and review on Apple podcasts. It helps us climb the charts and bring the show to a bigger audience. Last, but not least, thanks for listening, and I'm looking forward to talking to you next time.