Olga Shevchenko is an art director and designer at Vintage Web Production. We talk about how the best web production in Eastern Europe found its brightest web designers.

So how does Vintage hire web designers?

It is actually an interesting story.

The point is that designers write us, not we - them. We simply ceased to search for them.

Art Director Vintage

Let’s start from afar. At the time when we were getting our first awards and more and more exciting projects, I have just gone on maternity leave. So I urgently needed to recruit a team of designers, simply because there was nobody to do work in the agency for a month or two.

So I shared a job on my Facebook page and during a week got about 130 responses. 7 of those people were invited for interviews.

Why so few?

I was searching for top-class professionals, not for 50-year-old dudes drawing banners their entire life and writing me furious emails in response to my refusal.

To find as nuts as we are in extremely difficult but, fortunately, possible.

It was my first experiment when ‘no-name’ designers were recruited to Vintage - we used to practice word-of-mouth hiring. Of those 7, we recruited 3. One of them have not come to work next day - he was artfully hunting to a product company.

However, I was thinking this way: it was a ‘decadence’ in design that time, and we needed some extra set of hand on our team which would come (of course, along with their owners) and start working hard without a peep. So I wrote all the rest 123 something like this: “Unfortunately, we are not able to offer you a job now, as we are looking for someone with more experience for this role. Anyway, I personally can teach you remotely for free.”

About 15 people responded positively.

Did you do any selection?

I weeded out the weakest ones. The rest candidates were offered to send me their works and get my feedback as an art director - what can be improved in terms of design to make a project to look more expensive.

At first, people demonstrated great enthusiasm, but subsequently, their eagerness began to subside. And it’s clear why: when you sent your best works, wait for a comment with a sinking heart, and eventually get a million of edits and remarks, your hands fall.

The strongest designers - there was two or three of them - continued learning. One of those people who was trying to get to us a couple of years is now a Head of Design at Vintage.

And I still practice this. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I don’t know), great designers are not being found through job search sites in Ukraine. But if I write a post on my Facebook, they comment and write me personal messages right away.

Once again, it often happens that that designer who consider themselves middle- or senior-level professionals fit only our junior positions. I don’t know whether the reason is in us who outgrew the Ukrainian market or candidates who haven’t grown up to us yet.

Design is a pretty young field. And if it is more or less clear when it comes to developers - there are certain requirements to their expertise, - as is the case with web designers? By with criteria do you rate a level of a candidate?

First of all, I look at a candidate’s portfolio.

Before an interview, it is enough for a designer to sent his/her finished works. When looking at them, everything becomes clear.

Previously, I could wonder whether works are good or bad. But after so many years of experience as an art director and hundreds of projects launched, I acquired some kind of a visual set. Just one glance at a work is enough to understand whether it is cool or not.

I hunt for talents. I can receive an ordinary landing page based on a standard prototype, but if I see there some block, some element which is made with taste, I will most likely to invite such a designer to an interview. If a project is standard but done very neatly, it is also ok.
But if I see a catastrophe with a typography where four different fonts are stuffed on a single page, if I realize that a designer knows nothing about titles and links and how they must look like, then we have nothing to talk about. I would have to spend a couple of months teaching such ‘professionals’ some basic things to pull them at least to the Junior level in order to entrust them drawing after our designers.

Is this what Junior designers do at Vintage? Support?

Exactly. This insight came to me recently: if you are a Junior designer, sorry but forget about creative concepts. The level of projects we are currently getting is so high that Junior simply will not cope. First and foremost, they need to inherit our style, understand the tenets and rules of web design, and only then try to create something by their hand.

Due to the economic crisis and romantic aura surrounding web design, the industry is being flooded.

People think this way: programming is not necessarily, everyone has a sense of taste. It seems like it is easy to become a web designer, but it’s not.

Art Director Vintage

It needs a deep understanding of the craft and hard, constant work. Drawing a logo quarterly is not a design.

By the way about speed.

For designers, two months at Vintage is equal to a year at another web agency - the pace here is crazy. It is only necessary to be able to cope with such a pace. I am personally kvelling by this and cannot live without this rash anymore.

Designers should be classified by two criteria: lifestyle thinking and skills of a web designer.

The sense of taste is most likely not develop over time. If a sense of taste is completely absent, web design is probably not the best choice. However, I believe everyone has a creativity, the point is to see it and put back on track.

In their turn, skills are developed over time. If a designer draws one project a year, then welcome freelancing or to a product company. For such one, it will be extremely difficult to work at for us.

Vintage is about a constant generation of products, projects, concepts, ideas. And that is why we are the best of our kind. That is why it is so hard to join our team.

What technical skill must a designer have to join Vintage?

As for technical skill for a web designer, everything is pretty straightforward. Knowledge of any computer program is just a matter of time. Photoshop can be mastered in two months. Another question is how I can instill a designer a sense of aesthetics, taste, details, and the ability to listen and hear.

During an interview, I always try to figure out a true motivation to work for us. Want to earn money? Sorry, it is not about Vintage - our designers come to our agency for other reasons. Good money for good work is a basis, and it's not even worth discussing, but it is not a goal in itself.

Want to earn money - open your own business. Want to create something truly beautiful, launch cool projects which would both flatter your ego and make the world a bit better - welcome to the team. Thanks to this approach, a status of the best web agency in the country was secured with ease.
What kind of test task do you propose potential candidates?
Of course, we do not ask to draw something of Makhno level. Usually, it is one of our finished projects, either freshly baked one which is just sent further to front end/promotion or is currently designing. In short, test-task is always the latest one, so we can compare our result with a candidate’s one. And this is very revealing.

Have you received some wow or strange, or funny test-tasks?

To be honest, I’m constantly getting funny works, but those surpassing our own - never.

However, there is nothing bad about it. When you are hunting the gods and goddesses of design only, you constantly stumble upon old stagers who want to earn big money and create one concept a month. Such people are definitely not our option.

Once, one great, high-skilled experienced designer came to me and said: “I am tired of freelancing - today I have something to work on, tomorrow I haven’t. Give me one of your coolest projects!” Said that and disappeared, did not cope. At the same time, our Junior designers whom we were teaching demonstrated stunning results, one after another. And then I realized that the only way to gather a team of the best professionals is to grow it by your own.

The vast majority of our designers have passed my web design school. Particularly, our three best designers were grown by Vintage. Now, they are growing greenhorns, sharing their skills and knowledge, thus, becoming cooler and cooler every day.

If to look at their web design projects they have done for a year and a half of working here, I realize that they are much, much greater than earlier mine. In comparison to their ones, mine look funny and sad at the same time - I would never hire myself!

If I understand correctly, it works only with the best web agencies, right? What does happen with those designers nurtured in mediocre companies?

Honestly, I don’t know.

Of course, there is a great risk.

It would happen that you invest all your time, efforts, and love in one who eventually leaves. But it is inevitable.

And it is okay if they understood they need to move on, develop themselves outside Vintage. All I can do in such a case is to bless them and wish good luck.

By growing one, you know how to grow others in a more qualitative, faster, and effective way.

Do you hire designers working remotely?

We used to practice this. However, our bitter experience showed that it does not work. Distant designers are able to copy our style, but they are deprived of the opportunity to absorb our socioculture that is a core of everything. Vintage culture is highly social, intimate.

That is why covering letters of candidates serve as an indicator for me. When people write us ‘I am following you a few years, adore your works on Awwwards.com, read your blog, and really dream to work for you!’ it works like a green light. And vice versa, a designer coming to an interview and knowing nothing about us will most likely not to get to Vintage.

Has it happened a designer not to fit into the Vintage corporate culture?

To be honest, there was a lot of such. Basically, everyone who left our company were either such person or close to be such.

Once, we hired a designer who was almost Zen Buddhist, aesthete. When cooking his dinner, he was slowly cutting his cherry tomatoes, laying all food on the plate, having lunch for an hour and a half at least. He could go to the swimming pool right in the middle of the working day. He did everything at a lazy pace, without a rash, and very stylishly.

Imagine Sicily, the siesta time - so it was all about his pace of life. So I needed to constantly push him to work. Eventually, he got he did not fit well into our pace and left the company.

What is the most important question you ask on interviews?

How much time do you need to mark up some certain page?
When I hear from candidates it will take them two weeks, I say that here they will not have them. When I hear it will take one day, it is also alarming for me - to produce a great, meaningful concept in a day, I personally had to carry ideas in my head for a week.

Any good idea needs time to be digested,

that’s why I advise designers to put a ready-made prototype aside and give their ideas little time to stay in their minds.

How long should it take in reality?

Up to 4 days are for a concept, and a day or two - for the art-director to make edits.

What is the trickiest question you ask on interviews?

What was your biggest fuck-up?

If a web designer says they had no fuck-ups, we have even nothing to talk about.

Art Director Vintage

It means for me that if something goes wrong, they will blame someone else but themselves and never admit they failed. Such a stance is not suitable for me because I simply do not know how to help in this case.

When a designer does not admit mistakes, they make their growth impossible. We are self-developing not so much by successes but failures.

In my experience, failures are an integral part of any process - I continue to pay my dues in every project. Hereby I learn something new.