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Consortia’s Head of UX Recruitment for Berlin, Ryan Ollerenshaw, caught up with Yasmina Haryono, Head of Design of Atfarm, part of Yara Digital Farming business unit, to discuss the UX recruitment landscape in Berlin and her take on how to hire the best in Berlin UX talent. Yasmina describes herself as a ‘product person’ with a deep understanding of brand, technology and user behaviour. Having worked across a range of industries, Yasmina outlines how these differences determine the recruitment process, as well as informing us of her models for successful recruitment in a relatively new market.

As Head of Design for Atfarm, Yasmina leads all researchers and designers working on precision fertilisation solutions. She is responsible for the user research, digital product design and UX strategy output, growing design competency and collaborative culture across the organisation. Yasmina develops the strategy for Atfarm and Yara Digital Labs team to use systems thinking and customer-centred design for portfolio innovation and growth.

The Berlin state of affairs

It has been said that a new start-up is founded every 20 minutes in Berlin and the industry is set to produce 100,000 new jobs by 2020[1]. Yasmina compounds this with her viewpoint and speaks of the conditions that precipitate tech start-ups in Berlin, and the lack of them elsewhere in Germany. 

Whilst there are many positives of this structure, it can make defining talent a challenge. The fast-growing environment of numerous tech start-ups allows for quick growth and progression within these companies, which may mean that the high-flyers who have gone from an entry-level role to Head of Design within 5-6 years may not actually be representative of the job titles that they possess.

The semantics of these roles are incredibly varied as it is, and how candidates describe their experience can be difficult to gauge. Yasmina describes that “UX designer, service designer, product designer, UI designer; with overlaps and no clear definition. The titles don’t justly represent the experiences and we invest a lot of time screening candidates.”

Ryan notes that in London, there is too much emphasis on title and salary. Some potential candidates may have only two years’ experience, but due to job-hopping from one start-up to another, their salary may be inflated, which becomes unsustainable.

Is Berlin the same? Yasmina explains why this doesn’t happen in Berlin. “Pure” start-ups remain relatively low funds, so they try and hire someone they feel to be most capable whilst still meeting their budget. She goes on to suggest that Berlin salaries are lower than the rest of Germany and that’s not only for design or tech. In terms of salaries in Berlin and other German cities like Stuttgart or Munich, Yasmina states; “It’s comparing apples to oranges” and a very different playing field for each region, which is where the models Yasmina has developed help to determine and differentiate talent in a “minefield” market. 

This too is changing, however. Corporate innovation hubs are basing themselves in Berlin and with them, comes higher salaries that start-ups can’t always compete with. Which in turn could have a negative effect on innovation.

Assessing design candidates

Yasmina draws a strong distinction between design maturity and company maturity. She also makes the point of assessing whether the company is centralised or disseminated across the region or worldwide.

e.g. An example of Yasmina’s model.

She describes that when she was fresh out of university, she joined Philips Design, the in-house global design powerhouse of the then consumer electronics giant Philips. The design maturity of the organisation was high, which was a great place for a young designer to start: there were design processes in place, with new methods being developed by the more senior designers, and design role models in the organisation.

Start-ups, on the other hand, might have only one or two designers for the first few years, depending on their growth stage. It is a lonely existence being the sole designer in a company: no one to spar with who has a similar background or approach, and in cases of junior designers, no one to help you develop your specific craft. Single designers sometimes get a “lead” in their job titles, when the design team grows, either deservedly or not.

Identifying five levels, she ranks Junior Designer to VP or Head of Design (defined as when you can build a design team and grow design competency across the organisation from the ground up). Yasmina goes on to say that for example; 7 years post start-up, you can often find yourself in a company with no design maturity, design culture or a systemised way of working. She had found herself in this position, which has meant that she is acutely aware of the need for a model or structures put in place.

Part of her model involves considering the ranging elements of the designers’ skills along a design hard skills and soft skills spectrum. Hard skills include design research, service design, interaction design and visual design. Soft skills include topics like communication, collaboration, decision-making and leadership.

She describes two patterns of designer profiles she often sees in candidates: the old-school “depth” designers and the new-school “breadth” designers. She speaks of recognising the trend where designers that have seven plus years of experience tending to start with one part of expertise like interaction and visual design for mobile products (now often known as digital product designers) and honing their skills there deeply before venturing to other areas.

The younger designers work across the spectrum at the start of their careers, doing user research, interaction and visual design end-to-end, which makes them good all-rounders, but they take longer to achieve depth.

Yasmina recommends appreciating the designer for their “lot”: those who are able to deep dive as well as those who are “all-rounders”. “As a design leader, you need to understand both profiles. There are various in-between profiles as well. The more you understand the profiles of the designers in your team and the potential candidates, the easier it is to form your teams by identifying the skill gaps.”  This is how she bases her hiring decisions.

Yasmina has worked across a range of industries and speaks of how receptive potential candidates are based upon the perception of the industry. Healthcare is considered “sexy” and is a lot easier to recruit for. Yasmina goes on to say that “maybe logistics was the least sexy, with agriculture (where she is now) kind of in-between.” To raise the profile of Yara, Yasmina takes part in public speaking slots, which is an increasingly popular tactic to elevate the company’s perception.

Design growth frameworks

When asked about further methods of talent retention, Yasmina describes her design growth framework, with four skillset categories: Two skillset categories are specific to design hard skills, and the other two soft-skills categories are customised for design, but applicable to the entire organisation. 

The “Design expertise” bucket comprises the entire spectrum from uncovering user needs to actually developing the products with sub-categories like Design research, Service and experience design, Product and UI design, Visual and communication design
The “How we design” bucket is around how design teams can be empowered in order to deliver high quality work through skills like Facilitation and collaboration, Communication, Craft and mastery, Initiative

The “Cultivating design competence” bucket establishes design competence, because Yasmina believes that in order to be an experience-led organisation, they need to have design practice (which she leads) and design competence, which is growing the design skills of non-designers in the marketing or engineering teams.  “I’m not saying that the Product Manager should be able to create picture perfect designs, but the PM should at least be able to be sitting in front of a customer and figure out what the problem is.” Her belief is that eventually “service design and product management will merge in practice” and that design is a common language that everyone should be speaking.

The “Design as a strategic function” bucket is to design and build a strategic function of the overall organisation: cultivating, building and improving the company culture through mentorship, being the public face of the (design) organisation, recruiting great talent and community-building.

She puts this into context: “There are Senior UX Designers who are very skilled at their craft and in the above framework, would be deep in the first two buckets. There are also Senior UX Designers whose skillsets are distributed across the four buckets, perhaps less skilled in user research or visual design, but have had very successful experiences running team-wide workshops and speaking at conferences.”

Returning to what we covered earlier, about difficult-to-decipher experience levels in relation in job titles, Yasmina explains that her models work to uncover any ambiguity around past projects and work that the interviewee has done.

Essentially, when hiring for the Berlin team, Yasmina interviews based on the current skill gap she identified in the team and utilises her models to assess skill sets and capability against her parameters to establish suitability. She also spoke about her role as Hiring Manager. Maintaining, that ultimately, it will be her decision, but she involves colleagues in the decision process. Additionally, she makes it a principle not to hire someone who is 100% fit for the role; they will get bored and move on too quickly. She hires someone at 80% suitability – prioritising the behaviours and personality types more than the extra “20%”. Yasmina has developed these models to negate the challenges that exist due to the start-up culture in Berlin.

We’d like to thank Yasmina Haryono for speaking to us about her experience in the Berlin UX Recruitment market. For more information about Yasmina’s models, or if you’d like to speak to us about placing a candidate (or becoming one) in Berlin, we hire the best UX contract or permanent hires in Germany, so get in touch with the team to discuss.

Tips for applicants

In terms of practical advice for candidates, we have compiled some of Yasmina’s top tips for applicants:

1. Think of yourself as a brand. Have a 90-second one-liner that describes yourself, your expertise and your goal.

2. Have a communication strategy and define the user journey for the entire recruitment process, starting with what message the initial application has, to the ever-present online portfolio, to the in-person interview portfolio, if you get that far. 

a.       What goes into the application should be a taster that piques interest: short, sweet and concise. 

b.       First interview: Do shallow dives into different projects to build a more complete picture of your body of work.

c.       In-person interview: Take the interviewers in a deep dive into one project, maximum two, where you state the opportunity or problem to be solved, your process, your learnings, your contribution to the team (assuming you’re not a one-person design team).

3. Tailor your application and CV to who you are aiming for: bespoke approach per candidate. I understand this can be time-consuming, but at least have a thoughtful cover letter where you state what you bring to the table, based on your understanding of the company and the company’s work.

4. Inclusion of your professional interests outside of the work place. Your need for creative outlet isn’t completely fulfilled by your day job? You have a secret passion that can’t be channelled at work? Show me your side projects or pet projects.

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