Know When to Fold Em

Yesterday one of my designers quit. Let’s call him Tater. Tater said yesterday would be his last day. Normally you give 2 weeks notice when you announce your resignation from a job so that projects and documents can be properly offloaded. Tater didn’t do this.

My boss was really pissed Tater quit with no notice, but I wasn’t mad. This guy had not been performing up to the standards I expect from a senior designer with over 2 decades of experience. The other day I wrote about how having standards can make your life difficult. Here’s a great example of what can happen when you hire someone you have reservations about. I had reservations about Tater when I first interviewed him.

There were two red flags I should have considered more seriously during the interview. The first red flag was the fact that he had no agency experience. He had spent the entirety of his design career on the client-side. The corporate client-side. So why is this a red flag? Because you don’t go client-side to do great design work. Corporations hire agencies to do great work for them. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. There do exist companies with talented in-house design teams. Tater was not from one of said in-house teams. One paper he seemed like a solid UX designer and UX researcher. The reality was quite different. He lacked knowledge of mobile design. He lacked understanding of various UX design patterns. He wasn’t curious. He wasn’t resourceful.

Spending your design career on the client side is like a fighter spending all their time sparring in the gym and never having a real fight. Successful agency designers have to switch between different types of projects with different team sizes and different deadlines and they have to do that day after day, month after month. To an outsider it might seem scary but as someone who’s spent most of his career on the agency side, it can be a lot of fun. By default agencies have to produce more creative solutions than what a client could produce in-house, so you’re always around other, more talented designers than you and everyone is collaborating and sharing tips and techniques to creating great designs. Very rarely are client-side design teams expected to push the envelope and produce innovative designs.

The second red flag came when Tater opened his mouth and confessed to me, “I’ve never worked with a team of designers before.” Say what? Could you repeat that, Tater? I had never heard of such a thing. You can’t have design reviews and critiques without other designers around to provide fresh perspectives and feedback.

So Tater quit with no notice. He was mentally ‘checked out’ and there’s no returning from that so I was cool with it. The sooner he’s out, the sooner we can move on and find a better designer to add to our team. Having him linger around for another 2 weeks, producing sub-standard work is just making a bad situation worse.

I’m just glad he knew it was time to bounce. It’s never fun to fire someone, even if they suck.

[The title of this post was taken from the lyrics of The Gambler by Kenny Rogers]