While applying as a Product, Interaction, or UX designer, you might be asked to perform a design challenge. With just 20 minutes and a whiteboard, an interviewer can gauge exactly how you think as a designer.
I needed to be ready for this infamous step in my recent interview experience, so I’ll share with you how I practiced for it and the framework I created for myself. I also ran a workshop about the Design Challenge with students in the UX program at MICA.
The best resource might be Solving Product Design Exercises, available on Amazon. This PDF guide walks you through not only a framework, but detailed examples following that framework.
With everything written on this topic already, it’s clear that there are multiple ways to go about this. It’s important to understand everything out there and find something that works for you.
Exercise generator websites help you quickly think of prompts, although feel free to change up the question for more variability. Or, just think of prompts on your own—find problems that exist and try to solve them.
After reading everything I could find, I made my own framework and canvas. It’s important to note that this is the framework that worked for me, something that I could understand and memorize. Your mental model may differ from mine.
Although you won’t follow a framework exactly, remembering the steps will help you get back on track if and when you mess up.
1. Ask questions
What is the business/user trying to do? What else could the service do? What could the service improve? How would this service benefit the user? What metrics are we trying to change? What does success look like?
Tip: Role play with the interviewer, have them act as the business stakeholder or user to help focus the questions you ask.
Write down the problem and goal. This gives you a direction to go towards.
3. Users/User Needs
Are we building for two different types of users? (beginners vs advanced) Are we building for different stakeholders? (Doctor/patient, Driver/Rider) What does each group really need? How do their needs differ?
When, Where, Why does this experience happen?, Before and After, What are we constrained by?
Tip: Time is always a constraint. Think about what happens before and after an experience, not just during.
5. Come up with ideas
Now it’s time to list out ideas. What solutions could fulfill the user needs within the constraints? Pick one to move forward with.
It’s okay to say “Although all shoppers could use a streamlined online ordering and pickup experience, for the sake of the exercise, I will design for the hot food bar customers because I am assuming there is a higher demand for immediacy” It’s okay to make assumptions, just acknowledge them and move on.
Tip: In addition to calling out assumptions, maybe write them down, but be sure to also include how you might validate them during testing.
6. User flow
List out a user flow. This doesn’t need to be made up of boxes and arrows, a bulleted list of what steps the user must make or needs to happen to fulfill their goal.
Tip: Think about the checkout experience, if it applies. Think about how the user might be motivated to repeat the experience again.
7. Start sketching
Match the steps to screens (if you’re building a screen experience). Or storyboards if you’re designing a voice experience or a service.
Tip: Use a different colored marker to call attention to CTAs or key interactions.
8. Measure success
After you visualized your solution, how do we measure success? What metrics are we tracking? how do those metrics correlate to success? how will we track them? How will we improve the product in future iterations?
Again, it’s okay to make assumptions, just acknowledge them and move on. You don’t need to write them down, but mentioning that you recognize them and would validate them is crucial to letting the interviewer understand that you understand the full scope of the problem at hand.
Click here to download the canvas I made for this framework.
Using a prompt generator, I filled out the canvas as a worksheet, and timed myself in order to practice thinking quickly. I then performed these prompts live with a friend and a whiteboard.
The most important part of this step is failing. I froze, often. But, I also got used it. I familiarized myself with that awkwardness and learned how to pause, take a deep breath, and regain my composure.
You won’t always be asked to go to the whiteboard.
The interviewer may not say “We will be performing a design exercise now”. You may be asked to perform a product critique, and you should feel comfortable visualizing, drawing, and communicating the problem and solution (anything, really) on a whiteboard at any time.
Be conscious of time.
It’s very important to keep track of time. You want to be aware of the interviewers time—they have work to get to and will leave when their time is up. You also want to get through the whole thing because it’s important they see your solution to the problem.
Be a little adventurous in constraints.
When you make assumptions, don’t constrain yourself too much. Show off how you can think outside of the box. You might design a voice UI instead of a screen interface. Or think about the checkout process in addition to the clothing shopping experience.
Soon after my interview experience, I ran a workshop with Matt, sharing what we learned about the design exercise to students at MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art.
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