Today, designers no longer confine themselves to interface design; they actively contribute to strategic decision-making processes. This shift reflects a growing reliance on data-driven insights and user research to shape the architecture and user experience. In this landscape, UX design challenges have emerged as a popular method for assessing designers’ knowledge and skills. While they often demand time and effort without monetary compensation, they remain indispensable tools for employers to evaluate both the soft and hard skills of prospective designers.
To empower you to excel in your next design challenge, this article will delve into the two primary types of design challenges and provide invaluable frameworks for mastering them. We will showcase a design challenge example, offering insights to help you distinguish yourself during upcoming interviews.
A design challenge is typically part of the hiring process at a tech company. The process is different at every company, but usually a candidate is asked to solve and present it to the company. There are two main types of challenges:
The whiteboard design challenge is a live exercise that typically spans between 45 to 60 minutes and is conducted in front of a panel, which generally includes two or three members from diverse roles, such as project managers, designers, researchers, and data analysts. The challenge typically unfolds in three distinct phases:
At the commencement of the challenge, the team will allocate time to assist you in setting up all necessary materials. This includes providing access to any required software or internal platforms essential for completing the task.
Following this, the team often engages in brief personal introductions among its members. This helps foster a relaxed atmosphere and promotes mutual comfort.
The final step in this phase is the introduction of the design challenge itself. Typically, this consists of a concise prompt or problem statement accompanied by relevant data. These statements are intentionally broad, requiring candidates to employ their creativity and problem-solving skills to refine the challenge.
During this phase, candidates are granted around 40 minutes to tackle the design challenge. They are free to choose a framework that suits their approach.
Throughout the exercise, candidates are encouraged to interact with the panel by asking questions and verbally articulating their thought process and the steps they are taking to reach a solution. It is advisable to begin by outlining the chosen framework and the anticipated steps, setting time limits for each phase while remaining vigilant of the clock. The primary objective at this stage is to effectively complete the challenge while involving the interviewers in the thought process.
It is worth noting that the outcome itself is not the sole focus, as the limited timeframe acknowledges the impossibility of producing a polished finished product. What truly matters is showcasing your skills and mastering the problem-solving process.
The final segment of the challenge involves a five-minute presentation of the solution and its key highlights. Candidates may choose to present any visuals or workflows they have prepared during the challenge.
This is also an opportunity to address any questions that may arise regarding the challenge or related topics. Interviewers typically refrain from providing immediate feedback at this stage. Instead, the HR team typically follows up later with feedback and next steps, regardless of the challenge’s outcome.
Most whiteboard design challenges are conducted online, allowing you to use your own equipment. The typical process involves scheduling an online meeting, joining from the comfort of your home, and utilizing a collaborative design tool like Figjam to work on the project.
However, with the increasing return to physical office spaces, there are instances where you might be requested to complete the challenge at the company’s headquarters. Even in these on-site scenarios, you may still be required to use your own computer, or alternatively, work with a traditional whiteboard.
A take-home exercise typically demands around 5 to 8 hours of your own time and is completed in the comfort of your home. During this exercise, candidates are required to deliver a comprehensive set of materials, including a presentation accompanied by relevant data and a high-fidelity prototype. The assignment is usually packaged as a deck or a folder containing the task’s details, along with a link or folder for submission upon completion. This submission deadline is typically a week.
The challenge in this format also unfolds in three distinct phases:
Once you receive the deck outlining the design challenge, you are given approximately a week to complete it. While the typical time commitment falls within the five to eight-hour range, some exercises may require more extensive effort.
The nature of the challenge often aligns with the specific skills the company is seeking. For instance, a company looking for strong visual design skills may request a website or app redesign. Alternatively, a test of a candidate’s product thinking may involve a more conceptual task, such as “creating a new entertainment system for aircraft.” For candidates being evaluated for end-to-end product design roles, the challenge might involve “creating a new feature for an existing product” while elucidating the entire design framework used to approach the task. Before diving into creating deliverables, it is essential to invest time in understanding the problem and devising a solution within a structured framework.
This phase involves consolidating all the work completed earlier and crafting a presentation with a compelling narrative to elucidate the challenge’s process. While visuals play a significant role, it is equally crucial to communicate a cohesive story supported by data. Although the specific components of the deliverables may vary based on the challenge, a presentation detailing the process and an outcome represented through a prototype are typically the mainstay.
In most cases, designers are expected to present the outcome of the challenge to a live audience. After spending some time with the company, candidates usually have a window of about 30 to 45 minutes to present the challenge’s details.
Following the presentation, candidates are given an opportunity to field questions and defend the decisions made during the exercise. It’s worth noting that there are no inherently right or wrong answers; however, it is crucial to substantiate your choices with supporting data and rationale. Be aware that feedback is not typically provided at the end of the interview; instead, feedback is usually communicated at a later stage by a member of the HR team.
This framework can work for whiteboards and take-home challenges as long as the task is to build or improve a product. It isn’t universal and each candidate may adapt it to their needs, but it’s a good starting point if you find yourself lost.
To make it more realistic, I will use an example to explain the framework:
Imagine you are tasked with creating the ultimate travel companion app for modern globetrotters. Your goal is to design a user friendly and innovative mobile application that enhances every aspect of the travel experience, from planning and booking to on-the-go exploration and post-trip memories.
The problem can be defined as the gap between the current situation and what we aspire to achieve. At this stage, it is crucial to comprehend why we need to create a new product to address a situation or why we must redesign an existing experience to enhance the current product. In practical scenarios, this phase often necessitates research or the reevaluation of existing research data to cultivate empathy for the problem we aim to solve.
Questions to answer at this phase:
Tip for whiteboard exercises: During live challenges, it is vital to inquire about available research and data from the interviewers; they may provide valuable information to inform your decisions.
Tip for take-home challenges: If time permits, you can leverage existing online research to guide your decision-making process.
Upon a careful reading of the problem statement, grasp the fundamental elements therein. Our objective is to create a comprehensive mobile app that spans the entire travel journey, from planning to execution, with a core focus on user friendliness and enhancing the existing travel experience.
This challenge does not specify particular features to develop, and we are devoid of data for decision-making, even a specific target audience. However, we can break down our tasks and objectives into the following:
We’ve established some goals to work toward, and now it’s time to define the audience for whom we are designing this product. In a live challenge, I would recommend asking if the company has a specific target audience in mind.
Ask yourself: what are the types of people who have significant motivations for using this product? Consider the time you have to solve the exercise and only pick one or two audiences. You can group the target audience in groups to simplify the grouping; you can use labels such as Elders or Millennials.
Understand when and where they experience this problem and how you can solve it.
Questions to answer:
Tip for take-home challenges:You can create a user persona to illustrate the target you are designing for.
Our audience could be defined as modern globetrotters: this term encompasses contemporary travelers between the ages of 20 and 40 who are known for being active, adventurous, and technologically savvy. Modern globetrotters actively seek convenience, personalization, and memorable experiences during their journeys. They are likely to utilize smartphones and rely on digital tools for various aspects of their travels.
These individuals are typically residents of modern cities, well-educated, and engaged in full-time professions or trades that afford them a comfortable economic status. They are the primary users for whom the app’s features and functionalities should be customized, ensuring a user-centric and engaging travel experience.
This phase is the heart of the challenge, where we delve into which solutions the company could create to address the previously defined problem. It’s essential to specify the type of product (digital or physical), the intended device (laptop, mobile, smartwatch), and the type of interface (audio, video).
To kickstart the creative process, consider using templates like user stories or other ideation techniques.
Tip: While brainstorming, generate a variety of ideas, but be mindful that you’ll have limited time to develop your concept. Therefore, it’s crucial to select one idea to focus on.
This step is about finding a solution, and keeping an eye on the clock is crucial. However, if you’ve thoroughly worked through the previous steps, this part becomes more manageable. You have several techniques at your disposal, including creating a storytelling narrative or user flows, depending on whether you want to sketch or map out the user’s tasks in a flowchart. Later, you can visualize your previous work through sketches that represent the solution.
Tip for whiteboard exercises: Keep in mind that the deliverable for whiteboard exercises will typically be the storyboard, flows, any list of ideas, or sketches you’ve used in the process.
Tip for take-home challenges: For take-home challenges, the final deliverable should be a high-fidelity design, but you can also include any other files or documents that helped you conceptualize the design.
In this instance, I’ve chosen the third idea, “Language Assistant,” and opted for a straightforward feature: “Text Translation.”
Metrics and data have become essential for companies aiming to drive revenue and assess positive outcomes. To achieve this, it’s crucial to ask a fundamental question: “How do we determine if the solution was successful?” and “Which criteria define success?” Metrics such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) play a pivotal role in measuring success. Here’s a list of typical success metrics:
As an example of some metrics and fake numbers to illustrate the idea:
The goal here is to articulate your thought process and rationale throughout the entire design journey. Your presentation should methodically walk through each step of the process, allowing the interviewer to follow your reasoning seamlessly.
Additionally, allocate some time to thoroughly examine the final outcome, especially if it boasts strong visuals. It’s essential to be mindful of time constraints, identify the key highlights, acknowledge potential blind spots, and express any areas where you’d have liked to dive deeper.
For whiteboard exercises, remember that the emphasis lies more on the method than the visuals. Ensure you effectively highlight the most significant components you’ve created, explain your thought process clearly, and respond naturally to any questions. Keep in mind that there won’t be presentation slides; you’ll be relying on the work file to illustrate your process.
In the case of take-home challenges, your final deliverable should consist of a prototype, accompanied by a succinct yet comprehensive presentation that elucidates the reasoning behind your ultimate solution. This presentation can be crafted using various platforms such as Figma presentations, websites, or Google Slides. Your presentation flow should encapsulate a summary of all the steps undertaken in the design process.
Preparing for an interview and looking for a job may be one of the most stressful things a person can face, but if well-prepared, the struggle may be less intimidating. Use this guide to learn best practices, review the different types of interviews, learn from a solid framework, adapt it to make it your own, and finally, practice by completing a collection of challenges you can find online or use the ones provided below. Happy designing!
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