UX Interviewing Design Challenges Best Practice

jobs
challenge
design
interview

#1

I was reading through this post from @misaif20, talking about a take-home design challenge he had recently completed for a job he didn’t get.

@HAWK, @Remah and @rachelreveley were keen to point out that misaif20 deserved proper feedback based on his work, and it was clear that it was not forthcoming at this point. It got me thinking about the fairness of these take-home challenges as a whole. What started as a tangent of mine eventually turned into a full-fledged blog post on the subject of UX design challenge interviewing best practices. I wanted to make a separate post to pass along my thoughts here, and to get the community’s feedback on the process as a whole.

From my perspective, here are a few rules that design challenges should adhere to in a job application setting:

Design challenges should be done in-person.

This helps the interviewers gain real perspective into a candidate’s interpersonal interactions and communication skills. It also helps interviewers visualize how a candidates synthesizes information from different sources to gain specific design direction.

Design challenges should not focus on the company’s existing or future products.

There’s too much bias built in for candidates to be truly successful on the existing product, and it’s patently unethical to ask candidates to complete work for free on the basis of the possibility of employment. Additionally, could you honestly say that you wouldn’t use an awesome design by a candidate that you decided not to hire on the basis of personality or fit? You’d have to be a stronger man than me, and personally that’s an ethical temptation that I would never want.

Design challenges should be done on a whiteboard.

A lot has been said about whiteboard interviews, both good and bad. Certainly it has its drawbacks, but they do allow for clear communication and invite collaboration. Additionally, the ability to effectively whiteboard ideas with stakeholders is paramount to the success of any UX designer. Now’s the time to find out just how good they are at it.

Design challenges should be done with a fixed time limit.

Apart from evaluating their ability to work on a deadline, setting a time limit helps to ensure that the candidate doesn’t get tied up too much in nitty-gritty details and focuses on achieving their goal. It also helps move things along in the event of multiple interviews being scheduled on the same day.

Each candidate needs to address a unique challenge of relatively equal difficulty.

This helps avoid biases against specific design solutions and focuses the interview on how candidates think and interact with business stakeholders.

Speaking of stakeholders, business stakeholders should be represented at the interview by the interviewers.

The candidate should be able to ask clarifying questions across business units. This helps evaluate the candidate’s ability to ask appropriate questions, to work across business lines, and build a consensus before diving into a project.

There should be some sort of monkey wrench or two thrown into the works– a requirement that changes mid-design, a stakeholder that gets replaced with a new individual with new ideas, or an increase/decrease in time to deliver a design.

This helps evaluate how candidates react to a changing design environment, an important aspect of their overall ability as designers.

For what it’s worth, you can find a wealth of simple UX challenges all over the internet, but some of my favorites are here.

As designers, we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity; to be evaluated for our relevant skills when applying for a job; and to be placed on a level playing field. From my perspective, the type of design challenge described above is the only fair way of going about it.

What do you think?


#2

Awesome post Doug.

So much this.

I also think there needs to be some kind of feedback loop.
As people and as designers we have a right to understand why decisions are made when they affect us.


#3

Wow Doug,

I can’t even begin to thank you for this post as someone who will be looking for a position in the coming 6 months. This is something i’m going to have to add to my toolbox of knowledge!

Mike


#4

Great post - Thanks Doug.

My girlfriend is going to get a little shock when she see’s a 4x2m whiteboard stuck to our living room wall for me to practice on.


#5

@HAWK, you’re absolutely right. I added this paragraph to my blog post:

Feedback should be the rule, not the exception.

Dealing with feedback is an important part of being an effective designer. Receiving and synthesizing feedback into improved designs and self-improvement is imperative.

What’s more, anyone who’s spent significant time doing design work for you deserves your honest assessment. It helps them grow, it helps the industry grow, and it helps your team grow.


@CoolMike90 I’m glad I could help!

Bear in mind, however, that these rules are not what’s followed by many interviewers. I wouldn’t say most interviewers are breaking these rules because they lack the moral scruples to employ them, only that they lack the knowledge or expertise to employ them. This is doubly true for companies without an established UX culture. Take-home design challenges are getting more and more common, and even in-person design challenges ditch many of these rules.

So practice for a situation like this as an ideal setup, but beware that what I describe above is likely not what you’ll encounter in the wild.


@DavidJay Blame me. I’m always willing to take one for the team.


#6

Very well put up @dougcollins…!!! Very recently I had similar experience as @misaif20.
A company gave me an assignment as first round of interview. The design challenge was to come up with new look for existing product. After the assignment submission, the questions were more from the domain aspect of the product than the design thinking process.!!! So I could not clear that round.

There has to be a strict protocol for hiring designers only based on their portfolio and face to face interviews.


#7

Recently went through the same - I had to go through an absurd amount of extra work to ensure my design approach was visible, not just the output. It paid off to a certain extent, but they learned nothing not already visible in my portfolio given I was already going to meet them.

That said, if people are having trouble getting feedback, I’ve found that setting that expectation before we even began (e.g. “I’m treating this as a learning exercise regardless of the outcome”) they took the time to get back to me.

Would this have more value for an agency or consulting firm which might be more interested in how you can communicate work the client was not there for?


#8

That would be great, wouldn’t it?

Perhaps. Having worked in a similar environment (I designed and developed interactive digital signs for a couple of years for hundreds of clients who were never with me) I’d have to say that communicating your design process has some value, but for the most part clients are interested more in the end product than the process involved in getting there.

I’m sure others have more experience in this realm, though. I wonder what their thoughts might be.


#9

@dougcollins I just found this http://thehipperelement.com/post/161199208978/are-design-tasks-ethical-in-a-job-interview


#10

Thanks for the link! I actually take issue with a lot of what he says-- so much so that I messaged him asking for a chat to help me reconcile some of his ideas with mine. If we get together for a conversation, I’ll let you know!


#11

I hope he does. I like the way you think and I’m curious.


#12

@Piper_Wilson @HAWK Joel and I did have a good discussion about the topic. I’ll make another post about this shortly expanding a bit on my thoughts and sharing his as well.


#13

I agree with all the above guidance. Having set this type of challenge myself on numerous occasions, I find this a really great way to assess a candidate’s ability. I’ve also participated in this type of challenge when applying for jobs and one thing is certain… it’s much harder being the applicant than the interviewer!

One recent interview had a design challenge and I have to say it was a bit of a car crash. The biggest problem was that I couldn’t tell what role the interviewers were playing. They told me to treat them as co-collaborators, so I started out in that vain, getting them involved in ideation and trying to facilitate. But then it changed up and they told me just to ‘go through my process’ and not engage with them, which was utterly weird as I had no idea if I was supposed to be pretending they were the client, other designers, an exec, or whatever. This threw me completely for a loop and it was a disaster :slight_smile:

So, my tip would be to be really, really clear about what role you are playing when asking a candidate to do this type of challenge. If you don’t, you’re really messing with them in an unfair way.

Just my $0.02.


#14

There is a great article from Google Labs on Design Challenges. Don’t have the link in front of me, but it ties in well with what you are saying Doug. Maybe some extra fodder for the blog post. :slight_smile:


#15

I wasn’t able to come up with anything via Google-fu, but if you find the link please post it! I’d love to read it.


#16

Hi Doug,

Here’s the link,


.


#17

You’re the best :slight_smile:

Have you linked to this before? Because I swear I’ve read it. No, I know I read it, because I spent an afternoon tackling the transit kiosk design challenge.


#18

Probably :slight_smile: