Over the past several weeks I’ve had the privilege of interviewing for a number of UX design roles and have been asked to complete a number of design challenges. The point of a design challenge is for the potential employer to have a chance to see how a designer approaches and solves a given problem. For the designer, it’s a chance to showcase on-your-feet thinking, presentation skills, and creative software skills outside of a team project.
There are a many different design challenges and every company has their own approach, but most fall under two categories: onsite or take home. Below, I’d like to break down a few key findings and share what pitfalls to look out for when preparing to ace your design challenge.
The Onsite Challenge
Timeframe: Typically 45 minutes to one hour
Prompt: A short project description will be given at the beginning, it may be a short sentence or it may be a bit more descriptive with further constraints to consider. The prompt may be totally outside of the core business of the company, in some cases quite fictional, whimsical and fun. Or it may be related to a competitor’s product, a related product, or indicative of the kinds of problems you will be asked to tackle on a day-to-day.
Format : Interviewers may or may not be in the room while the designer is working. If they’re in the room, as a designer, you’re going to be asked to think out loud through every decision and speak to possible alternatives, ways to test with users, etc. If interviewers are not in the room while you’re working then you will typically have an extra 20-30 minutes to present your work and thinking at the end. This may manifest as a fake pitch to ‘sell’ the idea to faux-executives, including market validation, go to market strategy, and which features would be included in an MVP.
Tools: Most commonly everything is done with a whiteboard and markers, but many companies give you the opportunity to put pen to paper or to whip up a quick UI in the creative software tool of choice. If you don’t know what kind challenge you will be faced on the day of be sure to bring your laptop just in case!
Potential Pitfalls: Working in silence in front of your interviewers is a big no-no. As a UX designer you are expected to be more than a master of creative software or a production monkey: you need to be a skilled communicator, presenter, and problem solver. Using humor can also be a powerful tool, including creating a fake name for your product, or telling a fun story of a use case. If you are worried about your ability to pitch and present I’d recommend practicing with friends in advance, and check out Mike Montiero’s book Design is a Job, which has a whole section on the importance of selling your work as a designer.
The Take Home Test
Timeframe: Most companies recommend that you spend 4-8 hours on these, but it can often be double or triple that. Usually you have a week.
Prompt: The design challenge for a take home test can vary wildly, but will tell you a lot about that company and its values. For instance, Cooper has a really fantastic and interesting take home test that, while time consuming, speaks to the way in which interaction designers work in that company.
Format: Specs can vary, sometimes it’s a set of wireframes, a heuristic teardown of an existing site or page, or a new UI for an app or website. Usually you can use your preferred creative software, and the amount of research involved varies upon how much the company gives in the prompt.
Tools: Adobe or Sketch typically, sometimes a prototyping or wireframing tool like Axure or Omnigraffle depending on if the company has specific tools it favors. More technical roles may have a code requirement, but you will know in advance if that is the case, many UX roles don’t have this.
Potential Pitfalls: While some companies like Cooper and Google will give you interesting challenges that are obviously a test and not for the monetary benefit of the company, be wary of companies that have lengthy tests for their own product or service. Specifically, if a company asks you to do a tear down or redesign of a product or page they are currently working on, that’s okay, as long as they don’t then come back to you with changes. For instance, if you spend 2-3 days essentially doing free labor, and then someone from the company (especially if it’s a non-designer) comes back to you and says “this is great! But we’d like to see you put more time into this, we want you to get this job, so can you do X, X and X?” At that point, run. They are dangling a job carrot in front of you with no end in sight, and you are now their freelancer with emphasis on the ‘free’ part.
I hope this helps the hopefuls out there, and for more of an overview on interviewing for UX roles there is a solid medium post on the topic. Good luck, job seekers!