How to prepare for UX interview design challenges

ux-design-challenge-whiteboard-exercise

Design challenges, or design assignments, are often the least enjoyable and most daunting for UX designers during the interview process.

In this guide, get an in-depth understanding of how to prepare for your next design challenge. You can click to jump to each section:

Types of Design Challenges

Design challenges are used by companies like Google and Airbnb to demonstrate how the designer approaches problem-solving and identify their design process. In the majority of cases, you will encounter your design challenge in the second or third interview with a company.

The reasoning behind the design challenge is to get a greater insight into the applicant’s thinking process. A design challenge gives the interviewer a glimpse into your thinking process as you approach a design problem.

White Board Challenge

Time: 20 minutes – 1 hour

Description:  A whiteboard challenge is a design challenge that is usually done live in front of the interview team. This type of challenge will allow you to collaborate with the interviewing designers and demonstrate your ability to problem-solve.

Take-Home Design Challenge

Time: Several hours or up to 1 week

Description: The take-home design challenge may have a time frame of 10 hours+ to 3 days. Sometimes the take-home design process has been criticized as less accurate in evaluating a designer’s skillset. But they are still often a staple in the UX interview gauntlet.

Examples of Design Challenges:

Preparing For A Design Challenge

Admittedly, a design challenge can be nerve-wracking! Taking the time to prepare can help calm your nerves and make this task much easier when you reach this point in the UX interview process.

Check out Glassdoor: Before your interview, research the company’s profile on glassdoor to see if you can get any insight into what type of design challenges that often ask candidates to perform.

Make A Game: Gather several of your designer friends and create flashcards with design challenges that you can complete in 15 -30 minutes. Pick your card and step up to the whiteboard! Remember to attempt to stay within the time limit.

Design Challenge Book:  Solving Design Exercises written by Artiom Dashinsky goes through several design challenges that you can do to prepare for your next design challenge.

Designer Challenge Generators:

Sharpen is a free design challenge generator that was created by two former designers from Google .

Sharpen
Sharpen

Designercize is another free challenge generator that will give you ideas and help practice for design challenges.

Designercize
Designercize

UX Challenge can be used to help add projects to your portfolio or help practice for whiteboard challenges.

UX Challenge
UX Challenge

Guides + Articles: 

What To Do During A White Board Challenge

Ask Questions: Before beginning and during the challenge, you will want to ask questions that helps you understand the context and scope of the project.

Use a Framework: Frameworks help you organize your thought process so that you can demonstrate a disciplined approach to the design challenge. A designer from Google has put together a framework in this article. You can also check out an in-depth structure in this article.

Communicate Your Design Decisions: During the exercise, speak out loud and write on the whiteboard as you work through your design decisions. This gives the interviewer more insight into your thinking process. Occasionally, clarify and summarize the steps that you have covered so far.

Tip: Practice this ahead of time – the more you do this, the more comfortable you will be on the day of the challenge!

Take Your Time Sketching Designs:  Slow down and make sure that your designs are eligible and not sloppy. Practice sketching on a whiteboard ahead of time.

Tip: Bring your UI Stencils and sharpies so you are prepared and more comfortable.

Use Collaboration:  The challenge shouldn’t be a solitary activity. Don’t be afraid to involve the interviewers who are in the room in your design solutions.

Tip: Don’t expect the interviewer to give a solution but give feedback or insights.

Track Time: Break down the tasks that you will have to do into 5 – 7-minute chunks to make sure that you don’t go over the time limit.

Tip: You will find this easier to do if you follow one of the frameworks mentioned above.

What To Do During A Take Home Design Challenge

Understand the Scope of the Challenge: Similar to whiteboard challenge; you will want to know the scope and objectives of the design challenge. Read the instructions of the challenge thoroughly, be sure to ask any clarifying questions while you still have the interviewer present.

Tip: I recommend having a contact email of the interviewer so you can ask follow up questions if you do run into issues.

Don’t Obsess Over Finding the “Right” Answer: Do your best to come up with a solution for the design problem following the UX process. There isn’t going to be any perfect answer.

Pace Yourself: A take-home design challenge is likely going to take you a lot of time; it is essential to make sure that you take breaks while you are working on the challenge.

Tip: Focuslist is a great app that you can use to set a reminder to take a break.

Be Ready to Present Your Design Solution: Presenting your designs is routine practice for designers. You’ll regularly find yourself having to explain to others the decisions you’ve made and why. Remember, you will want to make sure to include storytelling in your presentation.

Refusing A Design Challenge

As a design candidate, it’s important to understand that there are incidences that may be appropriate for you to refuse to do a design exercise.

If the company is asking you to do real spec work that they will be used internally, it may be a warning sign that they are using the interviewing process to garner free work.

The easiest way to gauge this is if the design challenge is extremely close to the interviewing company’s product (e.g. design filter effects for a video startup). Ethical teams present design challenges that gauge for your design process and ability – not for how well you can design specifically for their feature. that may not be remotely related to their product (e.g. design a rock climbing instruction manual). In the end, it is up to you to walk away or take the chance and maybe get some interview practice out of it.

About the Author

Tara York

Tara is a UX/UI Designer, writer, and brand expert. Her mission is to work with heart centred women entrepreneurs who are ready to uplevel their brand and business so they can become their ideal clients only choice.

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