Ask DN: What design challenges have you done in an interview process?

6 years ago from , Designer @LinkedIn

These days it seems like common practice for a company to give potential candidates a design challenge to evaluate their skills. What kind of challenges have you encountered? As an interviewer, what attributes are you looking for in an ideal candidate? Do you have any tips for the interviewee?


  • Spencer HoltawaySpencer Holtaway, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

    I never do challenges with designers. I would never ask someone to take anything home, either.

    I'm looking for someone who can clearly, confidently and thoughtfully tell me stories about projects they worked on, using their portfolio as a reference. I want to hear people talk about both their successes and their failures, and their understanding that there is more to building a product than the design itself (that user experience, engineering and business all play a part in something getting built).

    All that with no ego and negative preconceived generalizations about PMs, Engineers and Businesspeople, and I'd consider hiring you!

    Edit: and my tip would be: if possible, avoid companies that ask you to do design challenges.

    5 points
    • J LiJ Li, 6 years ago

      Agreed. I feel if a company can not judge my skills through my portfolio, it will be very difficult to work with them in the future.

      0 points
      • Spencer HoltawaySpencer Holtaway, 6 years ago

        I would never hire someone on their portfolio alone. The portfolio is what would get you the interview. I'd see that you have worked on appropriate things to what I'm doing wherever I am at the time, and your portfolio would have told me what your role was in the creation of the finished designs (whether you touched the visual design or not).

        The interview is exactly that: an interview. I'd want to hear you talk, and I'd want to hear how you think and make decisions. I'd ask you questions about why you did things some ways and other things in other ways (to avoid canned responses). I might ask you your opinion on something I'm working on, and I'd give you all the context you'd need to know to talk about it. That's about as close to a "design challenge" I'd get.

        I'd ask you about your customers and how you talked to them and made decisions from what your learned, etc. I'd give you some shitty feedback to see how you respond to working with people who aren't experienced working with designers.

        All of this stuff together would give me a pretty clear picture of how you work, and would amount to what I'd learn from having you do a test/challenge.

        4 points
    • Adam Wilson, 6 years ago

      Although I definitely agree with not giving candidates "homework", I also give and place a lot of value on the in-interview challenges I pose to potential candidates.

      I'm not concerned about the hi-fi mocks and shiny Dribbble shots in your portfolio, I want to know how you got there. What is your process, how do you think, how do you tackle challenges, questions, clients and briefs. By posing a design challenge I can get some insight to these fundamental qualities in realtime, rather than receiving some pre-canned response or story the interviewee has told to every other potential employer. They never take more than 30 minutes and are an invaluable interview tool that has never steered me wrong on a good hire.

      4 points
  • cliff nowickicliff nowicki, 6 years ago

    I've encountered a design take home where I was told to create an app from thought to psd mockup. The focus was on my process. I spent a good 12 hours with detailed sketches and wireframe prototypes along with a log documenting every thought I had during the process. After I finished all of that, I realized I spent way too much time on a take home. So I pretty much did some quick mocks thinking that it was all about the process. I was later told that things could of been cleaner and they passed on me. The only thing that got me was that they wanted process, yet judged on final design. I wash my hands on doing any other take home design interviews. I could have come up with my own app idea, and spent a weekend knocking out the process.

    1 point
  • Josh LeeJosh Lee, 6 years ago

    I do not like challenges that are not in the office. Those take home ones are horrible especially if you have to do them before you even get to go onsite.

    The ones in the office are cool because you can talk specifically about things and dig into why you did something a certain way.

    Thoughtbot does these really well and is very kind to the interviewee. Yelp, not so much.

    As an interviewer, I am looking for people to talk about the why more than pouring over little details of design or interaction. Even doing a design challenge with them and riffing off each other is very useful, because that is what they would most likely be doing at your place anyways.

    1 point
  • Aaron CalzadoAaron Calzado, 6 years ago

    I dislike design challenges/assignments interviewers give before they interview, because I tend to invest myself like I'm working on a real project.

    I prefer the in-person exercises and white boarding sessions. They'll get an idea on how you think and work out problems as a designer in realtime and vice versa. No smoke and mirrors of work to hide behind.

    A simple tip is to stick to your design decisions unapologetically and take criticism gracefully.

    1 point
  • Mitch Malone, 6 years ago

    My thought is if you can't suss out someone's capability and skills in an interview and portfolio review, how are you going to with a design challenge?

    Whatever questions you ask about the output of the challenge will be similar to the questions you ask about a portfolio. Except with the portfolio, the designer in question has worked out the details and should be able to confidently communicate them. With a design challenge, it's hard to actualize the details because there's usually so little time to make anything worthwhile.

    So I agree with what a lot of folks have said: avoid shops that require a design challenge.

    However, I do like design exercises like whiteboarding or brainstorming sessions where the goal is just to see what it's like to work with you.

    0 points
  • Tim O'Hanlon, 6 years ago

    For me when I was starting out i found that a lot of smaller companies would ask you to do design tasks. Like mock up some "sample" spreads for their magazine or design a few banners for a campaign. Frequently I felt they were just after free design work and so I subjected them to my own test: my freelance rate is $XX an hour, so I can do this test for you, but it will cost you $XXX. Needless to say the places that complained I didn't go further with. In the end I got a good job at a real agency who looked at my folio and then asked me questions about my process, my decisions and thinking.

    Conversely, recently when I interviewed for a client side senior role and they asked me to design a web banner in under an hour I said 'sure' because I knew the company was legit and I wanted the job. But then when I had the second interview with the head of marketing and I asked about it he said "I'm not a designer so I don't know if this is any good or not". So...

    0 points
  • Rick LanceeRick Lancee, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

    Why not let potential candidates participate a day under the wing of another desinger? Or with developers do a bit of pair programming.

    These are imho a more accurate measurement.

    0 points
    • cliff nowickicliff nowicki, 6 years ago

      Some places do that. However, thats a big time commitment to take away from your current job. Most places that I know that do that, don't even pay for that day. The job would have to be really kick ass because if I'm wasting an entire day and didn't get picked or paid, I'd be pissed. I think I'd only ever do that if I was unemployed and there were no real potential places or things to do to better myself that day.

      0 points
  • Chris CChris C, 6 years ago

    Also, the only tips I really have is don't be afraid to ask questions – as stupid as they may seem. Talk through your process and include the people administering it – they are most likely looking for your ability to communicate clearly and collaborate on a problem as a team rather than seeing if you have the "correct" answer. You are conditioned in school to have the correct answers and if you don't, no points. Adjust your mindset for these types of exercises.

    0 points
  • Chris CChris C, 6 years ago

    I've been all over the spectrum – both as the interviewee and the interviewer. I've also done on-location and take-home challenges.

    The most recent challenges I've done were an on-site IxD challenge for a hypothetical alarm clock and then I had a paid take-home challenge with a separate company to redesign their sign up process (UX). Both were extremely fun and I see no harm in giving these tests depending on the situation and the level of work and experience the interviewee has.

    Here's a an article from Google Ventures describing their methods and what they expect:

    How to interview a designer with the perfect design excercise

    0 points
  • Noelle StranskyNoelle Stransky, 6 years ago

    Two recent ones I did during onsite interviews with two big tech companies in the Bay area: Redesign an ATM & Design a web app to book days for a vacation. Both companies were looking for deep design thinking way beyond the UI. One of the companies we did a pair app critique with a current designer. These were part of 5 hour long interview loops and after I had done a presentation & several interviews,

    0 points