Today, designers are no longer limited to interface design; they now play an active role in strategic decision-making processes. This change reflects the increasing reliance on data-driven insights and user research to shape the architecture and user experience. As a result, UX design challenges have become popular methods for evaluating designers’ knowledge and skills. While these challenges often require time and effort without monetary compensation, they are essential tools for employers to assess both the soft and hard skills of potential designers. To help you excel in your next design challenge, this article will explore the two primary types of design challenges and provide valuable frameworks for mastering them. We will also provide a design challenge example to offer insights that will help you stand out during interviews.
What is a design challenge?
A design challenge is typically a part of the hiring process at a tech company. The process varies from company to company, but generally, candidates are asked to solve and present a design challenge. There are two main types of challenges: whiteboard challenges and take-home exercises.
The whiteboard design challenge is a live exercise that usually lasts between 45 to 60 minutes. It is conducted in front of a panel, which typically includes members from diverse roles such as project managers, designers, researchers, and data analysts. The challenge consists of three phases:
1. Getting ready: At the beginning of the challenge, the team will provide you with the necessary materials and access to software or internal platforms required for the task. The team will also engage in personal introductions to create a relaxed atmosphere. The challenge itself is introduced through a prompt or problem statement accompanied by relevant data, which is intentionally broad to test candidates’ creativity and problem-solving skills.
2. The challenge: Candidates are given around 40 minutes to tackle the design challenge. They can choose a framework that suits their approach and are encouraged to interact with the panel by asking questions and verbalizing their thought process and steps taken to reach a solution. The primary objective is to complete the challenge effectively while involving the interviewers in the thought process.
3. Presentation: The final part of the challenge involves a five-minute presentation of the solution and its key highlights. Candidates may present any visuals or workflows they prepared during the challenge and address any questions from the panel. Immediate feedback is usually not provided at this stage, but the HR team follows up later with feedback and next steps.
Online/On-site: Most whiteboard challenges are conducted online, allowing candidates to use their own equipment. However, there are instances where candidates may be asked to complete the challenge at the company’s headquarters, but they can still use their own computer or a traditional whiteboard.
A take-home exercise requires candidates to spend around 5 to 8 hours of their own time completing the task at home. Candidates need to deliver a comprehensive set of materials, including a presentation with relevant data and a high-fidelity prototype. The challenge is usually packaged as a deck or a folder containing the task details, along with a submission deadline of typically a week. The challenge is also divided into three phases:
1. The challenge: Candidates have about a week to complete the challenge. The nature of the challenge aligns with the specific skills the company is seeking, such as visual design, product thinking, or end-to-end product design. Candidates should invest time in understanding the problem and devising a solution within a structured framework.
2. Deliverables: Candidates consolidate their work and create a presentation with a compelling narrative that explains their process. The deliverables may vary, but typically include a presentation detailing the process and a prototype.
3. Presentation: Candidates are expected to present the outcome of the challenge to a live audience, usually with a window of 30 to 45 minutes. Candidates can field questions and defend their decisions made during the exercise. Feedback is typically provided at a later stage by a member of the HR team.
Framework for succeeding at design challenges:
This framework can be applied to both whiteboard and take-home challenges when the task involves building or improving a product. It’s not universal, and candidates can adapt it to their needs. Here’s an example to explain the framework:
Design challenge: The Ultimate Travel Companion App
Step 1: Understand your problems and set goals
Define the problem and the gap between the current situation and the desired outcome. Research and gather data to empathize with the problem you aim to solve.
Step 2: Develop solutions and deliverables
Consolidate your work and create a presentation that communicates a cohesive story supported by data. Include a prototype to showcase the outcome.
Step 3: Present and defend your solution
Present the challenge’s details to a live audience, explaining your thought process and decisions. Be prepared to answer questions and justify your choices with supporting data and rationale.
Remember, there are no inherently right or wrong answers, but it’s important to showcase your skills and problem-solving process.
In conclusion, design challenges are valuable tools for evaluating designers’ knowledge and skills. By understanding the different types of challenges and following a framework, you can excel in these challenges and distinguish yourself during interviews.