So you’ve done all your research on the company you want to work for, polished off your CV and case studies, and have nailed the interview (or not, in my case: a topic for another article). Then it’s sprung on you that to progress to the next stage you’ll need to complete a whole design task in a matter of days (I’ve had as short as 48 hours and as long as a week). It doesn’t help that the brief is often quite broad, along the lines of:
- How would you increase engagement on the checkout page of this app?
- What redesigns would you suggest to improve the home page?
- What would make a better sign-up and onboarding experience?
Rome wasn’t researched, tested, and built in a day
Where to start? It’s completely natural to go through the Five Stages of Grief when tasked with quickly turning around what would otherwise be a long term project for a whole team of designers. But consider it from your potential employer’s perspective: what do they want to see from you with the assignment? Assuming the task is related to their own product or service, it’s unlikely they’re expecting you to come up with a solution within the timeframe that they haven’t at least considered already. Add to that, it’s highly probable this is the same task they give to all their prospective candidates, and they’ve seen it all already.
They want to know how you think, and your approach to a design problem. Since your ideas are your best asset, this is your chance to show what you’ve got.
Be clear on the task
Before starting, make sure you’re clear in your mind what they want to get back from you, separate to the specifics of the brief itself. If you’re asked to present back hand-drawn wireframes and instead submit a finished product, you have misplaced time that could have been spent on additional research, as well as clearly demonstrating that you can’t follow instructions. Feel free to exceed expectations once you’ve covered off what they’re after, with one exception: if you’re asked to limit your findings to a maximum number of slides, it’s obnoxious to go over.
It should go without saying that when completing the design task, it should be done through the lens of the position you’re going for. If it’s a researcher role, make your research process the bulk of the presentation. If the role is skewed more to Interaction Design, highlight your knowledge of current trends and best practice.
Finally don’t be afraid to go back and ask clarifying questions. You’ll most likely get a reply that ‘we want to see how you interpret the brief’, but you’ll at least know that you’re not on the wrong track and can be free to go all out.
Define your method
It’s pretty much guaranteed that one of the first questions you’ll get asked in a UX interview is ‘what’s your approach to design?’ Your presentation should likewise answer this question straight up. Choose your preferred methodology and summarise all the steps you would take to complete the brief if you had full resources and the luxury of time. Obviously you won’t have the chance to speak to stakeholders or have your product QA tested, but including these steps demonstrates that you have a clear understanding of how your role fits in the end-to-end process.
Following this, cut down your steps to what is achievable in the time frame you have. You will have to make assumptions that you would otherwise clarify in a real situation: if the brief mentions ‘increase conversion’ you might choose to interpret it as an increase in revenue, or an increase in user sign-ups. Make sure you acknowledge any assumptions, and make clear that is only for the purposes of the design task that you’re doing so.
Do your research
Like any design project, big or small, the research phase should take up the majority of the time you have. Apart from providing you with more talking points when you present in-person, it’s a chance to show how your design decisions are informed. You might think that a two-month diary study would be the most appropriate research method to fully answer the brief, but if you have only two days think about what you can do in that time to validate your ideas, and be clear in your presentation what those methods are.
So what have you come up with?
If you have put effort into researching it should be relatively easy to generate possible solutions to the brief. Saying that, the most crucial part of your presentation is to demonstrate the link between the problems you’ve identified and your suggested solutions. Once again, the purpose of the design task is to understand your thought process and how you arrive at conclusions, more than the solution itself.
You should always complete even a basic Invision prototype to demonstrate your ideas. It will show you have an invaluable UX skill, and your interviewers will appreciate having a tangible reference rather than exclusively having to read. Likewise if you could put together key moments of your research or testing into a video, your insights and ideas will be much more digestible.
As final steps, summarise the hypothetical next steps you would take following on from where the design task finished off. Check and recheck for typos, and whatever you do, if you’re reusing a previous presentation as a template, do not include another company’s name or details!
I want to acknowledge the whole gamut of opinions on take-home design tasks as part of the UX hiring process, on the part of both companies and candidates. With this article I don’t intend to endorse or reject the practice, rather share my ideas for how to approach what is more or less an inevitability as a UX candidate.