UX Candidate Design Challenge – v5

Designing a design challenge is really difficult. There are so many different things you are looking for. Recently, I have been cycling on a few different ones, but I think I want to retire this one.

Challenge: Design a design exercise!

OK, maybe this is kind of meta. Let me explain it better.

When the candidate comes in, I show them a sheet of paper with requirements. I say, “Another candidate is coming in next week. Pretend you are already hired. Let’s make a cool design exercise for them. Let’s spend 30 minutes on it.”


  1. Dive in and brainstorm
  2. Show imagination / ideas
  3. Show collaboration skills
  4. Be in the moment with us
  5. Do NOT use the whiteboard
  6. Do NOT go deep into “process”


  1. Is not too easy, not too hard
  2. Has lots of possible approaches
  3. Is easy for candidates to understand quickly and start
  4. Will illuminate the skills/style of the candidate
  5. Lasts for about 45 min
  6. Is fun

I walk them through the requirements and then we start brainstorming. Usually people get a little freaked out and then they settle down.

The Curveball

After 30 minutes, usually people fall into 2 camps. Those who have a decent exercise and those who don’t. If they don’t have a good one, I give them a basic design exercise that is good enough. Then I say, “Let’s switch gears and now I want you to actually do the design exercise!” Usually people have this “Oh Shit!” look in their eye. They usually realize at that moment that they made the design exercise too difficult.

What am I trying to do with a design exercise?

I have a few basic questions that I am trying to answer in one hour.

  1. What’s it like to work with this candidate?
  2. How creative are they?
  3. How logical are they?
  4. How do they think/communicate?
  5. Do I think they will be able to successful on the job?

I don’t care if you memorized some double diamond approach to problem solving. I don’t care if you know how to make sticky notes on walls. I don’t care if you are junior, senior, or in the middle. I care about those questions. I have never seen a foolproof method of identifying how successful people will be in 1 hour.

Why retire this challenge?

It wasn’t a bad challenge. I used it two dozen times or so. During one interview, a candidate pondered if it was possible to put them in front of a design tool and see if they know how to design. Something like a programming interview where they give you a laptop.

I was intrigued by this and thought about it for quite some time. My new exercise does exactly that. You are designing in your tool of choice on a chosen subject. I have only done it a few times so far, but I am intrigued by it. It’s worth continuing.


There is no perfect method for making sure good candidates get hired and bad ones get rejected. There is no perfect design exercise. I found this exercise to be a great tool to exercise the candidates mental agility and creativity, but it fell a little short when it came to answering the question if they would be successful.

I am trying to simulate the real world of work as much as possible.

Oh by the way, I heard Google changed their design exercises. They may do this every year. Wouldn’t it be cool to have that job? You just make design exercises and that’s it. I love how there are jobs for everything.

Good luck in your interviews! I hope these exercises help you.


Whatya think?