The Design Challenge Challenge

When you're a designer looking for a job you are almost guaranteed to hear the phrase, "design challenge." A hopefully small task that looks to assess how you think about and execute design.

Is this really necessary?

I have an online portfolio where you can see my past and current work and learn my skill set. We’ve had conversations that established I know what I’m talking about and that I'm a good culture fit. So, why do I now have to spend four, eight, 256 hours working on a design project for your company?

At Shapeways we’ve had designers do small design challenges and the results never showed us what it would really be like working with this person. One time a designer we were interviewing handed in a design task that left the team underwhelmed. We felt his visual design was strong but his user experience thinking was a little weak.

We hired him. We all liked him a lot and he was really enthusiastic about Shapeways. If we judged his entire potential based on this one task we would have missed out on the incredible work he ended up doing for Shapeways and also would have missed out working with an awesome guy.

I was once asked to redesign a company’s product page as a design challenge and I remember thinking, Whoa. This is a lot bigger than a "task." Redesigning a product page and handing over numerous design ideas and fixes to a company I don't even work for struck me as a little WTF. I ended up completing the "task" and spending around 20 hours working on it.

I'm a fan of keeping things loose and relaxed when interviewing someone. The design challenge can happen naturally during the in-person interview. Spend an hour in a room with a whiteboard talking through a problem either on your site or someone else's. To me this seems like the best indicator as to how that person thinks and what it would be like working with them.

At Shapeways we no longer ask potential design hires to do a design challenge but if this is something your company will continue to ask of candidates, do me a favor and consider these three bits of advice...

  1. Don't ask someone to redesign a feature currently on your site or app.
  2. Don't ask someone to redesign your website and give them 48 hours to deliver.
  3. Don't ask someone to redesign your website.