Whiteboarding design session

More companies nowadays require potential UX designers to undertake rigorous interview steps before selecting the most ideal candidate. Aside from the usual telephone screening and face-to-face interviews, whiteboarding design sessions have become an integral method of understanding how quickly candidates can think on their feet. This task focuses on the candidate’s ability to problem solve a design challenge using just a whiteboard and marker, in front of the hiring team. In this post I share with you some tips and techniques on how you can approach your next whiteboarding design session.

“whiteboarding design sessions have become an integral method of understanding how quickly candidates can think on their feet”

A couple of months ago, I had the chance to interview at Sky. It was my first interview where I was challenged with a whiteboarding design session lasting around 20 minutes. Although I was unsuccessful in landing the role, I took away some valuable lessons which I’d like to share with you.

Scenario: The company is raising awareness of sitting for long periods in front of a work terminal which can lead to health issues.

Task: Design a solution that encourages people to move away from their computer desks at set intervals to avoid straining to the muscle.

The outcome of your Whiteboarding session.
  1. Outline the challenge: First and foremost you’ll want to clarify the task by explicitly writing out the challenge in a short sentence. This ensures you and the hiring team are on the same page, allowing them to correct you right away and avoid you going down the wrong path if incorrect. It also acts as a point of reference that you can always refer back too and link too at the end. I’d also take this opportunity to throw the ball back in their court and ask “why are we designing this in the first place?” or “who asked for this?” for a little context. [Duration: 1 minute]
  2. Run through your process: Before diving straight into the challenge, you should give an high-level overview of the methodologies and processes you will use. This gives the hiring team a chance to understand the way you solve the problem and to see if it fits with the way they work. Just as I have outlined my approach, break down how you follow a user design centred (UCD) strategy. My design thinking process involves taking a holistic view in understanding the user, task and context; the people sitting on in the interview know what to expect for the remaining duration. [Duration: 4 minutes]
  3. Create a persona: Back to the task, the focus of ‘understanding’ the problem should be through empathising with the users. Mention empirical methods you would use such as interviews, observation, questionnaires etc. Briefly mention how in real life other considerations such as business requirements, constraints and goals would also come into play. The task gave me a good chance to get one of the hiring team members involved to understand their needs, attitudes, motivations, pains and gains. The Lead UX Designer was chosen to act as my persona, moving from abstract information to concrete details. [Duration: 5 minutes]
  4. Run through the design story: Because of the limited time, go back to your user and get them to run through what they would expect from such a product and it’s features. List this out on the whiteboard that can later be ticked off. It will provide the main foundation for mocking up the interface as well as what primary features are needed. [Duration: 3 minutes]
  5. Involve the team: Now you want to make the research more tangible. This is the point where you spice things up and involve the rest of the members in the room by playing crazy 8s. Get each person to divide a paper into eight equal boxes and to draw eight different interfaces within it every 40 seconds. Using the information presented on the whiteboard, the ideation phase involves brain dumping ideas without perfection. What if they’re not willing to play? Instead, draw out the user journey based on how the user would interact with the product and solely sketch out the interface for each stage, using rectangles for pages and diamonds for actions. [Duration: 5 minutes]
  6. Wrap up: Collectively as a team, select two favorite ideas to discuss. Explain your design rationale and remember to reflect back to the challenge you outlined in step 1. Running this workshop shows that you’re a team player as well somebody who is able take leadership in any given situation. Practice these steps with different challenges and you’ll be guaranteed to leave a good impression.
Sketches from my crazy 8 session.

Further reading:

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