Facebook Product Design Interview:
Part 2

Continued from Part 1

I was lucky enough to have my interviews scheduled within two weeks of the phone screen. I was told 3 days in advance, and had both interviews scheduled for the same day, with a 45 minute gap between the two. I had all my research in by this point, updated my portfolio, and added some additional content like usability studies and other documents produced for a design-centered project. I had discussion pointers for each project, and ranked them in order of preference. I was all set for this, and with very little room for uncertainty pertaining to the questions that might come up, there was a scarce chance for an element of surprise, or being caught off-guard. Thankfully I wasn't.

The Past Work Call

The first of the two interviews is usually expected to be with a product designer where you will discuss your past work in depth. The designer will ask about your role in every project, especially in regards to group projects. You are expected to explain any constraints or prompts that go with your project. The interview is scheduled to last 45 minutes, but it can go longer.

It is key to be as intentional as possible in your descriptions and emphasize the importance and seriousness placed in the design process. Do not let it seem as though you take the process lightly. It is also important to have a structured, well thought out answer. Jumping from point A to F and back to B shows poor train of thought, lack of ability to follow a process in general, and worst of all, unpreparedness.

Having being told the format of the interview and what to expect, the interviewee is expected to give a stellar performance, knowing the content, and your ability to follow the design process must shine through. More often than not, the interviewer, who is a product designer, has been doing this for a long time, and it’s hard to fool them about whether you actually had a design process or made it up later.

An outline I made and followed religiously was:

  1. Concept of the product and why
  2. Design goals and concept
  3. Obstacles and fulfilling the design concept
  4. What I would do differently

This covered all the aspects that the designer thinks are important, based on what I was told by the recruiter, as well as read from other interviewees experiences. The order allows for a complete walk through of the project in terms of its evolution, as well as the design process.

The interview was, again, broken down into three parts, but since the point of the call was to discuss your past work, two out of the three parts were extremely similar in terms of the questions and discussion

Introductions & Format

Of course, there were introductions in the beginning, and a small discussion about the designer’s role at Facebook. I was asked about my past experiences from my resume, education, and to explain a little about any design classes I have taken. The designer told me a little bit about what she does, which was rather interesting. She worked on the Ads team, and talked a little about her recent projects at Facebook, and finally moved on to explaining the format of the interview.

She summarized it much like the recruiter had

“We will be discussing two, or three of your projects from your portfolio in detail. Try to walk me through the entire design process for each of these”

At this point, even though I had a rehearsed format, I asked her if she had a specific format in mind. She emphasized that she would like to hear the process as it took place, focusing on the decisions, and:

“…chronologically would be the best way to go, but if you have another structure, I’m open to that”

I then asked her if she had a preference as to which of my projects she would like to hear about, when she said she had none, and I went with my top two choices.

Product & Design Concept

The questions and format for both projects were extremely similar. I started out explaining the concept of the entire project before discussing the design concept. I felt like it was important to show that you think of a product holistically, and would allow for a complete walk through of the project in terms of its evolution, as well as the design process.

As it turned out, I was right. While I was explaining the concept of the project, for each of them, the interviewer discussed my choice of target audience. The first product that I discussed was a health tracking app, for which she asked me

“Why did you think that this product would appeal to this demographic?”
“Did you do any research to determine the target audience?”

For the second product, which was a college class scheduler, the target audience was very obvious.

For both products, I covered the rationale of the product, and the problem I was trying to solve with each of these. It seemed as though the designer was interested in why the product was created, and asked a few more questions to better understand each problem. After this, I started discussing the design goals and concept.

A large part of explaining my design goals was focused on the concept of the product and the gap it was trying to fill. The designer noticed this, and started asking questions such as

“Was this layout chosen for visual appeal, or to simplify the process for the users?”
“Why did you choose a larger font?”

Acknowledging these aspects in your design goals shows a user-centered approach, not only to the design, but also to the product as a whole. You must emphasize your effort and ability to create a design that focuses and caters to the product, and not the other way around.

Discussing the design concept and goals also helps the designer follow through, and shows how well and religiously you follow the design process. Skipping this part usually gives the impression that you just jumped in and created something, without making any design or product considerations. Furthermore, it will allow the designer to see if your final product reflects these goals, and your ability to transform a concept into a substantial design.

Obstacles and Fulfilling Design Goals

No design ever goes through as planned, and every designer will attest this. It’s how you deal with these obstacles that the interviewer wants to see. Your ability to tackle a problem and come up with a solution that does not compromise the user-experience is what Facebook looks for.

As I went through the HCI practicum project, some of the questions I was asked were about the process itself, in an attempt to see how well it was thought out. One of the projects I discussed had a participatory design session, and the questions she asked were primarily about how I decided who would participate, the prompts for the session, and how the session was run. Others were more design specific and point blank

Why did you go with the list approach?
Did you decide it should look like this, or was this something the users suggested?
How did the users respond to ____?

To stumble on these answers is when the designer can tell that you faked the process. This is what the recruiters mean when they say know your work.

Future Changes & Flaws

Lastly, point out your flaws. This doesn't mean hate on your own design and put it down in every way possible, because after all, if it sucked that much, why is it on your portfolio in the first place?

At the same time, saying there is nothing I would do differently is an instant turn off for multiple reasons. It shows ego, arrogance, and mostly, it’s a marker for a non-designer. A key trait of a designer is to recognize room for change and improvement. Critique your design, talk about things you would want to add, change, and most importantly, provide a rationale for why.

For most of the things that I said I would do differently, I was always asked

“Why? Why do you think that’s a problem?”
“How do you think this will help the product?”

For the first project I had discussed, it was an iOS app design, to which I suggested a complete visual redesign to ensure it matches the new iOS design paradigm. I was asked a series of questions related to these suggestions

“Why wasn't it done in the first place?”

to which my answer was that iOS7 was still in beta at the time, and with no clear design guidelines at the time, I had to follow my instincts, and do a lot of guesswork. The designer agreed with a

“that’s a fair point you make”

This was followed up with, why would you want a design that matches iOS7 guidelines completely when there are plenty of apps that follow their own design guidelines. My answer referred back to the design goals and target audience who would be best comfortable with nativity, and the designer seemed impressed, remarked, “that’s right, the users come first”. The bottom-line is

Don’t suggest a change unless you know why

Saying I would make the buttons rounded, or change the color scheme are superficial answers that clearly have no thought put into it. Find something that adds to the product, meets its goals better, improves user-experience, and provide a well thought out reason as to why you didn't do it in the first place.

The phone call went longer than expected, having discussed two projects in full detail. The conversation was free flowing, with questions from the interviewer, impressed remarks, and agreement when explained my rationales for certain decisions. With less variation in her tone, it was hard to tell if the interviewer was truly impressed, or if it was just something she was saying passively. Aside from that, it was a positive experience, mostly because I was prepared for the questions that were going to come my way.

Continue to Part 3

Hiring? Feel free to reach out to me!