Just when I was recovering and reflecting on the Past Work call, 45 minutes later, I had the second interview — as Facebook calls it, “The Critique Work Call”. The interview was set up with Product Design Manager at Facebook, a fancy title that is bound to bring about some nervousness.
I had been preparing for this part of the interview for weeks by this point, so much so, that I found myself constantly critiquing apps that I happened to use in those weeks. I had pointers ready for some of the most popular apps such as Facebook, Groups, Twitter, Google Inbox, Google Maps, Apple Maps, Uber, Yelp, Apple Calendar, to name a few. When I ran out of popular apps, I would go to the App Store and download a few from the Top Charts and practice on those.
A great resource for this is Julie Zhou’s How to do a Product Critique. Being the Director of Product Design at Facebook, I felt like there was no better advice to follow, especially for this interview. Other posts by her such as, The Death of “Users” and “Product Design”, and 7 Reasons to No-Hire a Product Designer are great resources for understanding the process too. Her blog had become my bible for a few days, trying to soak in as much of her wisdom as I could. With Julie Zhou’s expert advice on my side, and tons of practice with critiquing, I was ready for the last and final part of the process.
The Critique Work Call
The idea is to critique an app/product together with the interviewer, so they can have a better understanding of your insight into a product. The recruiter had discussed the process of this call with me, and later emailed me a few pointers about the same. I was told that the interviewer will provide an app to chat about, and they tend to sample popular apps so I should be familiar. However, she said if I am unfamiliar, I should alert the interviewer and he/she might decide to change it. One of the most important pieces of advice she gave me was:
It’s important to touch on product thinking, interaction, and visual design in your critique
She further elaborated that this interview is a chance for the interviewer to see how you evaluate and provide feedback. Facebook is extremely feedback driven, so the ability to communicate feedback effectively is important to them. Lastly, she recommended I should chat via a land line or have an extra phone/tablet handy, since it’s hard to juggle chatting while walking through an app.
Not knowing the app was the most nerve wracking part of this, and to maintain a structured approach even when you are caught off guard with the app can be very difficult. At the same time, if your answer seems unstructured, it reflects poorly on your thinking skills, and your overall approach to design. Keeping this in mind, I tried to come up with several universal structures that could work for any app, touching upon the three areas that the recruiter had mentioned, as well as the pointers I got from all the reading I did about product critique. I finally settled on this one:
- Focal point
- How well does it achieve the goal/focal point
- Thinking, interaction, and visual design
- Compare to competitors
For the third part, I decided to do a page-by-page approach, as it would be much easier for the interviewer to follow, and would allow for a more free-flowing discussion.
The interview was in two, obvious parts — Introductions, and the App Critique.
The Product Design Manager called me at the scheduled time, and the introductions were pretty customary — I was asked about my past experience, some of the classes I have taken and a kind complement that my resume was “impressive”. When the manager started to introduce himself, giving me a background, I was reminded again how I lucked out with my recruiter. The manager mentioned that he went to the same college as me, had lived for a long time in the same city, and we digressed a little to discuss the co-incidence.
I believe the recruiters try to pair you up with interviewers with whom you have a lot in common with, which helps especially for this interview, as it’s meant to be a semi-formal discussion and mostly subjective. This “match”, or so to speak, I think, enables a comfortable conversation, and with a higher chance that the manager is receptive to your ideas, your odds of doing well increase drastically.
He then went on to explaining his role at Facebook, and as it turned out, both my interviewers were working on the same team and product.
After discussing my past work briefly, the manager proceeded to explaining the format of the phone call. He explained that we would select an app, I could choose either an iOS, Android, or Windows platform. To my surprise, he said I could choose the app, and said it would have to be one that is
“Targeted to a large audience in terms of demographics, something universal, like Google Maps, Twitter, Yelp…”
I stopped listening at Yelp, and rejoiced for a moment, because it was one of the apps I had prepared for the earlier day. He continued to give a few more examples, and lastly, before I chose, I was told
“But there’s one catch, you are not allowed to choose a Facebook app, so Facebook itself, Messenger, Groups, Instagram, etc. are off limits”
I told the manager that’s fair enough, and I understand why they would have that rule, and proceeded to choose the app. I asked if we could discuss Yelp on iOS, but I made sure the manager did not have any other app in mind. While I was prepared for Yelp, I did not want it to seem as though I was fixated on it, but rather open to whatever app we would end up choosing. He agreed to Yelp, and before we started the critique portion of the interview, he reemphasized what the recruiter had told me, focus on the thought process, design thinking, and organized approach.
I asked him if he had a preference for a specific approach he would like for the discussion, when he mentioned he would prefer we discuss the app a little before, then page-by-page, and finally discuss the design as a whole. He explained that it would be easier to follow for both of us, and would cover all aspects he was looking for, and with that, we proceeded to the next part.
The manager alerted me when he had the app up, and I did the same, and he mentioned
“I personally love the app, I’m actually a heavy user, but to be honest, I have never written a review”
This made me a tad nervous. Being a Product Design Manager, I was pretty sure he had already critiqued the app in his mind, and I was afraid if the bar had automatically been raised just by choosing this app.
I was first asked how I viewed Yelp, when I started discussing Yelp, the product. I established it’s focal point is to discover local businesses based on crowd-sourced reviews and ratings, although a large part of the emphasis has always been placed on discovery of restaurants, bars and other eateries. We went on to discussing some of the most compelling features of the product, and how it helps attain the goal of allowing its users to make an informed decision, discover and share opinons about local businesses. We also discussed the transformation and shift towards visuals that Yelp has gone through with their latest iOS app update, more fitting to the new design paradigm. I got affirmatives like “Absolutely”, and “I agree”.
After the summary portion we jumped right into the app. Since we went page-by-page, I have broken it down by just that, with the pages that we discussed in detail.
One of the compelling features of Yelp is the discovery aspect, and the nearby option caters well to it, being the home screen of the app, if you may. We discussed the rationale behind having this as the landing page, I mentioned how I thought it was a great idea to get a quick glance at the image, rating, and all the information one would typically find in a search result, as well as the “must-try” which is unique to this page, to which he responded
“I had never noticed that must-try in the corner, it’s great”
We discussed in depth how the focus on visuals really comes through on this page, with larger images, and a card layout. We continued discussing the nearby page, and moved on to the list of categories we see an absolutely iOS6 style, making the entire portion feel like a misfit
“Yes, it definitely looks like it doesn’t belong. How would you redo it”
I suggested an icon approach, similar to those found on the corner of the list items in a smaller bar. Getting rid of the text, and shrinking it down to the height of one list item would be both utilizing the screen-space better, as well as keep the focus on the suggestions. The manager seemed to agree and said it was a great idea.
We moved on to the search and search results page, which was a great transition to the design discussion.
The design shift from the nearby page quickly fades in the Search page, and we had a long discussion as to whether it was the best way to display the results. Some of the things I pointed out about the screen was that it was too cluttered, with a font-size that would oftentimes make you squint, the search bar jumping up and down when you switch from the Nearby page, and the entire search screen was seemingly following the iOS6 design guidelines. We discussed some of these inconsistencies, the manager mostly agreeing to my arguments. I was asked for a suggestion for the search results, where I suggested
I feel like with the changing trends and the more recent iOS design paradigm, a more visual format would provide a greater user experience. With only 6 results fitting to a screen on the iPhone 6, the list items could well be made cards with an image and the same information
The manager, to my surprise, responded with
“You’re right! Now that you say it, that is a great approach to the list”
Other inconsistencies on the page that we discussed were the search bar itself, which was both inconsistent within the app, as well as with the OS. The buttons being bordered and the back button were not complying with the new OS guidelines.
We moved on to a brief discussion about the new center button on the bottom navigation, and I mentioned it’s a great way to keep focus on the point of the app, allowing the users to have instant access to what makes Yelp the product it is — reviews, and pictures. We also discussed the additional check-in option and the shift towards social sharing.
The last page we critiqued in detail was the business page, with a lot of similar points emerging about design inconsistencies, and how to better display the information. Some of the questions I was asked were
Do you think having the write a review, check in options on the business page is repetitive?
Would you move around the order?
Do you think the drag to see pictures feature is hidden and should be made more obvious?
I discussed these in detail, most of which the manager seemed to agree with me on. One of the key discussions we had about the business page was when I was asked to suggest a change to the way the reviews were displayed. I suggested bringing in the idea of cards into this page too, having a horizontal scrollable area that could fit more cards per screen, with larger fonts, allowing for better usability. I explained a common use case for this, imagining someone commuting (walking, driving, in a train) wanting to make a decision. Having these cards would let them flip through quickly, as well get the information they were looking for faster, with better readability.
“I never thought of that, that’s a great suggestion”
After that, we discussed other features briefly, I mentioned the monocle feature which I believed was extremely buried, and could definitely be a unique selling point for Yelp, at which point the manager paused to make a quick note of it.
We transitioned into discussing Yelp as a whole, its competitors, how FourSquare is coming up rapidly and can pose some serious competition, and things that are unique to Yelp. He asked me what I think of the overall product, when I said
Yelp essentially nailed the chicken-egg problem, and it’s popular due to its popularity — more people use Yelp because more people use Yelp
He exclaimed at that thought, saying
“Absolutely! That’s a great way to put it, and very accurate”
He then summarized our app critique, we both agreed that in terms of design, there was definitely room for change, and maybe a potential feature for credibility of the reviews, as we discussed the controversy surrounding paid reviews.
The manager pointed out that we were running out of time, as it had already exceeded the scheduled interview slot of 45 minutes by 15 minutes or so. He finally asked me Why Facebook? It’s important, again, to make sure you’re touching on the larger picture, and realizing just how big of an impact you would be making being a part of Facebook. My answer revolved around the fact that Facebook is a part of people’s daily lives, and doing Product Design at Facebook would mean playing a role in these lives. Upon listening to my answer he said
Absolutely! You nailed that one right in the head.
With that, I wrapped up the intense three-part Product Design Interview process.
Takeaways from the App Critique Call
Some of the things that I noticed about the third part of the interview were
- It’s very important to break away from the overtly formal conversation, keep it professional, but allow for a discussion. Make sure you pause in between, and look for the pointers and prompts that the manager gives you. They want to ensure that not only have you prepared, but also have the design-thinking embedded in you, so don’t go off on a rant without letting them ask you questions.
- The interview is very subjective, to my luck, the manager seemed very receptive to my suggestions, and more importantly, gave me feedback on the same. It might sometimes be harder to decode what the interviewer is thinking so be prepared for that
- Always have a suggestion, and if not, you should have a pretty good answer for why not. It’s the same point — designers are meant to design, and true designers will always find room for improvement
- Keep the product in mind, and make sure all your suggestions and critique circle back to the product as a whole, not just superficially. Time and again, during the interview, I noticed the manager was impressed and would especially discuss in depth when I suggested something that I said would “better cater to the product”, or “helps attain the goal”
Hiring? Please feel free to reach out to me!