How To Answer The UX Interview Question: What Tools Do You Use For Design?

One of the most common design interview questions is: What tools do you use for Design?

The question might also come in a variety of different forms or expressions like the following:

  • What are a few of your favorite design tools and why?
  • What is your proficiency level of the listed design tools? Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign.
  • If you could name one tool/application/software that you can’t live without (from a design perspective), what would it be, and why?

Why do interviewers almost always ask this question?

It’s an overused interview question, and to be honest, I rarely ask interviewees about what design tools they use. However, it can still be a valuable question for many reasons.

A design team usually has shared design libraries, which contain guidelines and standards that the team members created in certain tools, and maybe template assets they want a new member to go with it and also contribute. That’s why interviewers from the design team would ask about the tools that you use. It’s very important that you agree with the team on this for collaboration.

Sometimes your interviewers are actually your prospective (extended) team members, who may be product managers, software engineers, researchers, marketing specialists and/or other related product personnel. They would ask this also for collaboration purposes; however, they are more concerned about the final delivery formats.

An interview isn’t just a chance for a hiring manager to grill you; it’s an opportunity to sniff out whether a job is the right fit for you. I have a friend who turned down an offer simply because she didn’t believe in designing with PowerPoint, which was the only tool that company was using for UX design. I know it sounds unbelievable, but it is a true story!

So, how do I answer this question?

During an interview, your job is to sell yourself. A design interview is a perfect chance to show off your knowledge of UX and your fit for the role, by telling stories about your design process. Every designer has his or her own unique way to work around solving design problems. Talking about the tools you use to perform various assignments will help your interviewers to understand how you work.

The answer to this question, as it is for many questions, is: it depends. Tell your interviewers stories about how you use the tools, not just show them receptacles for a long list of applications they already know. The details of the UX process I follow will depend on a number of factors: the scale or type of the project (responsive website vs. mobile app), the people that I work with, and the deadlines. I use a combination of different tools for each project and scenario:

Sketches

I sketch with paper and pen. There are many printable sketching templates online you can get and print out. Using these sketching papers helps me better determine the size of the UI elements for a specific device or platform.

Paper prototypes

I use POP a lot lately to create my paper prototypes for mobile design, by just simply taking pictures of the sketches, adding interactions, and sharing with the team.

Wireframes

Balsamiq is a very effective tool for interactive wireframes, or semi-functioning prototypes. I use it mostly for my web design projects.

High fidelity mockups

Besides the popularly used Adobe Creative Cloud and Bohemian Coding Sketch 3, I would highly recommend the Apple Keynote along with Keynote Bundle for UX hi-fi mockups. I can edit and customize the UI components, animate the interactions, and export as PDFs, images, QuickTime movies and even HTMLs. And it also works seamlessly with the Mac built-in app, Preview, for extracting visual elements such as icons.

Interactive prototypes

It’s easier to communicate design ideas with a click-through prototype, and get valuable feedbacks from others. I use applications like InVision and Axure — which allows me to import the designs, link multiple screens via hotspots; add gestures, transitions, and animations.

In addition to the above, I would also pick 2 to 3 specific projects to talk about, where I choose one tool or method over another for certain situations.

What if you are asked about a tool that you’ve never used?

Be direct and honest. Tell them if you’ve never used it. Interviewers don’t always expect you to be skillful in using every tool; they’re looking for someone who can admit with confidence, “I have never tried, but I’m a fast learner.” If they mention a tool you’ve never heard of, take a mental note and look it up for next time. Since the UX industry evolves over time, you want to showcase your willingness to learn new techniques, and emphasize your enthusiasm for catching up with the latest design trend, quickly learning a new tool, and seamlessly integrating yourself into the daily aspects of a new workplace environment. It shows a strong work ethic and talent.

Clipped from one of Onward Search’s posters — A Guide to UX Careers

Furthermore, be prepared to talk about some trending design apps, such as these apps listed in the section I clipped from one of Onward Search’s posters. You can also check out Hack Design for a comprehensive design toolkit for various design purposes.

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