Design Interviewing 101

You have an interview, great! Here’s how to tackle each type of interview.

Sahil Khoja
Students Who Design
8 min readNov 2, 2017


Caution: please don’t take this prescriptively, as this is based off of a limited set of experiences


  1. You will certainly have a portfolio review.
  2. If you do not practice with designers, non-designers, and others, this will be very hard to accomplish.
  3. Time yourself at 5 minutes and 10 minutes. Understand what that feels like. There will be times where there might be 5 minutes left and the interviewer will want to go over a case study very quickly.
  4. Show depth in each individual case study, and breadth of skills throughout the case studies.

Tackling the Portfolio Review

The portfolio review is the most common form of being interviewed. It is meant to do several things:

  1. Showcase your process
  2. Showcase your skill across product thinking, interaction design, visual design, and research. Below are the definitions of each. Its important to take a hard look at each one:

Product thinking:

  • Why people use products
  • Why products should or shouldn’t have certain features
  • How do products grow
  • How do products compare to their competitors
  • Helps in building the right features for the right people

Interaction and Visual Design:

  • Attention to details
  • Ability to follow patterns

Data and Research:

  • Use of metrics and user research to identify opportunities
  • Measuring success

Your case study should effectively address each and every one of these, or have an explanation for why it does not.

A common and effective way to do this would be to start off like:

“This is my case study about making polls easier in GroupMe. It encompasses product thinking, interaction design, and research”

For the remainder of the case study follow a format such as:

  1. Here is what I’m going to say
  2. Here is me saying it
  3. Here is what I just said

Now, putting that into ‘design words’:

  1. I am going to talk about how I discovered the problem and the process I used to frame and segment my ideas/solutions to the problem (Here is what I’m going to say)
  2. I discovered that a mobile product is worth building for accountants after analyzing the behaviors of accountants who currently use our products. As the world becomes more increasingly global, it is important that our products keep up to date. However, a mobile product can do many things and we need strategies to nail down what we want to implement. Here were some of our good ideas, bad ideas, and risky ideas — but at the end we chose to test our riskiest assumptions as they have the highest impact & eng/business investment. (Here is me saying it)
  3. I now knew what features I wanted to test after user research and ideation, and now I am going to talk about designing a low-fidelity prototype and the research results that came out of it (Here is what I just said with transition)

While this does come down to some public/professional speaking skills, the only way to get better is by practicing. When practicing with some of your non-designer friends, here are some follow up questions to ask at the end:

  1. What did you remember? (Is this what you wanted them to remember)
  2. What was unclear or confusing?

Your primary job as a designer is communication, and therefore you should be able to communicate with non-designers.

Another common misconception of the case study and presenting the case study is thinking that you have to show everything about the case study (problem, goal, research, low-fi, testing, iteration, mid-fi, testing, iteration, hi-fi, testing iteration, shipping).

That is false.

The case study is not a check-list of things in the design process. It should read and be presented as a narrative through the lens of the user. The design process is a toolkit in which you can chose and present which tool best helped solve your people problem.

Here are some more quick tips when it comes to the portfolio presentation:

AlwaysSay ‘we’ when referring to your teamMake it clear what you owned versus what you collaborated onMention the time-frame of the project. How long did it last? When did it start?Give context to every visual, and how it contributed to the process and productStart off with Problem then go into ProcessHave self-awareness when asked what you would do with more time or what would you changeNeverSay you nailed-it


  1. This interview is usually conducted with the portfolio or the round after the portfolio review.
  2. The purpose of this excersise is to see if you can walk the walk, after talking the talk.
  3. The prompts aren’t ‘dumb.’ They are abstract and high-level on purpose, since they are primed for design thinking.
  4. Always pick up the marker, write, and collaborate.

Tackling the Design Challenge

There are generally three kinds of design challenges:

  1. Take Home Challenge.
  2. 45/90-minute Interaction Challenge.
  3. 45-minute Ideation Challenge.

Approaching the Take Home Design Challenge

The homework is essentially a brand new case study — which means you definitely have to do research. And that doesn’t mean interview 50+ people, but at least 5–6 people would be extremely valuable for guiding your design and showing that you did your homework. Use these insights to create personas, journey maps, or empathy diagrams.

Here’s a way to structure the design challenge case study:

  1. Define problem space
  2. State user needs
  3. State business goals
  4. Display any constraints or assumptions you had as a designer
  5. Task Flow (single flow completed similarly by all users for a specific action) or User Flow (path a user follows through an application)
  6. Information architecture & Interaction Design
  7. User Interface Explorations
  8. Solution (some high-fidelity flow or prototype)

Approaching the Ideation Excercise with a Designer

This exercise is not only used to demonstrate your design thinking, but also how well you will be able to collaborate with designers on team, as she or he could be your future co-worker.

  1. Always ask questions (Who are the users? In what context will this be used?)
  2. Write down the objective or goal on the whiteboard so you can always refer back to what you’re trying to do
  3. Layout the ‘How Might We’s’ and the constraints for each one
  4. Take one ‘How Might We’ and attack it
  5. Task Flow (single flow completed similarly by all users for a specific action) or User Flow (path a user follows through an application)
  6. Information architecture & Interaction Design
  7. User Interface Explorations
  8. Solution


  1. Do not shit on the app. There is a designer who made this experience. There is a reason for that experience.
  2. Meant to test if you can internalize why a designer might have made a certain decision and the associated trade-offs.
  3. You’re expected to think about the business decision or what might be best for the business when thinking about “dark-ux” or hidden actions.

Tackling the App Critique

The best way to address this section is to show what a bad app critique looks like and a good app critique looks like.

Here’s how I would NOT critique venmo’s homepage:

This is Venmo. People use venmo to send and receive money from their friends. Venmo’s home screen has 3 navigation items. They also have statuses where you can like or comment other peoples payments. I think they are trying to make it more social. At the top, there’s an action to pay or request and a hamburger menu with some more actions you can do. Hamburger menus aren’t good because….(references something from some medium article about hamburger menus)

scrolls through homepage…

I think its cool how you can see everyone’s statuses. I’m not sure why Venmo doesn’t let you see the amount of money that was sent or received. That’s weird.

This is a really poor application critique. Here is why:

  1. You are telling the interviwer about that application. You are telling them ‘look! venmo can do this! if you click on this button, you can pay people!’
  2. You are not explaining any of the decisions that went into the design of the home page of this application
  3. You are not explaining the business decisions behind certain parts of the application (hint: there’s a reason for the hamburger menu)

Here’s how I would critique venmo’s homepage:

Before Venmo existed, the only way to send and receive money among your network/friends was through having cash on hand to conduct the transaction immiedetely or sending awkward messages like ‘Hey! Remember when I spotted you for dinner the other day? Could you pay me back today?

That is very awkward and some-what passive aggressive.

The people problem that Venmo solves is ‘How might we make payments more fluid and reduce all the friction in the process?’

Venmo does this using several interaction and visual patterns. Firstly, the home page has no reference to money or $ signs. Rather, we see a feed. This feed gives users the impression that sending and receiving payments is a social interaction, rather than interaction involving pain and friction. This is realized through the visual patterns that the feed allows, such as the ability to comment or like a payment.

Venmo’s top level navigation emphasizes the sociability of the application more, as you might be able to witness celebrities conducting payments through the ‘global’ icon or simply track your activity with the ‘people’ icon. While top navigation breaks iOS patterns, this decision was crucial to emphasize the social networks of the application.

Additionally, the top level icon allows a user to discover and use the primary action: Pay or Receive. If people aren’t making transactions on Venmo, Venmo will die. Additionally, if you peek into the Hamburger menu, you can see it hides all the bank related items as Venmo’s goal is distance itself away from a bank and moreso be a ‘Twitter/FB for payments.’ While the Hamburger menu is seen as a cop-out, it works very well from a business perspective.

This is a better application critique. Here is why:

  1. It shows how people did the interaction prior to the applications existence and what problem the application solves.
  2. It fully explains why a designer made the decision and the interactions/visuals that were used to support that decision
  3. It explains why design patterns were used to support the business context and business problem of having enough transactions on the platform

Apps to practice with:



Google Maps











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Special thanks to Tina He & Jared Erondu for their insights on the Design Challenge.



Sahil Khoja
Students Who Design

Building PM at Facebook. Cornell Alum. Cancer Survivor. Previously design at Instagram, Facebook, Intuit.