When hiring designers, do you give a design test as part of the interview process? If so, what's the test?

5 years ago from , Interactive Designer

I'm about to conduct some interviews for a design position that I need to fill, and I'm wondering if a design test of some sort would be useful and appropriate.

Also, has anyone received one while interviewing? How was it?


  • James Spahr, 5 years ago

    Yes. I've used the same test for the last 6 years, across 2 different jobs.

    We design some really complicated products within an investment bank, and find that a test really shows how someone will perform when interacting with stakeholders and dealing with complexity.

    To be clear, we ask the participant to design a kitchen timer that needs to deal with multiple items, and needs to coordinate timings between the cooking tasks. It has nothing to do with the subject matter of the job. We don't want people to think we are asking for spec work, and we don't want them to think we are testing them for financial services domain knowledge.

    We are testing how they think through the problem, how well they communicate their design thinking, and how well they interface with stakeholders (as interviewers, we role play product and SME).

    This is typically a 60-90 minute session at a whiteboard. We aren't testing how they push pixels, we are testing how they think and communicate -- things that you really can't evaluate from a portfolio.

    3 points
    • Adam Fisher-CoxAdam Fisher-Cox, 5 years ago

      This, in my opinion, is the perfect way to do a "design test" - not take-home, not hours out of their day and absolutely not work on the company's actual products or clients.

      1 point
      • Thomas MathewThomas Mathew, 5 years ago

        This kind of whiteboarding exercise is definitely useful, but I'd also be concerned if it were the only – or even the main – determinant in a hiring decision. A discussion on a particular project in a portfolio, references, as well as the portfolio itself should all give some insight into how a designer thinks and communicates.

        I say this because while whiteboarding is certainly a primary skill for a product designer, it also favors a very specific kind of design activity and skillset. Plenty of talented designers aren't going to be amazing at this exercise because they do more methodical research, or they prefer being heads-down for a while before collaborating with stakeholders.

        1 point
        • Adam Fisher-CoxAdam Fisher-Cox, 5 years ago

          right - we're talking about a "design test." that's just one part of all the other things you should do to create a good interview process.

          0 points
    • Davey HollerDavey Holler, 5 years ago

      This is exactly what I've been doing for the last few years with candidates. I've got a positioning document written up for an alarm clock app. I'm also less concerned with their ability to push pixels and much more interested in their process and thought process. And I'm not gonna lie, I tend to enjoy the ones that think outside the box and get a little goofy with it.

      Keeping it out of the company's domain is critical. I also stress that this shouldn't take more than an hour or two.

      Alarmy Positioning Document

      Product Name: Alarmy™

      Persona & Market Segment: Sleepy young men and women


      There’s a problem in the world today. Sleepy people tend to hit snooze too often and miss out on the wonders of the morning.

      Ideal Solution

      The ideal solution would keep people from wanting to hit the snooze button in the morning.

      Positioning Statement

      Increase people’s productivity by helping them wake up on time and on the right side of the bed.


      Ashley Otwell

      Ashley is a 26 year old iOS developer from Salem, Oregon. She studied business in school, but during a school project discovered that she really enjoyed programming. Ashley is self taught and highly motivated to continue excelling in her career. She’s frequently describes herself as “not a morning person.” However, at Global App Company, where Ashley currently works, they have a pretty strict start time. She needs help waking up on time in the morning and being in a positive mood.

      Benjamin Bride

      Ben is a 33 year old leather worker. He runs his own online store called Benbride Goods. He lives in Truckee, California. When he’s not hand crafting products he’s most likely fishing in Lake Tahoe. The only time Ben is a morning person is when he’s going fishing and needs to beat the sun. Ben really wishes that he had it in him to get an earlier start to the day.

      2 points
      • Justin W, 5 years ago

        Interesting. I'm still looking for ways to assess design sense, but this sounds like an interesting way to approach it and a way to see how a candidate communicates.

        0 points
  • aar hoff, 5 years ago

    As a senior designer, I generally refuse any tests, mainly because between references, interview, and portfolio, any client should have all they need to make a decision, and if not, my deeper catalog of work over the past twenty years likely can fill any gaps.

    Anything beyond that to me looks like a flaw/lack in the client's process, and is a red flag.

    However, if the client wishes to invest a few hours' rate to consult with various designers they're interested in, I'm open to that, and it will be a lot cheaper for them in the long run than hiring the wrong person.

    1 point
    • Aaron Wears Many HatsAaron Wears Many Hats, 5 years ago

      Not to be intentionally obtuse, but this kind of opinion is absolutely fine if you're applying for an agency. But If you want to work with a large corporate - example, like Honeywell's Global Software Centre - you will be expected to sit down and conduct a level of testing. Like anything, it depends on what you're doing.

      1 point
      • aar hoff, 5 years ago

        No worries.

        This is just my approach and POV. And to be clear, I do not refuse all testing, but also will not perform any skills assessments or testing... For free. Any company or client who doesn't respect me as a professional up front will never be a relationship that gets better with time.

        Like I said, if they want to know my skills, they have full access to me (interview), my work (portfolio), and references. If that isn't enough to make an informed decision on their part, they can "hire" me for an hour or two…if they're really serious.

        When it comes to evaluating thought processes, etc., I maintain that can be assessed during any of the three steps above, and assume it's a fault of THEIR process if they cannot or will not.

        0 points
  • Matt WillettMatt Willett, 5 years ago

    I have received one in the past and it was odd since the project was for an actual client of the firm I applied to; and they were going through an active branding process project with them. I told them it was spec work flat out since no compensation was offered for my time. I still proceeded with it, landed the job and then found out the firm was... difficult to work for.

    In the past and now working as a freelancer I have seen a simpler questionnaire style test crop up. Where you present the applicants with a website, most of them have not been work the company has done (or they have pointed to other top tier sites) and ask them to provide 3 points of improvement to the website and rationalize why. It speaks to their design methodologies, what they are looking for, and how attentive they are to details. This might be the best approach I've seen besides paying someone for a quick sample project.

    1 point