UXperiences: The Design Challenge

Some time ago, I talked to some students from Designlab about design challenges and potential interview questions for the last few minutes of a group critique. In my opinion, it’s important to know stuff like this, especially if it’s a present for Future You, because then you can have a better understanding of what you’re learning and why you’re learning stuff in your curriculum. (And I really do hope to continue to see a rise in participation for those crits after sharing these!)

In-Person Practice = Improvement

I invited bay area folks in Designlab to come together and try out a design challenge. I had eight people join, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to grill people the way I had gotten grilled during my interview. However, I wanted to make sure that people had a taste of what might be coming when they got to that interview stage; as such, I improvised.

It kind of felt like we were a mini Dumbledore’s Army??
Timing yourself with others around you = panic-inducing.
  • interview questions they’d want to ask
  • an assumed business goal (remember, the whole thing is hypothetical, and you don’t have a lot of time, so as long as you stick to your assumption, keep trucking along)
  • attempts at defining the problem with “how might we’s”, user goals, etc.
  • future planning — other things they’d need to look into, but couldn’t in the assumed time allotted (I think I said they had an imaginary 2 weeks)
Practice now so you can feel the true jubilation later.

The 30-Minute Design Challenge: My Shaky Process

Observation: Design challenges are wacky

Seriously, they are wacky af, and even though I’d read about them and prior to the actual exercise, it was probably one of the weirdest things I’d ever done. My task was to pull two pieces of paper from two separate cups…and the words would seal my destiny. Sort of. My task was to design a clock radio for teenagers, and that was because I’d drawn “clock radio” from one cup and “teenagers” from the other. I mean, WHAT?? (By the way, you can take a look at some of these, sans cups, here: https://designercize.com/)

Same, Andy. Same.

What was going through my head at the time

“…I feel like I should have seen this coming,” I’d thought to myself. I had to fight the feeling of freezing to my seat and freaking out, which was no simple task. So I did one of the things I’m very comfortable with doing: I gave a bit of an incredulous look, decided, “Okay, this is my life now”, and trusted that I would give it my best shot.

“What did I even just hear right now.”
  • ANXIETY: They gave me about 5 minutes to let the prompt sink in. Usually you’d get more, but interview was running over (and remember, I’ve been working here for almost five years, so I pretty much knew everyone and that made it even less scary). During this time, I was allowed to jot things down on post-its or the whiteboard or whatever I wanted.
  • PANIC: “Could we see what you were writing?” After giving them a deer-in-the-headlights sort of look, this is what they asked. I did indeed write some things down and it was questions on how to tackle the project, which is to say, the same way I’d tackle any project: research. I’d written down questions about who the audience might be, and why a certain set of teenagers would want a clock radio, of all things.
  • MUST. COMMUNICATE. That article I shared up there said to be sure to talk aloud. This is because interviewers, surprisingly, cannot read minds. Even if you know you’re not quite there yet, you can let them know, “Okay, I’m riffing off of something now, so this is an incomplete thought, but here is what I’ve got so far…” and that should be totally fine.
  • BRAIN FREEZE: There was a point where I blanked out completely. I was talking about research and I was going in circles because I couldn’t figure out where my generative research would end. At this point, I stopped myself. I took a breath. I asked them if it was cool if I could spin my chair around and not face them for a sec so I could think. This was okay, if not awkward, but it helped me clear my head so I could get back on track. And then I went back into it.
  • GRATITUDE: Know when they’re throwing you a bone. Which they did very artfully, because they didn’t want to ask leading questions, because again, the whole point is to figure out what questions I was going to ask. Listen to what they’re saying, because they may be trying to nudge you back on track, and that is a blessing right there.

Some of My Mistakes

Usually I’d say, “Oh, I had many,” but I wouldn’t call them mistakes. Getting out of the headspace that things were wrong was imperative. Design isn’t wrong, per se, it just hasn’t been iterated to what would be considered right…at the time. And because I asked for feedback after the fact, I can say that I actually did pretty well for a junior (because they said so).

Didn’t know I’d need Cher for this moment, but I did.
  • I forgot to mention the business goals until much later. I was still of the mindset that NO TEENAGER WOULD CARE ABOUT A CLOCK RADIO EVER, which immediately imprinted the thought that this nonsense would never ever sell ever, which is decidedly not the attitude to take with this exercise. Eventually, when they dropped the hint, I cursed to myself and then was able to get out of that box. Come on, Robbin. Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond sell this stuff ALL THE TIME. Surely you can use that as competitive research! Ah, of course. It’s not like the world has stopped making clock radios. Yet.
  • I didn’t make use of the whiteboard. I could have used that to sort out my thoughts a little more so I could tell what I already talked about and why. (Also, thinking on the spot is hard.)


Last but not least, some resources. Again, the stuff I’m detailing here is the design challenge for Udemy. You may have a different challenge, so doing research will serve you well. Prepare yourself for anything.

Product designer, puzzling over UX. Crocheting in between. Tea at all times.

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