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How to nail your next whiteboard design challenge

PostsDesign & UX
Lauren Grabau

Lauren Grabau

May 15, 2021

You’ve impressed the team in your first interview or two over video calls, but now it’s time for the real deal. Your portfolio and resume landed you the interview, but now it’s time to blow them away with your skills in action.

This is a situation most product designers will find themselves in at some time or another. When you go in to meet the team for the first time before receiving a job offer, as a last-round test, you might be asked to complete a whiteboard challenge.

It may sound stressful, but an experienced product designer will be able to navigate this test in an hour or so. Just keep calm, take a breath, and follow our advice.

What is a whiteboard design challenge?

A whiteboard design challenge is the part of the interview process that shows a product designer’s skills and processes in real-time. You could also be introduced to it in the workplace if your team is particularly competitive. In an actual room with a whiteboard or online with a whiteboarding tool (we recommend our whiteboarding tool, Cacoo), a product designer is given a product design task to complete in an allotted time. This task mirrors the kinds of tasks your potential team works on daily.

The interviewer will monitor their progress and judge the overall work to see if it’s a good match for the office and the product.

What are your interviewers looking for?

Your interviewers are looking for signs that you know what you’re doing, that you achieve your goal, and that you do it in a way that’s going to fit well with their existing team. But what does it look like when someone does this successfully??

Let’s get into some tips that’ll help you impress your interviewer all the way through.

Tips for a whiteboard design challenge

Here are four easy steps you can take to prove your acumen. Follow them exactly, and you should be putting your best foot forward.

1. Ask questions

Before you even think about picking up a marker or moving your mouse, ask follow-up questions. What more information do you need to have a full understanding of the task? What do you need to know about the user that will be interacting with this specific project? Is there any other information about the rest of the product you might need to inform decisions and designs? Do you have a clear idea of what the project’s end goal is?

Make sure you’re not asking questions just for the sake of asking questions. Everything you ask should be thoughtful and tie into what your solution will look like. This isn’t your chance to ask personality-focused questions. Hopefully, you’ve already squared that away.

If you need, feel free to take some notes on the whiteboard, so you don’t forget anything. This also shows that you know how to pick out the most important information to achieve a goal.

2. Plot out your design

Now that you’ve collected all of the information you need, you can get on with the actual work. Start plotting out as much of an idea as you have behind the design, what the customer journey or flow might look like, and some of the necessary details you’ll need to include.

One of the most important things you can do during this step is to talk it out. Narrate your whole process as you’re drawing. Call out every decision you’re making and what piece of information you have to back up that decision. The point is to show you know what you’re doing well enough to explain it. This shows how well you’ll be able to collaborate with their team.

Conversely, don’t just talk to be talking. You may come off as annoying or like you’re overcompensating for lack of knowledge. You got this far — stay confident!

3. Start designing

You’ve laid out the skeleton of your design; now it’s time to get drawing. Make sure you include as much detail as possible. You should leave your whiteboard in a way that, if someone wandered in and took a picture on their phone, they should be able to understand what’s going on without too much head-scratching.

Include a fleshed-out version of your flow from the last step, examples of more important screens or aspects of the interface that will be included in your product, and any major touchpoints for your user.

Even more so than the last step, explaining your process here is integral. This is where every detail lies. Include any information helping to inform you from the brief, from past experiences, something new you’d be interested in trying for this specific project, other companies or apps that this project makes you think of. Keep a consistent flow throughout.

By the time you’re putting the cap on your marker, your design should look as ready to go into dev as possible.

4. Explain your designs

Feel like you’ve already explained a lot? You’ve only just begun! Really, you’re almost done, but this last step is going to bring it home for you.

Be sure to include all of your designs’ overall strengths, any weaknesses you’d want to follow up on, and any ways you and your future team can use to test your product’s efficacy. Take as much time as you need to walk through the user’s journey and explain what makes your design user-friendly.

When you’ve gotten everything out of your brain, open up the floor for questions. See if your interviewer missed anything, has any trouble understanding, or just generally wants to pick your brain a little more.

Final thoughts

It may be nerve-wracking the first or second time you’re given a whiteboard design challenge (or maybe it will be every time; that’s okay too), but by following our four easy steps, you should be on the road to delivering an impressive result. And, the more often you go through the process, the easier it will be.

Whether it’s practicing whiteboard design challenges or any other online diagramming need, give Cacoo a try. Good luck nailing that next interview!



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