What’s a design task?
It’s a part of the interview process used to recruit UX designers based on the principle of show, don’t tell. Sounds reasonable? Let’s investigate further.
- Improve the mobile search experience for an app
- Rewrite copy descriptions for a listing on a website
- Show how you would tackle the redesign of a publishing platform
‘Complete at home’ tasks are common. They have to be submitted during a time period of 48 hours to a week. Attempts are made to restrict the amount of time spent by specifying the number of pages submitted or the word counts.
Yet every time I’ve done these tasks I’ve researched the domain, reviewed the existing product and similar products, read and re-read the brief then sweated over the presentation of what I sent. This was always done at weekends and in the evenings, working around a full-time job.
Others have made persuasive arguments about the pitfalls of using design tasks to hire people, which are well worth a read. Check out some here:
The problem that stands out most to me is the power imbalance between employer and candidate. The main reason for anyone to submit their work for free is that they really want the job opportunity. But the chance of getting through to the next stage is completely unpredictable. Work produced is rarely reusable and feedback is not even guaranteed.
Completing design tasks feels like trying to pin the tail on the donkey — you don’t know what they expect or who ‘they’ are, how many others are doing the task or how thoroughly it gets reviewed.
Creating something from scratch in a vacuum without understanding the business or its users isn’t representative of most UX jobs. And the end result is often disappointment; hearing nothing back afterwards compounds the feeling of time wasted.
At the interview
Asking candidates to complete tasks during the interview is perceived as a better option because the time taken over the task is controlled.
However it creates other challenges, such as the anxiety felt when completing a task you haven’t prepared for whilst under pressure. It’s pretty intense. There you are in an unfamiliar office staring at blank flip charts and a ticking clock, knowing a panel of people are arriving to hear your ideas.
It is not a scenario under which many people produce their best work. It also means the interview length gets extended to anything from 2.5 hours to a whole day.
Why are design tasks used then?
My theory is because managers have to hire more and more people with less time and insufficient training. When I was hiring, I found it ironic that having too much to do was often met with the solution of hiring more people. That just added another meaty item to my to-do list!
Recruitment takes time and dedication. It typically took me 3 months to find the right candidate and another 3 months to get them settled, with regular reviews during a 6 month probation period. And that was when things ran smoothly!
Hiring managers all face similar scenarios. That’s why:
- A glance at a LinkedIn profile has replaced a detailed CV review.
- People are keen to screen candidates with less effort, to reduce the shortlist to a manageable number.
- Many of those involved in hiring haven’t worked out the skills they are looking for and are winging it.
Design tasks provide a shortcut. The ball is in the candidate’s court and if they don’t want to or are unable to complete the task, there is a natural selection whittling the list down. But such an approach doesn’t result in the best hiring strategy.
Instead, managers should fight for the time and space to hire well. Ask candidates to present case studies. Portfolios, websites, research, student projects, side projects or whatever they have. This allows you to see their process and explore it with relevant questions.