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A number of people have asked me recently about how we handle design exercises in our process for hiring product designers @figmadesign, and particularly about how we handle them while remote. Quick thread 👇
First, we don't do take-home exercises. We did ~2 yrs ago in cases where people didn't have enough work in their portfolio, but we've promptly stopped. If @michaelbierut can hire an epic design team for over 29 years from portfolios and 1:1s, why can't we?
Michael Bierut @michaelbierut@iDamianH @NickClement Every designer on my team for the last 29+ years was hired based on their portfolio plus between one and three (maximum) interviews. I find the idea of giving make-believe "exercises" depressing and boring (for me). I guess it's different in the world of button-free oven apps
During on-site interviews, we have two different in-person collaborative exercises each with their own unique purpose. Collaborative is a key word here; it shouldn't feel like a test. It should do its best to simulate real world environments (it never truly will, but gotta try)
The 1st exercise is a critique of a product that already exists in the world (usually a website or app, and NOT Figma — we're too close to see that objectively). This helps us see how candidates handle constraints, and how they iterate and improve an existing design.
The 2nd exercise is about taking something that doesn't exist yet, and figuring out ways to clarify it and give it shape together. This helps us see how candidates take something from 0 to 1 so to speak, and how they handle ambiguity in requirements.
These two exercises try to simulate the types of projects people actually work on. You're almost always either iterating on a product with tighter constraints (1 to 2: like @jenny_wen's recent work on search), or inventing new ones (0 to 1: like Heather's work on community).
Regarding how do to this remotely, we simply let the candidate pick the method they're most comfortable with. So far we've seen everything from a Figma file, pencil and paper and holding it up to the camera, thoughts in a google doc, or screen-share with their tool of choice.
As long as they can share their process, and we can follow along somehow, we don't care exactly how it happens. And perhaps most importantly, we give candidates several hours notice so they can set up their environment the way that helps to avoid being caught off-guard.
Another remote-specific tune-up: we remind our interviewers how it can feel really awkward for candidates without typical body language cues. So we encourage each other to lean into the experience and over-communicate to avoid long silences or monologues.
Finally, PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. We were lucky enough to have @adispezio volunteer to help us improve these by giving it a test run. We learned a lot from just one practice round, and it felt much better to learn with each other than have candidates be the guinea pigs.
That's it for now! Like everyone, we're still learning, and I'm sure we have a lot to improve… but I hope this is helpful to those of you calibrating your processes to this new environment.
p.s. Not related to design exercises specifically, but for coordinating, we just have 1 zoom link we leave open all day, and have each interviewer jump in and out to give the candidate continuity. We let each other know in slack when to join. We also have two 15 min bio breaks.

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