Nine Principles for a Successful Design Exercise

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Updated February 27, 2023
Land Your Dream Design Job

You’re reading an excerpt of Land Your Dream Design Job, a book by Dan Shilov. Filled with hard-won, personal insights, it is a comprehensive guide to landing a product design role in a startup, agency, or tech company, and covers the entire design interview process from beginning to end, for experienced and aspriring designers. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

There are no shortcuts, but you can increase your chances by:

  1. Practicing. If you’ve never done a design exercise, practice by finding a problem you’re interested in. Give yourself a deadline, write a prompt, do it in the allotted time, and give yourself an objective evaluation.

  2. Understanding context and questions. Get to know the constraints and how your work will be evaluated.

  3. Going above and beyond. After understanding the baseline requirements, see how you can exceed expectations. As Paul Graham says, “The best protection is always working on hard problems.”

  4. Letting the narrative guide your presentation. It’s not about the technology or the process—it’s about how all the work you’ve done helps the customer lead a better life.

  5. Showing and curating process. Generate lots of ideas and be deliberate in what you focus on. If it doesn’t make your narrative stronger, leave it.

  6. Talking to customers. Actually talk to people. Yes, this will be a biased convenience sample, but having rough customer feedback is better than none at all. Scrappiness is a virtue.

  7. Synthesizing findings. Show the meaning you’ve extracted from disparate data sources to frame the problem accurately.

  8. Treating it like work. Imagine you’re already working at this company. How would you approach this challenge?

  9. Delighting the client. When your foundation is solid, can you add a cherry on top that leaves interviewers in awe? Or in the words of Ueno, “When someone asks you for a coffee, bring the best one you can, but always add a piece of chocolate.”

Start with Context

OK, you have your design exercise prompt. What should you do first? Since this is a high-stakes project, it’s important to get context up-front to save time by executing in the right direction.

What Is the Final Deliverable?

What are they looking for? Is this a mobile app, a sitemap, a research brief, or a desktop app? Are they looking for you to show your skills in interaction design, information architecture, research, visual design? This should be clear from the prompt.

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