Start with Context



Updated October 11, 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.

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.

important When you’re working through a design exercise, know when to take shortcuts and know when to go bespoke. Creating every asset from scratch may take a long time and may not be necessary.

What’s Unclear?

Even with clear prompts you’re still bound to have questions. That’s a good sign. Generate a list—reread the prompt and think how the answers can help you move faster when you’re heads down on a challenge.

How Collaborative Do They Want to Be?

Interviewers might be willing or expect to provide feedback during the course of your work. You should both be on the same page as to how often you can reach out, to whom, and what feedback you will get and when.

When Is the Deliverable Due?

Structure the deadline to your advantage. When I had a lull in work, it was easy for me to focus intensely on the design exercise to get it done. Other times I’ve taken a day off or pushed back on the start date of the exercise so I could work on it over the weekend.

important You only get to do the design exercise once, so make sure your submission is the best it can be given the timeline. If you are employed but don’t feel like you have enough mental energy to take on a design challenge, take a day or two off. Design exercises are already hard; don’t put yourself in an impossible position of running out of time.

What Are Your Options?

Design exercises are time intensive—some companies offer the choice of a whiteboard challenge instead. I took this option when I was already doing two design exercises. This saved me time—while delivering high-quality work for the other two, the third interviewers felt they got everything that they needed from the whiteboard.

How Will You Present Your Work?

Usually, at the end of the design exercise you’ll present at their office. Typically, to save time your presentation will be part of your final interview. If possible, try to get a sense of what you’ll be working with: their room set up, monitor, seating, and so on. It’s always good to know your context and be prepared with backup in case their tech fails.

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