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Whiteboarding Remotely

If you’ve been asked to do a whiteboard challenge in 2020 or 2021—and perhaps even beyond—chances are it’s taking place remotely. Like the on-site version of this challenge, typically you’ll have about 30 minutes to an hour to complete this interview. Instead of a traditional whiteboard in a conference room you’ll be given a few options as to which tool you want to use.

In general, these options fall into two categories—analog or digital. Analog tools such as a notepad or an actual whiteboard may feel familiar and fast. Digital tools that allow you to share the document live in the cloud may make it easier to collaborate.

ToolProsCons
WhiteboardJust like the real thing at a regular interview setting.If you don’t have one already, buying a large whiteboard can get pricey. May not be readable through a laptop camera.
Paper notepadCan be a great way to sketch out ideas, cheaper than buying your own whiteboard.As with the whiteboard, camera quality will play a role in how your sketch looks.
Tablet (e.g. iPad)Using a tool such as Procreate allows you to quickly sketch ideas.Requires you to maneuver the device so that it’s visible to the interviewer.Taking notes may take longer compared to sketching.
Design tool (e.g. Figma or Sketch)No new tools to learn, easy to move around, sharing the file on the cloud makes it easier to collaborate.Be careful not to waste time polishing pixels.
Whiteboarding tool (e.g. Miro, Mural)Easy to get started with sketches quickly, and cloud share aids collaboration.Getting things precisely mocked up may take a long time and may not feel as fluid as a dedicated design tool.

If you’re not sure which tool is best, pick the one you’re most comfortable with. Interviews can be stressful enough and you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you try to learn a new tool at the last minute.

Set Your Environment up for Success

If you’re choosing to go the analog route, be sure to test your camera set-up and quality ahead of time. It may be worth it to invest in a standalone camera, as opposed to the one that comes with your laptop, because you can easily reposition the camera to point to your notepad or whiteboard while still seeing the interviewer on the screen. Alternatively, you can dial into the meeting with your computer and your phone—using your phone as a standalone camera to point to the sketch.

Modern design tools allow you to share your file on the cloud, which may make collaboration easier while conserving video bandwidth. As an example, if you’re whiteboarding on Figma, you don’t have to share your screen, thus conserving bandwidth. If connectivity becomes an issue you can turn video off and go with audio only.

Regardless of which tool you pick, you may still run into interruptions or connectivity issues. Make sure you account for those and think how you’ll respond when they happen. Having a plan for these now will make it easier for you to navigate these speed bumps as they occur.

Figure: Managing a Remote Whiteboard

managing a remote whiteboard

If you’re using a design or whiteboard tool, you don’t have to worry about managing space, but you should keep in mind how much time you spend on each section. Just as with the physical whiteboard, you don’t want to spend so much time on context and problem framing that you run out of time to come up with solutions.

Although the double diamond model gives an illusion of a deliberate, contained design process, we know that this is rarely true in actual design practice. The whiteboard challenge is a miniature version of reality. You may have to sometimes briefly revisit a problem or clarify context. Be sure to push on your explorations and definitely make time to get into the details. The further you get, the more productive a conversation you’ll have with your interviewer, who will be asking you increasingly harder questions to challenge your thinking. Take this challenge as an opportunity to show how you think and be sure to demonstrate those ideas in your sketches.

Keep Collaboration in Mind

One of the challenges of the whiteboard is that you may not be able to see the interviewer’s body language. This becomes especially challenging if you’re sharing your screen and the interviewer becomes a small rectangle off to the side. In these cases, it helps to pause and check in with your interviewer from time to time. Since you’ll be primarily driving the interview, you can stop periodically to ask, “Are you with me?” or “Do you have any questions so far?”

important As you know, the key criteria for a whiteboard challenge is collaboration. The remote flavor of this challenge offers a glimpse into how you may work with this designer in the future. Are they collaborative and encouraging? Make sure you write down your thoughts after the exercise.

Practicing Remotely

When you’re solving design problems, one easy way to get a hang of things is to start with the simplest method possible. This could just be a notepad where you could sketch and document your ideas and process. As you get further along in your practice, I recommend switching to the final tool of your choice. This could still be a notepad, or if you do want to go the digital route (which I highly recommend), practice whiteboarding there. Consider your practice complete when the tools have become second nature, you’ve developed a robust system for solving design challenges, and can quickly frame up the problem and the solution.

Post-Interview Retro

You’ve wrapped up your final design interview! At this stage, you might have an interview lined up right after or you may be early in the interview process with other places. Regardless, it helps to step back and reflect on the day. Also, don’t forget to close strong by thanking your interviewers for their time. Some say that thank-yous are passé. I disagree. Sending a specific and thoughtful email is an extra touch that reinforces your interest in the role.

Figure: Post-Interview Retro

post-interview retro
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