6 Step Process to Ace Your Next UX Whiteboard Challenge

UX Research
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UX Design
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Jul 8, 2022
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In this blog, we are going to uncover why that is the case, dissect the entire process of the whiteboard challenge and how you can nail it without facing any major roadblocks.

Congratulations on making your way through the UX screening round! You must be so proud of yourself.

Now welcome the part where it gets a little tricky. A UX design whiteboard challenge.

Not making you nervous or anything, but the maximum elimination tends to happen at this stage of the hiring process.

But we are here to make you ready for just that.

In this blog, we are going to uncover why that is the case, dissect the entire process of the whiteboard challenge, and how you can nail it without facing any major roadblocks.

Broadly, we’ll cover:-

- What is a whiteboard challenge in UX and what is it not?

- Why is it important to perform well in the whiteboard challenge?

- The 6 step-by-step process to ace the whiteboard challenge

- What does the design challenge tell the recruiter about you?

- Prerequisites before the whiteboard challenge starts  

Let’s begin…

What is a Whiteboard Challenge and What It's NOT?

A whiteboard challenge is a standard test to gauge your problem-solving process and the quick thinking of all the curveballs the interviewer throws at you.

It's not a challenge to gauge how well you are in your visual design or user interface (UI) design skills. In fact, for recruiters, it’s the last thing they care about.

On the contrary, it is all about how good of a problem solver, agile thinker, efficient decision-maker, communicator, and collaborator you are as a designer.

The idea of this activity is to think out loud.

Why is it Important to Perform well in the Whiteboard Challenge?

Because this is the step that will determine if you are just another UX/UI designer or a self-aware one.

Also, let’s say you get hired for the role, it’s the same process you are going to juggle day in and day out with your clients, stakeholders, and internal teams.

A lot of designers start on the wrong foot because they don’t understand the intention or purpose behind the activity. And that’s what pushes them towards the exit door before they can start their UX/UI journey.  

Let’s NEVER make that happen.

Read on.

So you will be given a design prompt (also called a design challenge) which is usually broad and vague for obvious reasons. It can look and feel like it’s incomplete, there isn’t enough information shared, may or may not make sense to you, or isn’t self-explanatory enough.

But that’s where your UX understanding and knowledge kick in. The design prompt is sticky because it is to see how well you tackle the problem at hand and come up with a feasible solution using your skills. No matter how broad or narrow the prompt is.

We at Design Sundays, encourage aspiring UX/UI designers to become problem spotters in a world full of problem solvers first.  

The key to spotting problems is the first (non-negotiable) step in the whiteboard challenge.

The 6 Step-by-Step Process that will Lead you to Success in Whiteboard Challenge

Step 1- Approach the whiteboard challenge as a design thinking process

Recall the design thinking process and imagine implementing it at a lightning speed. Similar to how design thinking happens in stages, the whiteboard challenge also circles a lot around that very idea. The catch here is to have a framework, treat it as a blueprint and stick to it.

Step 2- Understand the problem to its core

As soon as the recruiter shares with you the design prompt, the ball falls in your court. This is your cue to ask as many questions as you want to the recruiter about the design challenge. Also, ask about the users, business objectives, and any constraints, if any?

The more questions you ask, the more clarity you get about the problem at hand. The secret hack here is to follow a divergent thinking process. This will help you with the free flow of ideas and thoughts, which will eventually lead to narrowing down your problem statement.

This activity is designed for asking questions and how much clarity you can get. Also, don’t be in a hurry to move to the next step until you have all the answers to your questions.

Step 3- Define the pain points and come up with a problem statement

Now that you have all the context of the design challenge, it’s time for you to step up your game and define the problem. Keep communicating while you are trying to come up with the problem statement. This will help the people in the room to understand the thinking process you are going through and show you can collaborate and communicate well, too.

Step 4- Put your thinking hats on and flesh out all the wild ideas

Remember, at this point, you can think wildly and let all your assumptions out without being judged. You can pump out hundreds of ideas with creative thinking without jumping to conclusions. Don’t ask if it’s going to work later or not. Every solution you wish to voice to the problem statement is practical at this point. As long as you can explain your reason behind going with a certain option, it’s good enough. Don’t forget- clarity of thoughts is the key!

Step #5- Pick a solution you want to go with and stand by it!

As a UX designer, you need to defend your design solutions. That’s exactly what recruiters wish to find out at this stage. How confidently you can explain the how’s, why’s, and what’s of the solution you went with. Make your recruiter, a design lead or project manager walk through your design thinking process like they are your stakeholders or clients. Be prepared to have shots fired at you at this stage.

Step 6- Conclude the whiteboard challenge

Hold on! The pressure’s not off yet! Once you are done, give a quick summary of the entire process you just went through. Plus, use these 5 minutes to reiterate what could have been done better. This will make an impression that you’re a self-aware designer and know how to ace up your design thinking skills when required.

What Does a Design Challenge Tell the Recruiter About You?

Get this, the recruiter does not expect you to produce high-fidelity screens or even wireframes on the first go. That’s for sure.

If you can give them a good enough understanding of how you navigate through the vague problem statement, that will be more than enough for them to evaluate your skills as a designer.

But to be precise, here are the core elements a recruiter or anybody observing your whiteboard challenge makes a note of:-

i) Your ability to ask good/ relevant questions

The more you ask questions, the less you make room for assumptions. And we all know what happens when we take wild guesses. More iterations, more revamp more edits and more changes. To help you get out of the loop altogether, you should feel comfortable pricking the hiring manager's/recruiter’s brain for seeking clarity on the design prompt in the beginning.

As soon as the recruiter shares with you the design prompt, the ball falls in your court. This is your cue to ask as many questions as you want to the recruiter about the design challenge. Also, ask about the users, business objectives, and any constraints, if any?

The more questions you ask, the more clarity you get about the problem at hand. The secret hack here is to follow a divergent thinking process. This will help you with the free flow of ideas and thoughts, which will eventually lead to narrowing down your problem statement.

ii) Your agile mindset to make a decision, come to solutions, and solve problems

When it comes to design thinking, problem-solving, and coming to a final decision, a candidate with an agile mindset gets the job done faster. When you think out loud and act quickly towards your ideas, it says a lot about how you as a designer can solve complex problems under a time crunch. This is one of the skills very few designers possess, which is worthy of all the time, money, and energy a recruiter puts into screening you.

An agile mindset tells the recruiter you are good with:-

> Problem-solving

> Decision making

> Asking questions to seek clarity

> Collaboration & communication

> How keenly do you focus on Users and Problems

> & Quick thinking!  

iii) Your communication and collaboration

Whiteboard challenges cannot and shouldn’t be happening in silos. You cannot be sitting quietly in a room full of people who are observing your process to hear you say nothing. Talk to them and walk them through your process as you make progress with the problem statement. The better you keep communicating, the more confident they’ll feel about you as a candidate who can collaborate, voice his/her opinions, and is ready to explain the why behind every idea.

Also, before we forget…

Pre-requisites for the UX Design Challenge

There are a few prerequisites to ensure you perform the whiteboard challenge without any hiccups.

So you will either perform the challenge on an actual whiteboard if you are interviewing off-site (obviously) or on a digital whiteboard like Fig Jam or Miro in case of a remote interview.

And your power tools are going to be:-

> Coloured markers,

> Whiteboards,

> Sticky notes

> or a Mouse and a keyword if you’re presenting online.

The Bottom Line

Now that you have everything you need to nail the ultimate UX design task, we wish you all the very best if you have an upcoming challenge to face.

Make sure your creative thought process is the biggest asset the recruiters see in you as a UX/UI designer.

The more you ask questions, and think fast and loud, the better your chances of getting hired.

Also, before you leave and go prep, do let us know in the comments below about your previous UX interviews, and was there a whiteboard challenge, to begin with?

On that note, we’ll see you around our next blog post.

But till then, happy designing!

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