Design Problem Solving: A Task Analysis
- Balakrishnan Chandrasekaran
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Apr 19, 2017
Task analysis for design problem-solving
One of the most critical tools in the UX designer’s toolbox, task analysis helps us break down a complex process into step-by-step tasks, so we can look at the challenges the users faced in his/her entire journey with greater detail.
According to this book User and Task Analysis for Interface Design , the purpose of task analysis is to understand:
- User goals: what they are trying to achieve
- What is needed to be done to achieve these goals
- What experiences users bring to the tasks, be it cultural, social, psychological etc
- How users are influenced by their environment
- Other factors of influencer such as their pre-existing knowledge and past experiences about the task they are performing
Now I rephrased some of the pointers, but the key takeaway remains the same: task analysis is meant for us to understand user goals through reliving their experience step by step, and thus gain a thorough understanding of the influences that shape their decisions and workflow.
One way to do this objectively is to write out the observed hierarchical task analysis . But since I’ve committed to being a visual thinker and creating whiteboards whenever possible, I’m going to draw out the task analysis for someone who wants to paint the room here.
As I drew the process, a few things jumped out to me:
- Pre-existing knowledge of how to paint a room play a huge role in the entire workflow. If this dude — let’s call him Joe — is new to painting a room, the flow might be different from someone who’s done it a few times or professionally. This reflect the thought process of a newbie to painting like me
- Pre-existing knowledge of color will influence how Joe choose color in step 2
- Joe is subject to his physical environment — in this case the home depot — for the selection of paints the store offers and the kind of technical consultation Joe is getting from store assistants
- In step 6, Joe didn’t paint all the walls in one go. Instead, he consults with his “close female friend” (grin) on what she thinks. Here, social factors play a role in the perception of the room. Because the living room isn’t just a private space; it’s a space that’s meant to be accepted and admired. So Joe’s social group opinions matter as much as his own.
- At last, Joe finishes the paint job and relaxes with a beer! Maybe through a party soon to celebrate with better house parties. After all, Joe needs to feel cozy and appreciated by the environ he resides in. So here, socio-psychological factors determine Joe’s sense of accomplishment.
This little drawing exercise turned out to be very beneficial! Now if I’m design a product or service that helps people like Joe to paint their rooms better, I know to offer the below in order to close the need gap:
- Knowledgebase on basic color theory to help Joe decide on paint color
- List of tools that will be needed to complete the paint job as well as where to get them, so that Joe can be prepared
- Offer virtual customization of the color choice/space planning, so Joe can feel fully confident before diving into the painting job
- Make sure that the product/service has a social aspect to it where Joe can share with his peers for feedback early on
- Suggest songs/playlist/room decors/artworks that complement the entire painted room? Every color comes with a personality and Joe needs personalized decorative elements to express his personality in front of his house guests.
What are your thoughts? Is your process different?
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Art school graduate & human-centric technologist. Freelance UX/UI designer specializedin FinTech. Portfolio at https://beyondpixels.design/
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Aug 6, 2020
How to solve a Design Task, step by step
What is a design task.
It is a part of the interview process used to recruit UX Designers, Product Designers, and UI Designers, based on the principle of showing a working process. It is one of the most common interview stages for designers.
After a series of interviews, it is very common for designers to be asked to do a Design Task. Most of them are focused on the company’s products, although in some cases those tasks can be external products. The goal of these tasks is to be able to show recruiters your skills in the process of redesigning or creating a product.
Some examples of design tasks are
- Proposing improvements in features that will increase the number of users that use an application daily.
- Include a new functionality or redesign of one of the functions.
- Redesigning two sections of a specific page.
What should I know before I start?
Consider the following points before starting to work on the task:
Read the entire Task: It’s important that you carefully read the whole Task. You should read it and re-read it until you feel you understand everything. Asking questions: If you are not sure of something or you don’t understand the Task very well, you need to raise your hand and ask the recruiter your questions. It’s better to ask in time before handing in the wrong solution. This will also help to reflect how you will work in the new company. Give hundred and ten percent: Companies are always looking for candidates who go that extra mile. It’s your time to be able to impress them, always try to put yourself in the position of the recruiter and try to imagine what would impress you about a candidate. Beware of spelling mistakes: It is very important that when you finish your Task, you check it multiple times to make yourself sure that no spelling mistakes are missed. You want to show your attention to detail and a spelling mistake could be a serious mistake in the eyes of the recruiter.
How to solve a Design Task?
This is the framework with all the steps and information that will help you get that job as a Product Designer, UX Designer, Web Designer, among others.
To explain each of the steps of the methodology I will show an example of how I solved the following Design Task:
“The new Health app of iOS consolidates data from your iPhone, Apple Watch, and third-party apps you already use, so you can view all your progress in one convenient place. For this Design Task we would like you to propose new features that increase the DAU (Daily active User) in the iOS Health App.”
The first slide should always be a simple cover with the title of the Design Task, your name, the logo of the company you are applying to and an image.
Write down all the information you were given about the Task along with an image.
Put in a visual way what will be your design process in each of the steps. This way the recruiter will know where he is in the process.
You should research all the information needed to understand the product, its purpose, its history, its users and hard data. First take notes on sheets or Post-It’s and then, pass that information on a summary.
This will help see how other products were tackling this issue and taking notes of the things I did and didn’t like. Make a summary of the competition and create a graph with “x” and “y” axes to be able to see areas of opportunity within the other products (the axes should evaluate problems that your product solves).
Research everything about the users. There could be different methodologies to learn about them, for example:
- Online forums: Check the online forums where users comment their reviews about the product. This is where users talk about the problems and improvements it could have.
- Interviews: Interview people who use or could use the product, this will give you valuable information about the needs, behaviors and objectives of the users. Ask questions like: “Walk me through the last time you used the App”, “How frequently do you use the App?”, “Would you add anything to the App?”,
- Synthesize the information: Once you have collected all the information about the users, you must synthesize it into hard data that will be used throughout the Task. Answer the following questions:
- What percentage are men and women?
- What is the average age?
- What percentage of the users live in the city or the suburbs?
- What is the average income of the users?
- Through which devices do the users use the product?
With the information provided by the User Research you will be able to create the Personas. A Persona is the representative of a group of users with their context, which will help us understand and visualize how to create solutions that meet the needs and solve the problems of a specific number of people. (Create from one to three People depending on your time limit)
8)Information on Personas
Depending on the needs of the users and the problems of the product, the information to be carried by each Persona is different. Have at least the following information:
- Bio of the Personas: A brief summary of the person with information about where they studied, what their objectives are, what their day-to-day life is like, among others.
- Marital status
- Needs (at least three, must be product-related)
- Frustrations (at least three, must be product-related)
- Technological knowledge
- Financial literacy
- Image or illustration of the Persona
9)Understand the context and the need of the user
The objective is to understand with each persona how was its experience while using the product. In order to do this, you need to create individual tables with the following information:
- Time when he/she uses the product
- Where he/she uses the product
- Feelings when using the product
- Needs that the product is intended to solve
- Reasons to use the product.
10)List of User Problems
Once you have the context of the product and the users, you need to create a list of the users problems. Based on the Personas you created, write in Post-It’s all the problems these users have. Once you have a good number of problems, select all the problems that the product can solve and create a list with them.
11)Prioritize the problems
After having discovered a number of problems that users have, it is necessary to prioritize the problems to know which ones you are going to work with.
In order to do that, you must ask yourself three questions for each problem:
- How much value will the user get from solving the problem?
- How easy would it be to implement a solution to this problem?
- How much is the Daily Active User going to increase? (This question is specific to this Design Task, you can select another question depending on your product or feature)
Give a grade from 1 to 3 to each question. 1 is low and 3 is high. At the end, add up the scores of the three questions to get a total score. The problems with a higher score will be the problems you will solve.
After prioritizing the list of problems, it will be easy to realize that many of the problems may share the same essence or solution. You need to identify these groups of problems and summarize them into one. Depending on the time limit you have on the Task, you can choose one or more problems to work on.
13) List of solutions
For each problem, you should make a list of solutions based on the information from the Context study and the User research . Brainstorm different solutions in Post-It’s and stick them on the wall. Try to make as many solutions as possible (try to think outside the box).
Based on the same questions you asked yourself to prioritize the problems, you must now evaluate each solution with that same table and choose the one with the highest score.
After prioritizing the list of solutions, it will be easier to find the solution that will generate more value, that will be easier to implement and that will help the product in the specific objective of the Task.
16) User cases
The user cases define specific events in the use of the product where it describes how the Persona interacts with the product and for what purpose. Try to remember all the information obtained in the User Research step.
17) User Touch Points
These are the moments when users interact with your brand, product or service. Developing and understanding what happens at each touchpoint will help you design a better experience.
18) Journey map UX Flow
The Journey Map tries to capture the user experience during the interaction with the product. It is a visual journey of the user through the product to the solution. In each interaction, the feelings, pain points and other moments that the user will experience must be specified. There are several layers within the Journey Map such as actions, contact points, pain points, experiences and opportunities.
19) Design System
A design system it’s a single source of truth that brings together all the elements that will help the design teams make and develop a product. This will constantly evolve along with the product. These elements must be taken into account when designing the Interface.
20) Solution — Sketches and Wireframes
After understanding the user process and the needs at each step, you should start brainstorming to generate the first solution. Start with different pencil and paper drafts, to make the process faster (make the user flows and maps simple).
21) Solution — User flow
It is the complete display of a user’s path through the Interface in order to complete a task. It will take you through all the steps, up to the solution of the problem.
22) Solution — Wireframes
A Wireframe is a design that demonstrates which elements of the interface will exist on each of the screens. It is a critical step in the design process.
23) User test — Low fidelity
The objective of this user test is to identify problems or possible improvements within the product before moving on to the final design phase. Depending on the time you have to do the Task, it is advisable to do at least one user test. To do this test, you must create 4 tasks that a user must do.
These tasks should take him through all the features of your new product or function. While the user completes these tasks, you should monitor him to see how he is doing, the difficulties he may encounter and write down all these interactions. You should give a value of 0 to 3 to each task, 0 being when the user had a lot of difficulty in completing the task and 3 when the user found it very easy and intuitive.
24) User test — Results
You should visualize the results of the user tests and make an average of them so that it is easier to perceive errors or possible improvements within the product. This will help you learn what works and what doesn’t, why it works and why it doesn’t, as well as the user needs that you may have overlooked. After analyzing this data, it will be much easier to perceive the errors that you can correct.
25) Information Architecture
The information of architecture serves to visualize in more detail the user flow through the screens. It is important to do this after the user testing, in case any modification is necessary.
26) High-fidelity prototypes
With the conclusions of the user tests and the identification of errors, it is necessary to iterate once again the design proposal. Once you are completely satisfied, start creating the high-fidelity prototype. The best tool to do this is through Sketch or Figma .
28) Interface and interaction design
It is very helpful to create animations to show what the transitions and user flows of the interfaces would look like. The best tool to do this is Principle.
Here you can learn how to use this software with the Help of Pablo Stanley
Create several Mock-ups so you can show how the product or features would look like.
It is very important that in this last slide you highlight the following points:
- The purpose of the Task.
- The users of this product.
- The problems you decided to solve
- The solutions you decided to implement
- How these solutions helped to solve the problem and purpose of this Task
Remember to have fun and show all your skills! Design Tasks are a great way to practice and continue improving. I’m sure that if you follow all these steps you’ll get your dream job. Good luck!
If you are interested on this content, you can download the editable file of this presentation by clicking here .
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How to improve your UX designs with Task Analysis
One of the most important steps in the Design Thinking process that is often employed as standard practice in UX design is to define the users’ problems. This means being able to clearly identify and articulate problems in the user experience so that you can later begin the process of ideating (i.e., generating great ideas on how to solve them). Task Analysis is a simple exercise that UX designers can undertake during the definition of a problem, which can help not just in identifying where opportunities to improve the user experience exist but also to generate some preliminary ideas as to how you might approach these challenges. Let’s find out how.
Task analysis is one of the tools that you can use during the “define” stage of the Design Thinking process. The most frequent deliverable of a task analysis activity is a diagram explaining the steps that a user must take in order to complete a goal. In this diagram, you can depict the actions taken by the users (or some system) to help them achieve their goals. Once you have laid all the steps out, you will then be in a position to see where additional user support is required (for example, you might wish to automate some actions that the user currently undertakes), or eliminate unnecessary steps, in order to minimize the number of actions that a user has to undertake, unassisted.
Joann Hackos, communications expert, and Janice Redish, UX consultant and writer, advise that task analysis is useful for understanding (1998):
Your users’ goals and what they are trying to achieve
The steps that your users currently take in order to achieve their goals (very helpful to see how they follow instructions or have devised ways to work around problems in current practices!)
The personal, social and cultural experiences that users bring to the tasks
The influence of the physical environment on the users while attempting to meet a goal
A clear understanding of the above factors will help you to define and frame the users’ problems so that you can then ideate ways to help improve their experiences.
Preparing to conduct a task analysis process
Usability professionals Courage, Redish and Wixon (2007) argue that task analysis is an activity based on four core principles:
It is an integral part of a broader analysis that includes understanding users and their environments.
Task analysis includes understanding users’ goals.
Although the focus, methods, granularity, and presentation of information may differ at different times, task analysis is relevant at all stages of the design and development process.
The practical reality is that task analysis for a given project depends on many factors.
Breaking down these principles, you will notice that the first two advocate for a deep understanding of users, their environments and their goals. Since the Design Thinking methodology produces outputs during each step, it’s natural to expect that task analysis is a process that has to be informed by the outputs of the previous phase—i.e., empathizing with your users. During this step, you may have already undertaken user interviews , or collected data through observing how your users go about their daily lives, in order to understand them better and build empathy with them. In short, you will have engaged in some user research , which may result in several outputs such as user personas , scenarios and storyboards . All of this data is essential for task analysis, as you will base your work according to these outputs.
Of course, just collecting any data during your user research is far from enough. If you plan to use task analysis (or indeed many of the other tools in a UX designer’s skillset, such as customer journey maps ), your data collection must be focused. Larry Marine, a UX consultant, argues that your user research should focus on collecting the following five types of data, which you will use later during the task analysis phase:
Trigger: What prompts users to start their task?
Desired Outcome: How users will know when the task is complete?
Base Knowledge: What will the users be expected to know when starting the task?
Required Knowledge: What the users actually need to know in order to complete the task?
Artifacts: What tools or information do the users utilize during the course of the task?
First steps in Conducting a task analysis
Armed with the information you gathered during the empathy phase, you can then begin to sketch out how a user goes about his or her daily life by mapping out the sequence of activities required to achieve a goal. Before you begin, it’s important to have an overview of the process and its steps, so you can better prepare.
According to the UXPA’s Usability Body of Knowledge Site, the process of task analysis can be broken down into the following steps:
Identify the task to be analyzed: Pick a persona and scenario for your user research, and repeat the task analysis process for each one. What is that user’s goal and motivation for achieving it?
Break this goal (high-level task) down into subtasks: You should have around 4–8 subtasks after this process. If you have more, then it means that your identified goal is too high-level and possibly too abstract. As Don Norman (1998) said, users are notoriously bad at clearly articulating goals: e.g., ”I want to be a good mom” – where do you even begin? Each subtask should be specified in terms of objectives. Put together, these objectives should cover the whole area of interest—i.e., help a user achieve a goal in full.
Draw a layered task diagram of each subtask and ensure it is complete: You can use any notation you like for the diagram, since there is no real standard here. Larry Marine shares some helpful advice on the notation he uses, which is examined below.
Write the story: A diagram is not enough. Many of the nuances, motivations and reasons behind each action are simply lost in the diagram, because all that does is to depict the actions and not the reasons behind them. Make sure you accompany your diagram with a full narrative that focuses on the whys .
Validate your analysis: Once you’re happy with your work, review the analysis with someone who was not involved in the decomposition, but who knows the tasks well enough to check for consistency. This person can be another team member working on the same project, but you could also enlist the help of actual users and stakeholders for this purpose.
One more trick you might wish to consider is conducting a parallel task analysis. This means simply to get more than one person on your UX team to undertake the process simultaneously—so that you can later compare your outputs and merge them into a final deliverable. This can be especially helpful if you are working internationally, or where multiple personas have to be considered for the same goal.
Author/Copyright holder: University of Strathclyde, Management Science Dept., Wikimedia. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
An example layered diagram from a task analysis process (goal: warm up a furnace)
Types of Task Analysis
You can approach a task analysis activity from two main viewpoints. So far, we have discussed breaking down tasks into sub-tasks, an approach termed Hierarchial Task Analysis. However, you can also differentiate your viewpoint by focusing on tasks that require decision-making, problem-solving, memory, attention and judgment. This process is called a Cognitive Task Analysis . From this viewpoint, you would be concerned not just with how the actual activities involved in meeting a goal are performed but also with finer details that aim to uncover how a novice might perform compared to an expert, the level of cognitive load required for each step, how experts make decisions, or how users develop mental models for an activity which are later reused or adapted for other purposes.
An example of Task Analysis
Let’s now work through an example to illustrate how you might undertake a task analysis. Assume that Rosie, a home-visit doctor, needs to update the hospital’s system with her whereabouts (i.e., that she’s left one patient to go to the next) via text message. Rosie uses a custom device which appears to be a mobile phone but is tailored for use by doctors. All she needs to do is send a short SMS-like text with the words “next patient” to a certain number.
Goal: 1. Send a text message to hospital’s system
1.1. Open the messaging application on her mobile phone.
1.2. Enter the hospital system’s special number.
1.3. Move to the text input field.
1.4. Type the words “next patient”.
1.5. Check the spelling (because it needs to be precise for the system to accept it).
1.6. Hit the “send” button.
1.7. Exit the messaging application.
Author/Copyright holder: Andreas Komninos, The Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
A sample task analysis diagram for sending a short message to the hospital system. Note how each step represents a sub-task that can be broken down into further sub-tasks.
In the above diagram, you will notice that we have identified different “plans” about how Rosie might achieve a certain goal. In the diagram, pretty much everything except for displaying matching contact names is performed by the user. We can see that Rosie is not getting much support here. Perhaps we can intervene by redesigning the device’s messaging application.
We can eliminate the “hit search icon” step by showing a list of matching contacts to Rosie as soon as she begins typing any letters or numbers in the “To:” text input field.
We could even eliminate the typing by displaying a “frequently used contacts” dropdown under the “To:” field, even when Rosie hasn’t yet typed anything.
We can help Rosie spellcheck her message by highlighting the words that are spelled incorrectly or by causing the device to vibrate whenever a word is misspelled.
In order to prevent errors, we could disable the “send” button if spelling mistakes are present in the text.
We can eliminate the “exit message” step by automatically closing the messaging application once the message has been sent.
You will note that some of the ideas for improvement discussed here are based on the simple hierarchy of tasks (i.e., eliminating needless steps), whereas others depend on a cognitive analysis approach (i.e., lessening the mental workload of the user). What we ultimately decide to do will depend on how the user visualizes the problem. If the users believe that entering correctly spelled text is the source of their greatest frustration, then our design should focus on that aspect. Solving the real issues has the biggest impact on the project, and you should continuously strive to see the task analysis from the user’s perspective and not what you could actually do (or want to do).
“In my 25 years of experience on over 250 projects, not one single product has been focused on solving the right problem.” —Larry Marine, UX consultant
Larry Marine likes to annotate his task analysis diagrams using different colors in the various flows:
Green represents the actions that users need to do.
Yellow represents a step the system can do.
Purple represents objects, tools, or information that the users need.
Orange represents questions or issues about the task.
A task analysis would probably have a greater proportion of “green” flows originally. A re-designed task would probably have fewer “green” and more “yellow” flows, to show that you’ve really managed to off-load tasks from a user to a system, thus improving their overall experience by making their lives easier.
The Take Away
Task analysis is one of the most powerful tools in a UX designer’s skillset. As you will have undoubtedly seen, it’s not hard to get to know how to do it. However, the difficult part is remembering to keep the user’s perspective and resist the temptation to generate your own interpretations of the problem, or to “stick in” bits of design just for the sake of doing it. Remember also that task analysis is useless when it isn’t backed by rigorous user research. Without user research data, any efforts to proceed with task analysis will be in the blind and will result in failure, because you will be capturing mostly what you think the problem involves, as opposed to what the users’ actual needs are. Remember also that task analysis is not a one-off process. You can repeat it on your own designs later in the process, since Design Thinking is an iterative process that will eventually lead you back to the “define” stage at some point. Finally, remember that—like any other activity in UX design—task analysis requires time, resources, people and budget. Be sure to balance these requirements carefully and engage in the process only if you have a sufficient amount of all!
References & Where to Learn More
Hero Image: Copyright holder: falcowata, Flickr. Copyright terms and license: CC BY 2.0
Christou, G. & Saraiva, C. (2012). Hierarchical Task Analysis
Courage, C., Redish, J. G., & Wixon, D. (2009). Task analysis. Human-computer interaction: Development process, 33-53.
Hackos, J. T., & Redish, J. (1998). User and task analysis for interface design .
Hornsby, P. (2010) Hierarchical Task Analysis
Marine, L. (2014). Task Analysis: The Key UX Design Step Everyone Skips
Min, L. (2014) Experience mapping vs. Task analysis
Saraiva, C. & Bevan, N. (2012). Cognitive Task Analysis
Sudhindra, V., & Saraiva, C. (2012). Task Analysis
Task Analysis, according to Usability.gov
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Home > How To & Tools > Task Analysis
Task analysis is the process of learning about ordinary users by observing them in action to understand in detail how they perform their tasks and achieve their intended goals. Tasks analysis helps identify the tasks that your website and applications must support and can also help you refine or re-define your site’s navigation or search by determining the appropriate content scope.
Purpose of Task Analysis
In their book User and Task Analysis for Interface Design , JoAnn Hackos and Janice Redish note that performing a task analysis helps you understand:
- What your users’ goals are; what they are trying to achieve
- What users actually do to achieve those goals
- What experiences (personal, social, and cultural) users bring to the tasks
- How users are influenced by their physical environment
- How they think about their work
- The workflow they follow to perform their tasks
When to Perform a Task Analysis
It’s important to perform a task analysis early in your process, in particular prior to design work. Task analysis helps support several other aspects of the user-centered design process, including:
- Website requirements gathering
- Developing your content strategy and site structure
- Wireframing and Prototyping
- Performing usability testing
Types of Task Analysis
There are several types of task analysis but among the most common techniques used are:
- Cognitive Task Analysis is focused on understanding tasks that require decision-making, problem-solving, memory, attention and judgement.
- Hierarchical Task Analysis is focused on decomposing a high-level task subtasks.
How to Conduct a Task Analysis
Your task analysis may have several levels of inquiry, from general to very specific. In addition to market research, competitive analysis, and web metrics analysis, you can identify top tasks through various user research techniques.
- Identify the task to be analyzed.
- Break this high-level task down into 4 to 8 subtasks. The subtask should be specified in terms of objectives and, between them, should cover the whole area of interest.
- Draw a layered task diagram of each subtasks ensuring that it is complete
- Produce a written account as well as the decomposition diagram.
- Present the analysis to someone else who has not been involved in the decomposition but who knows the tasks well enough to check for consistency
It’s important to note that you need to decide to what level of detail you are going to decompose subtasks so that you can ensure that you are consistent across the board.
At a bare minimum to identify tasks, you can simply ask users what overall tasks they are trying to accomplish or how they currently accomplish the task.
What overall tasks are users trying to accomplish on our website?
- Trying to find a nursing home near you for an elderly relative.
- Trying to get information about options for treatment for skin cancer.
- Trying to sign up to receive an email notice when a payment is due.
How are users currently completing the task? People are completing that task using:
- Using a search engine
- Navigating through your site
- Using another site
- (Through some other means)
- User and Task Analysis for Interface Design by JoAnn T. Hackos and Janice C. Redish
- Welcome to the Reimagined HHS.gov
- Content Strategy Basics
- Creating Cross-Channel Experiences
- Creating a User-Centered Approach in Government
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- Content Strategy
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- Tour the Site
- Website Policies
Nov 7, 2021
How to Solve a Product Design Challenge
Improve your chances of success with these tips.
Hurray! You’ve passed the Portfolio Review and have now reached the final stage of the Product Design Interview: the Design Challenge. Admittedly if this is your first time interviewing, a Design Challenge can be nerve-wracking!
I will walk through an example of a Design Challenge that I submitted as part of my interview with Canva and highlight ways in which you can prepare for your own submission to improve your chances of success.
What’s a Design Challenge?
A Design Challenge is a way for employers to assess how well you approach design problems and is often a good way to put your skills to the test. This typically happens towards the final end of the interview after you’ve completed the Portfolio Review. There are typically two types of Design Challenges that an employer can ask you to solve:
White Board Challenge
Expected time: 30min — 1 hour
A whiteboard challenge is usually done live in front of a panel of interviewers. This type of challenge will allow you to collaborate with the interviewing team and demonstrate your ability to problem-solve on the spot.
Take Home Design Challenge
Expected time: 4–6 hours
The take-home Design Challenge is done (as the name suggests) at home, separate to the live interviewing process. This type of challenge allows you to spend more time focussing on the end-to-end design process and go deep into tackling a complex problem or scenario that you normally wouldn’t have time to complete during a shorter interview.
Why a Design Challenge?
A Design Challenge is a practical task to assess how well you approach design problems by applying your design skills to a real world scenario. The goal of this exercise is not to focus solely on the end solution, but to understand what your process is and evaluate where your strengths and opportunities lie. In addition to this, recruiters also look for these skills:
- Communication. Being able to collaborate effectively with the team.
- Critical thinking. Being able to ask good questions related to the problem.
- Openness to feedback. Being open to constructive criticism
How should I approach the Design Challenge?
Regardless of whether this is a take home or whiteboard challenge, you should aim to communicate your design process and the steps you took to get to the solution as part of your submission.
Consider using the Product Design Process to guide your approach:
- Understand the goal
- Empathise with your users
- Define the scope
- Generate ideas to the solution
- Prototype the solution
- Measure success
Example Design Challenge: Spotify Kids
This was a Design Challenge that I completed as part of my interview with Canva two years ago. Coincidentally enough, Spotify went ahead and launched their own version of the product a few months later!
Spotify has captured a majority of the music streaming market. Their product design is clean, clear, steps back and lets the artists shine. However, Spotify have left one segment out of the mix — children.
Internal research has shown that kids between the ages of 3–6 years old either don’t have any access to Spotify or have to ask their parents to play their favourite music. Artists like The Wiggles, Peppa Pig and Yo Gabba Gabba are all missing out on customer engagement and revenue. It feels like the Spotify experience is aimed at grown-ups chilling out and rocking out; not for kids who like to have fun, dance and goof around.
YouTube has a standalone experience for kids. Spotify want to explore the same space — an unbundled, unique kids music experience. Spotify Kids wants to be the best music app for kids.
As part of the Spotify product design team, you are leading the design team to create the best music app for kids. The starting point is the music player UX. Focus on the Spotify native app only — your choice on either iOS or Android.3
1. Start with Why
Before you jump into solution mode, take a moment to understand your goal. Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer clarifying questions to understand what their expectations are and what you should be aiming for.
It’s important to describe the context of the problem and its significance in a few sentences. Consider the following:
- Is this a user or business driven problem?
- How big of a problem or opportunity is this?
- Are there existing solutions out there and if so, what are the gaps?
In my case study, I focussed on communicating the positioning of the Spotify Kids brand in relation to the main Spotify product:
A brand for Spotify’s boisterous little cousin. Spotify is looking to diversify their proposition and explore an untapped market that offers an unbundled, unique kids music experience for young children. We created Spotify Kids, an app that parents could trust and allows 3–6 year olds to select and stream songs so that they can easily access and enjoy listening to their favourite music.
Spotify is a music, video, and podcast streaming service that aims “to help people listen to whatever music they want — in a completely legal and accessible way”.
How might we:
- Create a safe place trusted by parents that allow kids to be in charge of their music; and
- Provide artists like The Wiggles, Peppa Pig and Yo Gabba Gabba with the opportunity to better reach and engage with their target audience?
2. Empathise with your users
Once you’ve established your Why, show how you conducted research to understand your user’s pain points to define your user persona:
- Who are you designing this product for?
- What are their needs?
- What are their pains?
- What are their goals and motivations?
I conducted desk research to understand the needs of 3–6 year olds and the parents of 3–6 year olds:
Children (3–6 year olds):
- Cannot read, require UI with simple shapes and clear colours.
- Require feedback to understand that their action is doing something.
- Avoid information overload, use progressive disclosure.
- Don’t have dexterity and muscular control of their hands/fingers so need limited and clearly defined interactions.
Parents of 3–6 year olds:
- Safety and appropriateness of content is #1 priority
- Want control over their child’s digital experience
- Seek educational apps that help early learning and facilitate bonding time
- Conscious of too much screen-time
- Drawn to apps that help remove frustration in everyday activities with kids (e.g at hairdressers, commuting to school or at the supermarket etc.)
From these insights, I went ahead and fleshed out the key product requirements. The Spotify Kids experience should meet the following criteria:
- Safe and kid friendly experience. The app must ban or filter out any music that is explicit and contains adult content (e.g. profanity, nudity, violence etc.).
- Parental controls . Provide parents with the control that gives them peace of mind. The app must have parental gates to prevent kids from accessing any outbound links or transactions involving real money.
- Avoid in-app advertising . Advertising to children is illegal and strictly prohibited.
- Simple, fun and easy to use. This app is designed to be used by 3–6 year olds so the interface must be simple enough for them to use and interact with.
- Limit access to other parts of the phone. Any distractions (such as incoming calls, messages etc.) and ability to access the phone should be blocked whilst the app is in use.
3. Define the scope
Mapping out the user journey will help to communicate the end to end experience of a product from a user’s perspective. You should use a flowchart tool such as Figjam , Whimsical or Miro to show what steps a user would take to complete key actions in your product. Consider the following:
- Keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate your user journey with edge cases or anything that isn’t considered as part of the critical path.
- Define the MVP. What set of features in this product will deliver the highest value to users and the business with the lowest effort?
For the Spotify Kids user journey, I identified the following tasks that a user should complete to achieve their goal:
- Log into the app. Users must log in or sign up for an account.
- Browse song recommendations. Select songs by artist, album or activity.
- Search for a song (optional). Enter keywords and phrases (by voice or text).
- Select a playlist to listen to. View the music player to pause, play, skip forward and backward songs.
- Connect to a device (optional). Parents can connect the app to an external speaker or IOT devices.
- Manage app setting. Parents can access the lock icon to manage their kid’s accounts, set timer on app usage and more.
I also went and defined what was critical for MVP vs. a nice to have (post-MVP):
4. Generate ideas to the solution
If you’re working on an on-site exercise, aim to deliver the following:
- Wireframe flows
- User journeys
- A list of ideas
- Sketches of any kind.
For take-home exercise, the final deliverables would be a high-fidelity clickable prototype, but all the techniques described above would be used to create a foundation for the high-fidelity solution.
Competitor research is important in the ideation stage as this allows you to refer to how other products have solved for this problem and also potentially seek inspiration for new ideas. Consider:
- Key features. What are other competitors doing in this space to solve this problem?
- Design patterns. How did their products inspire or inform your design direction?
I conducted competitor research with children apps such as YouTube Kids, Foxtel Kids, Khan Kids, ABC Kids, Endless ABC, Nickelodeon Play and identified the following common design patterns:
- Landscape mode and horizontal scroll
- Splash animation opening
- Sound feedback on interactions
- Background music
- Simple shapes and bright colours
- Cartoon characters and avatars
- Large identifiable clickable areas
- Simple tap interactions
- Unable to close/exit app during usage unless power button is pressed (no distractions)
I then considered these patterns as part of my design solution in the high fidelity prototype. As a general rule, aim for 6 screens at a maximum when you are designing the end to end experience.
5. Prototype the solution
Once you have settled on a final solution, it’s time to mock it up in a design and prototyping tool. I would recommend using Figma but you can also choose something like Sketch or Marvel .
- Consider the branding and UI. If you are designing a new feature for an existing product, stick to their brand guidelines and design system — you want to ensure it stays true to the look and feel of the product. If it’s a brand new product, ensure that the look and feel is visually consistent and appropriate for the brand.
- Focus on one user journey. Don’t overcomplicate your product by having multiple user journeys combined into one. Stick to six screens as a general rule and only take the user through the critical flow.
For the Spotify Kids app, I had a prototype prepared but I also crafted slides for the key screens to communicate the core parts of the user journey.
Users can either browse by:
- Album or artist. Recommendations of popular children’s songs and albums are shown when the app has loaded. Horizontal scrolling is used to progressively disclose content to avoid information overload.
- Activity or theme. Content is also filtered by activity / themes so that parents and kids can select playlists designed around everyday activities e.g. bedtime, bath time etc.
Once inside the Spotify player, users can:
- Start playlist: Selecting a song will commence the playlist for that album or artist. The song title and artist will briefly appear before fading out.
- Play music: As the song plays, controls will disappear, leaving only the image of the song to show. This is intended to minimise distractions.
- Manage song: Tapping on the screen will bring up the music player controls to stop/start/skip/rewind songs. There is also the option to go back to the main screen or connect to devices.
- Search by text or voice: Enter keywords and phrases to search for songs. Voice command can be used for users who cannot type.
- View search results: A list of songs, albums and artists related to the keyword will appear in a horizontal scroll. Clicking on ‘x’ will clear the search.
Settings for the app are gated with questions that can only be understood by parents. This allows parents to set a timer on app usage, manage child profiles, and more.
6. Measure success
Remember to tie your solution back to the original goal of this project by considering how you will track the usage of your feature in product and specifically which success metrics you should be monitoring.
Some useful metrics to monitor would include:
- Conversion rates. What percentage of users successfully completed a business or user goal or task.
- User acquisition. How many customers end up buying or downloading the good or service.
- Engagement. How often are users interacting with the new product or feature and which parts are they most engaged with.
- Retention. How often do users come back to your product after using it for the first time?
- Revenue. How does the product or new feature help with generating financial returns for the business?
To measure the success of the Spotify Kids launch, we would look at the:
- # of app downloads as an indicator of acquisition
- # of monthly active users as an indicator of usage and retention
- # of songs streamed an indicator of engagement
7. Next steps
Lastly, talk about the things you would’ve done if you had more time or what you would do differently. Recruiters may ask further questions related to your submission so be prepared to answer these. Consider the following:
- Usability testing. Which parts of the flow you would validate as part of usability testing to test your assumptions?
- MVP vs. non MVP. Explain what your solution addresses and what it does not. It would create a clear picture of the constraints you operated in.
- Working with engineers. How might you work with engineers to build an MVP?
- Consider how this might fit into their existing product. When interviewing with established companies, be mindful of the fact that they have a business in many verticals. Suggest ways in which your product could be integrated with other parts of their ecosystem.
- Show, don’t tell. Back yourself up with evidence whether it’s in the form of user research insights, lo-fi sketches, wireframes, user journey maps, usability testing results etc. It’s much more compelling (and convincing) when you are able to show interviewers what you did.
- Storytelling is key. Every good narrative starts with a problem, takes us on a journey of how the protagonist overcomes challenges and reaches a solution. As a designer this is no different. Recruiters want to hear about your journey and how you came up with the final solution. Use the Design Process as a framework to structure your story.
- Show your breadth of skills. For Product Design roles, recruiters are looking at whether you are able to work on products end to end. This means that if the challenge asks you to create a product, don’t spend so much time on understanding the problem that you end up compromising on the final solution!
- Prioritise your work effectively. Related to the above, try to spend half of your time on understanding the problem and the other half on the solution. As the law of diminishing returns suggest, there’s only so much effort you can spend on a Design Challenge until the reward of investing further becomes smaller.
- Prepare a presentation. Don’t walk interviewers through a messy Figma file without having a logical and coherent narrative. Have a presentation prepared and be intentional with the content on each slide. Avoid walls of text.
Finally, know that an interview is not just a one-way conversation — it’s a two way street. Treat this as an opportunity to learn more about the company and whether the role fits in with your goals as a designer. Don’t forget to ask the interviewer questions towards the end. Good luck!
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Ready to take the challenge?
We’re hiring at Canva ! Come and join one of Australia’s fastest growing startups where our mission is to empower the world to design. Take a look at the roles available here !
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