Hi, I’m Bryce, a former product designer at Airbnb and now advisor at Pathrise. I work with hundreds of designers to help them land their dream job.
For product designers who are looking to prepare for their technical interviews, it might be hard to find resources. When you are trying to decide what to prepare, there are a few elements that you should know will come up.
We created a list of 70 product design interview questions, with questions from real tech companies, so that you can practice. They will almost definitely do a review of your portfolio, often where you present your past work and they ask questions and give critiques. A lot of questions revolve around your design process, apps that you like, and how you would change those designs.
In order to better help you prepare, we came up with some frameworks you can use to respond to these common, but actual, questions.
1. Airbnb question – Defend specifics about type choice, color choice, aesthetic v. usability, etc in your portfolio
This question is meant to get at the why of your design process, what factors led to your final decisions. Your defense should generally include reasons from 4 main categories:
- Users – Discuss research and how insights informed your decisions.
- Context / constraints – Mention elements of the situation or limitations you faced (resources, time, etc.) that influenced your choices.
- Competitors – Point to similar products that establish the norm and why you did or did not align with them.
- Impact – Describe any metrics of success that guided your decision process.
2. Dropbox question – What does your design process look like?
This question is meant to understand the steps you go through when designing. Rather than generalizing your process or mentioning a framework like the “Double Diamond” method, it is better to anchor your process to a specific project or case study. Every problem is approached differently due to the various circumstances of the problem solving or the challenge in and of itself.
Tell a complete story. “When I was working at Airbnb…” or even more specifically “Iterating on the Airbnb Experiences idea, my team and I started with…” While process varies across market, team, and product, it generally follows this structure:
- Understand the user & their problems – This can include talking to users, secondary research, surveys, etc.
- Explore and iterate solutions – Sometimes brainstorming starts with sketching but not always. If you began with wireframes or by working off of an existing design, talk about that.
- Test or launch product – Describe building a prototype or how you prepared and managed the handoff to engineers. Who did you put the product in front of? How did you measure success?
- Repeat – What insights did you take into the next iteration cycle?
3. Google question – How would you design an elevator interface for a 1000 floor building?
This is a famous Google question because it can easily trap junior designers who tend to jump into designing too quickly. An eager candidate may start by explaining how they would replace the standard grid of buttons with a keypad or a slider, maybe even a search bar. Perhaps you simply speak the name of the person you’re looking for or the floor they’re on. But, by this point, they have likely already failed.
The problem is that the designer has made an assumption based on their previous experiences and started designing something that resembles a typical OTIS passenger elevator. But what if this elevator is for animals, or cars, or even robots in some future factory? And even if the elevator is for people, what if the building is non-residential? Maybe instead it is a massive warehouse?
The right first step is to understand the problem more clearly. You want to ask your interviewer questions in order to determine the constraints. Until you know what game you’re playing, how can you expect to win?
4. Cisco question – What’s your favorite product and why?
Interviewers use this question to test your product awareness and to better understand how you evaluate good design. Most candidates’ gut reaction is to talk about an app they have been using a lot lately and everything it does for them.
My favorite product is YouTube because it lets me watch videos from people I’m interested in. I watch a lot of makeup tutorials from beauty vloggers and it has helped me learn how to contour, which is awesome.
However this is not terribly deep. Instead, if you can lean into storytelling and talk about how you feel, the answer is going to sound more profound. The general format is:
- Utility – What is the product and what does it do for you?
- Emotion – How does the product make you feel when you use it?
- Craft – What about the product is well designed?
My favorite product is my Boosted Board. It’s an electric longboard that zooms at 22mph. It has completely transformed my commutes, especially to mid-distance locations like the gym where I wouldn’t necessarily want to Uber. When I’m riding, no matter what else is going on in my life, I have such a big grin on my face. It just brings me so much joy and makes me feel like a kid again. The design is executed so well, from the board which has larger wheels for traction and wide, springy bamboo build to the remote control which fits in the contours of my hand and has a sturdiness to it that makes me feel safe when I’m riding, even at top speed…
5. Apple question – What could Siri do better?
A product critique is an opportunity for the interviewer to see how you provide meaningful feedback. While instinct may be to start listing all of the areas that Siri could improve, the candidate should first demonstrate their understanding of the product.
- What is the goal of the app?
- Who are the users?
- What are the key features, how they work towards goal?
From there, the designer can start to discuss pain points of the existing product, in this case Siri. They should evaluate possible reasons the original designer had for their choices and evaluate any tradeoffs for suggestions they make.
Using these frameworks can help you prepare your responses in advance as well as thoughtfully answer any questions you are asked your product design interviews.
Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and young professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. With these tips and guidance, fellows have seen their interview performance scores double.
If you want to work with any of our advisors 1-on-1 to get help with your product design interviews or with any other aspect of the job search, become a Pathrise fellow.