Answer to interaction design interview question #1

Preparation

The question is intentionally vague so that the details don’t suggest any specific response. Before asking the question, you should have a clear target user and environment in mind. I think you’ll find that designing for a high-end resort will be more fun than for a Comfort Inn, but you can choose a different target to evaluate a different set of skills. To keep things fresh and to reduce the value of outside coaching, you can even have a variety of different environments or constraints to choose from.

Time

Strong candidates could easily spend 10 minutes on this, but less experienced candidates won’t know what to do with that much time. If asked, say to spend 5 minutes but there can be more time if needed.

Useful questions for candidates to ask

  • What is the mix of users? Could be young children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged adults, older adults, families.
  • What is the mix of activities? Could be sunbathing, children/family playing, parties, water sports or games, water slides, mild exercise, lap swimming, physical therapy.
  • Where is the pool? Could be indoor or outdoor, or even a hybrid.
  • How much space is there?
  • What is the maximum capacity of the pool?
  • Are there other pools nearby?
  • What is the climate like? Is the resort in the Caribbean, Sun Belt, or somewhere else?
  • What is the type of resort? Note that a mid to low end resort could suffice with a standard rectangular pool, but a high-end resort would demand an unusual shape and more expensive features, such as waterfalls.
  • What is the target budget? Modest, low, medium, or high?

Note that all these questions affect details for a good design for the users, their activities, and the environment.

The correct answer

There is no one correct answer and a good design depends upon how you answered the above questions. Regardless, you can determine the level of candidates’ skills using the scoring system below based on the UX Design Skills Ladder.

How to score

Level 0—”Everybody”

  • Candidate might not get the question at all because 1) they don’t have a design process, 2) don’t recognize using a pool as a form of interaction, and 3) aren’t accustom to user-centered design thinking.
  • Will ask only a few questions.
  • Response will be in terms of technology, features, and details from favorite or recently used pools.
  • Emphasis will be on avoiding features or problems that they don’t like.
  • Likely to use “design by copy.”
  • Likely to works with a single solution, rarely considers alternatives.
  • Will design for self.

Level 1—Beginner designers

  • Candidate will get question and may think about target users and tasks.
  • Will ask some good questions.
  • Response will be in terms of technology, features, and details, but with more of an emphasis on tasks.
  • Still likely to use “design by copy.”
  • Likely to works with a single solution, rarely considers alternatives.
  • Will design mostly for self.

Level 2—Intermediate designers

  • Candidate will start by identifying target users, tasks, and problems to solve.
  • Will ask many questions.
  • Response will be in terms of tasks and possibly scenarios.
  • May work with more than one solution and may demonstrate creativity.
  • Will demonstrate user centered design by making decisions for target user instead of self.

Level 3—Advanced designers

  • Candidate will start by identifying target users, scenarios, and problems to solve.
  • Will ask many questions, focusing on how to make the project successful.
  • Response will be in terms of design features that enable scenarios. Will think about priority, tradeoffs, ways to make decisions, keys to success.
  • Responses will also be strategic. For example, if there are several pools, this pool has to perform only a few tasks well. If it’s the only pool, it has to perform all of the important ones to some degree.
  • Will address details like aesthetics, access, safety, maintenance.
  • Will work with multiple solutions and choose the best option based on constraints and priorities.
  • Will demonstrate creativity. For example, won’t suggest a rectangular pool for a high-end resort but rather something appropriate for its environment.
  • Will demonstrate user centered design by making decisions for target user instead of self.

Summary

While there’s no one correct answer, this interview question enables candidates to demonstrate their interaction design skills. “Designing for self” or “design by copy” won’t get the candidate very far, nor will “design by research.” (A good thing—it’s too easy to make all decisions dependent upon user data.) But mastery of a user-centered, scenario-focused design process will allow star candidates to shine.

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