How to assess product design skills

Portfolio review

Though historically, portfolios are the go-to method, they fail to showcase product design skills in many ways. In short, candidates feel forced to produce artifacts they think they need to, rather than tell a story about what actually had happened.

Design process: how it looks in portfolio vs how it actually happened
Design process: how it looks in portfolio vs how it actually happened
  • Still the best way to assess visual design
  • The least time-consuming for a hiring manager
  • It is the most time-consuming for candidates, and, not surprisingly, more senior candidates refuse to spend time on it.
  • Though supposedly it reflects real-life experiences, it’s impossible to say what actually happened. People rarely take credit for things they didn’t do, but it is tempting and honestly more practical¹ to show polished design concepts rather than the real-life product that went through all the challenges of dealing with stakeholders, timelines, and technical limitations.
  • It gives an advantage to candidates who were better placed in previous jobs (e.g., someone working on a product from scratch will be struggling to showcase their usage of quantitative data)

Whiteboard challenge

From “please redesign an ATM” to a more web- and business-specific design problem, the exercise challenges candidate to come up with a solution on the spot, involving interviewers as stakeholders or team members.

  • Allows to see how the candidate thinks, real-time
  • Works well to assess personality and teamwork
  • The least time commitment from the candidate as they’ll be guaranteed to spend determined upfront couple hours.
  • Though it’s good to evaluate design thinking and generativity, assessing other skills is difficult: from the inability to assess UI design almost entirely to a very speculative evaluation of other skills (“I would talk to customers,” everybody says)
  • Not exactly representative of a designer’s day-to-day job. How often do you really have to come up with a solution on the spot while being watched by people and reasonably stressed?

Design challenge (take-home task)

A candidate is given a problem to solve at home within a defined timeframe². The problem often is related to the business, and the area candidate would work on it.

  • It can be designed to assess the most important skills.
  • Gives candidates time to think and research and the ability to demonstrate their approach.
  • Most of the time, it’s impossible to timebox, so candidates who are eager to spend more time will get an advantage.
  • Some companies see this as an opportunity to get people to work for free. Not surprisingly, candidates who’ve had these experiences consider any design challenge evil and refuse to participate.
  • Unethical behavior of some companies gets way more attention than the fact that quite a few candidates would enjoy take-home tasks more than working on their portfolio as an opportunity to learn something new.



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Elena Borisova

Elena Borisova


Product, data, decision-making, philosophy| Learning from everything that went wrong | Digital Product Designer |