How to practice the take-home design challenge

As I inch closer to completing my UX Design program, my focus is starting to shift more towards putting the final touches on my portfolio and prepping for interviews. As a new designer, the thought of a design challenge during the interview process is pretty intimidating — just thinking about a whiteboard challenge bumps up my anxiety a few levels.

To help prepare for these challenges and feel more confident in the interview, I have started to practice “take-home” challenges. I completed my first one this weekend and wanted to share my experience and advice for student designers wondering how and why they should start this process.

CareerFoundry, the program I am currently learning UX Design through, offered different prompts for students to utilize during a practice design challenge. The prompt I chose was the following:

Design an app for locating pet-friendly food places (e.g., restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, etc.).

Here is what my step-by-step game plan was when I began to work my way through this challenge.

Step 1: Give yourself a deadline.

For this first challenge, I gave myself three days. Since this was my first practice challenge, I wanted to give myself more time than what recruiters might typically expect so that I didn’t completely overwhelm myself on the first try.

Step 2: Understand your process.

What steps are necessary for your design challenge? Do you know the intention of each deliverable? Each project is different, so not every case study will require the same work that others did. Here’s an example of what my process was for this particular challenge.

Step 3: Write out a plan.

I used Notion to track my progress and document my work. If you have never used Notion before, I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. It’s a great platform for professional and personal use.

Step 4: Allocate a specific amount of time for each step.

This is something I didn’t do enough of, and I should have. You don’t want to find yourself nearing the end of your deadline and you haven’t even started your presentation. Storytelling is so important in design, so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to explain your process and design decisions.

Step 5: Get to work!

You’ve got your prompt, you’ve made your plan, now you’re ready to go. Stay focused on your timeline and if something takes longer than planned, don’t panic! Go with what you have and if you have some time in the end, go back and refine some things.

Step 6: Celebrate a job well done.

Even though these are just practice challenges, they still don’t come without hard work, potential stress, and a lot of second-guessing. Whatever it might look like for you, reward yourself at the end of each challenge. Self-care is everything.

After completing this task, I had some things to reflect on. My project was far from perfect, but that’s what practice is for! Here are some of the lessons I learned and advice for future design challenges.

1. The importance of managing your time

I mentioned this in step four, but when you’re working with a tight deadline, it’s so important you allocate a certain amount of time to each task and stick to that schedule. When I was getting close to my deadline, I realized I spent far too much time on the aesthetics of the application and didn’t leave myself the time I would have liked for the storytelling/presentation phase.

2. Understand your intention

Should you focus more on the research phase? Is creating well-thought-out low-to-mid-fidelity wireframes essential for your project? Understanding what the most important deliverables are for your case study is crucial. As a UX designer, I wanted to focus a lot of my time on the low-to-mid-fidelity wireframes, as well as how I came to my design decisions from the user research phase.

3. Be vulnerable

Share your project with a design community and get some feedback! As a new designer, being open to constructive criticism can help you grow. After sharing my project on LinkedIn, I have made connections with designers that I probably never would have made if not for being vulnerable and sharing my case study.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Not much more I can say other than practice is key. There’s no better way to prepare yourself for future design challenges than practicing the process yourself. The best part about practicing? There’s no pressure! Pick a prompt you know you’ll enjoy and have fun!

For more inspiration, check out my first practice design challenge here!

If you’re still unsure how to start practicing design challenges to prep for interviews, send me a message! I’m happy to provide any guidance that I can to help new designers grow and advance in their design journey!

- Kaity

Junior Product Designer documenting her journey as a newbie. I provide content for beginners to learn from my mistakes!