I'm a programmer who knows enough about UI/IA to sound convincing and cares enough to want to hire someone who actually knows what they are doing. Interviewing programmers is easy - they go on and on about how to properly interview to find great talent.

I'm at a loss on how to do the interview.

I've looked at the portfolios, I've read the resumes, everyone in the room has passed those bars. When I interview programmers, they solve problems and they demonstrate how they think. How can I get that sort of interview for UI people? I don't want to just quiz them on Tog and Fitts's law.

The only thing I've thought of is to print off some of our web pages and ask for critiques and suggestions... What's a better way?

  • Related: See Glen Lipka's inspired answer to "How to become a user experience designer" Aug 26, 2010 at 12:40
  • @Miki Could please post what you did for the Sandwich Choice UI ? That old link is not working. I have a similiar assignment to do and I would like to see your version. It would be really helpful if you could tell me something more about what they said that would be the best. Thank you very much. Sorry if my post is in the wrong place (I'm new and I don't know how to response directly to you).
    – user14204
    Apr 22, 2012 at 20:01

9 Answers 9


Two things I'd recommend:

  • Have a conversation with them and find out how passionate they are about what they do. This is a good indicator for whether someone's a good hire for any industry, but specifically, you want to gauge how well they're involved and up to speed with events. I find people who know what's going on, what's new, what's cutting edge and from all those things what to use and when to use it are more useful than people who learned the theoretical way to build a UI in 1995 but didn't keep up with the real world.

  • Get them to redesign something you don't like very much. This is important because one of the core skills of an interaction designer is refactoring, which should be familiar to you as a programmer. Redesign isn't about throwing everything out and starting from scratch, it's about knowing what to change, why to change it, and understanding the impact of that change on the userbase, client, and engineering team.

So, for instance, I'd start the first part with questions like "What do you like about Hunch?" or "How do you feel about the new Google Images search?". This way you can figure out if they even know what's going on in UI design. "Are you excited about designing for mobile platforms?", etc. Ask them to tell you about their favourite app or game and explain what's so great about it from a UI/IA point of view. Get them to sell something to you - their passionate monologue/rant about something will give you a good sense of whether they know what they're talking about or they're just making stuff up.

The second part is harder given that you're not a designer yourself, but like programming interview questions, it's not so much about the end result as it is about the process. So make sure that when you ask them to redesign something, it's small enough in scope that they can go through that process with you. Pay attention to how they do that: do they whip out a drawing pad and start sketching out ideas? Do they say "well, do you have a computer with Photoshop installed?". Do they just start asking questions? All of these things will tell you how they communicate, how they learn, how curious they are. If they're good, then before just making rash decisions about changing a UI, they'll want to understand it as best as they can. That means understanding the business logic, vision/strategy, and engineering decisions.

I understand my advice is non-conventional, but I've always subscribed to the notion that if someone's a good, passionate, honest person, they'll do more for you in the long run than if they can name 5 famous designers and 10 UI books off the top of their heads. In the interview, you need to not only test them for UI trivia, but also about how they do their jobs. This method is really good at doing that.

  • +1 for contextualizing your advice for the programmer who's doing the interview. Aug 26, 2010 at 12:56
  • I see UX professionals using the word refactoring more and more, but often in a way that does not correspond how programmers use it. Refactoring in programming means optimizing the code of an application without changing the UI the code produces. So in that sense UX people almost never refactor, except for the ones who may by programming prototypes. Sep 9, 2011 at 7:08
  • 2
    Refactoring in this example means changing how the screen work without changing what is accomplished. Refactoring in code is about changing how the code works, but not what it does. In that sense they are similar.
    – Rahul
    Sep 9, 2011 at 10:19

Ask them to complete a small task.

Here is how I was tested a few years ago. I think this was taken from a NNgroup workshop.

Task: Sandwich Choice UI

This is a web interface for choosing sandwiches. Users are busy office workers on their lunch break.

List the issues with this UI. Redesign the interface. Feel free to use any kind of controls (links, radio buttons, checkboxes, dropdown lists, buttons, etc.)

[My note: each row is a blue underlined link]


Turkey on Wheat with Lettuce, Tomato and Onion    
Beef on Wheat with Lettuce and Tomato    
Beef on Rye with Lettuce, Tomato and Pickle    
Ham and Pickle (White bread)     
“Onion Lover” – Ham or Beef on Rye (Lettuce only)    
“Jamon, jamon” – Ham on Wheat with Lettuce and Tomato 
Turkey Lettuce and Tomato on Rye    
Beef, Lettuce and Tomato on  Rye    
Ham on Wheat with Lettuce, Tomato and Onion

There is no right answer. Look for simplicity and clarity.

They thought the best solution would be to use a series of drop-downs for customizing sandwiches. I did something completely different, but I was hired.

  • 4
    I'd add that it's important that they complete the task in your presence so you can see how they work. It's no good to just leave them in a room and come back to see what they made. Get them to think out loud.
    – Rahul
    Aug 26, 2010 at 13:23
  • 4
    I must disagree. It's impossible to design anything when there are people looking at you. Interaction design is a solitary proces. At least the part where you do the actual design (not when you gather information).
    – Miki
    Aug 26, 2010 at 14:02
  • 1
    Perhaps, but the point of the interview is to assess how the designer works and determine whether you want to hire them, not to give them a cushy, uninterrupted design experience. To do that, you need to actually observe the designer doing what you're hiring him for: designing. IMO.
    – Rahul
    Aug 26, 2010 at 18:53
  • 2
    I think design, just like any other trade, is something you should be able to verbalize to others if you have truly internalized the skill. Even if that's not true, I'm sure most interviewers will make the assumption
    – cbosco
    Sep 1, 2010 at 20:17
  • Nice question. I would give two selection options 1. for customers that don't know the sandwich combos yet: use icons + labels for the ingredients and let users click on a check-mark or an X near each one and after each choice filter out additional choices that are not relevant and remove the X from elements that are no longer possible to filter out. User can change any choice made the expand available options. When the user accepts a combo, let him/her know how it appears in 2nd option menu. 2. let returning customers choose a combo from a restaurant like menu (list). Apr 22, 2012 at 20:31

Make sure to decide what kind of person you want. A user researcher, someone who loves testing is not a designer. You can think of it as ... Do you want a scientist or an artist? Of course, you get a mix, but I find people really fall into one of those camps. (in my experience)

If you need revolution, use an artist. If you need evolution, use a user researcher.


Seeing how they work in action is definitely a good start. In addition, I'd recommend getting people who:

  • Love testing
  • Love learning
  • Know best practices
  • Know conventions and when, why, and how to break them
  • Are creative enough to come up with new solutions when the problems merit it
  • Aren't afraid to ask questions
  • Have all the basics down: good eye for design, spacing, color, cause and effect (all measurable from the portfolio)
  • Understand the intersection of business objectives and user experience

I would design your interviews to help tease out the answers to some of those qualities. Some sample questions:

  • What is the appropriate role of testing in a UI project?
  • When would you conduct testing in a project, how often, and how would you set up the test?
  • How do you keep updated on the industry? How often do you do so?
  • What considerations need to be made in [x] scenario or project?
  • What is the appropriate design pattern for [x]? Why? What are alternatives? What design patterns wouldn't work and why?
  • What would a user expect to see in [x] medium or market? How would they expect [x] to function?
  • Describe a situation based on past experience where you were given a job to complete where you were unsure about the project scope or implementation. What did you do to successfully complete your work?
  • Given [x] business objective in [x] scenario, how can both the business and user objectives meet to the satisfaction of both?

I've interviewed for some UI co-ops and each time they had printed out a page or section of their application/website and said they wanted to add a new feature or whatever. They asked me to go through what I would do and and then once that was done, they showcased how they solved the problem. They asked for critiques and comparisons to my design.

The best bet I feel is to get the interviewee to showcase their design process. It's the only way to truly see how they actually work, because just asking questions outside of the context of a problem cannot give you a proper picture of how they will work.

  • 1
    As a candidate, how did you feel about that process? Just curious. Aug 26, 2010 at 12:50

First of all, your idea is good. Combine it with actually adding/changing stuff and you'll see how the person thinks and go on about creating stuff.

In this process, one of the main things I'd do is try to discern if they (at least try to) truly understand the use cases and motivations behind the requests.

Also, this link was recently posted in one of the questions: A Quiz Designed to Give You Fitts

Not sure I'd adopt it as a whole, but it definitely has some good questions to use.

  • hah - that is in fact the Tog and the Fitts I am referring to.
    – MattK
    Sep 14, 2011 at 21:09
  1. A few key behavioral-type questions ("Describe an actual situation in which you..."), in a phone screen before bringing them in for an interview. Not just basic knowledge, but how they think and work.
  2. Have them do some prepared design work prior to the interview which they then present to a group at the interview. Need to be able to communicate, persuade, and stay professional and poised in a mixed group.
  3. Deeper dives into experience, philosophy, and work approach in the interview.
  4. Finally, have them lead a short design session at the whiteboard around a specific area you are working on now. It's not only a litmus test for them, it should be fun, and you will get some new ideas from the interview even if you don't hire.

Spend at least 4 hours with them in the on-site interview - but cut it short gracefully if it isn't working out.

Here are my favorite phone screen questions:

  1. What is your specialty? How would you describe your own balance of skills and passion in user research versus design versus evaluation?
  2. Who are 2 or 3 experts/authors that most shape your philosophy, approach, and techniques in UX?
  3. Describe a situation where you had to convince a developer of a better way of doing something.
  4. Describe a situation where you had to convince a product owner, product manager, or marketing person of a better approach.
  5. What are your thoughts on Agile development? How do key UX deliverables differ in an agile environment versus a waterfall or big design up front environment?
  6. If you could design your next job, what would it look like? What would be your ideal role in a new job? Why are you looking for a new job?

Here are some example exercises I had them do prior to the interview (when I was doing medical informatics):

  1. Ask the candidate to bring work products with them to the interview: products resulting from their direct work in UX design; measured results of their UX work on a project, documentation or explanation they developed for a UX process, method, technique, or practice; UX-related standard, guideline, pattern, or style guide they developed; anything else they are proud to show. Remind the candidate not to share any proprietary information that would breach any contractual or legal obligation they have, but do give a sense of their accomplishments, approach, and style.
  2. Develop a concept for a web site used by a physician’s office to track and maintain information about its patients. The site is used to collect patient demographic information such as contact information, sex, race/ethnicity, and emergency and physician contacts; measurable physical information such as height, weight, blood pressure, and pulse; and clinical lab results such as blood cell counts, blood glucose tests, and cholesterol tests. Prior to the interview, in three pages or less, describe your process for developing the concept, an overview of the concept itself, and any other information you think is relevant for understanding and using the concept. During the interview, walk us through the concept.
  3. Compare Google Health with Microsoft Health Vault. Prior to your in-person interview, prepare a one page summary of your comparison. At the interview, walk through your summary with the interview team.

Assure the candidate that they retain the intellectual property rights to any of their work for these exercises. Encourage them not to spend more than a few hours in preparation. Explain that we are most interested in understanding their approach, creativity, application of techniques, and communication ability.

In their design work, they should demonstrate at least the following:

  • An approach to understanding and articulating who the users are, what their work is, and what motivates them.
  • Design talent and familiarity with idioms, conventions, and patterns.
  • Instrumenting the development cycle with many feedback loops, early and often.
  • Engaging and effective oral, written, and visual communication. Deliverables should be professional and interesting.

@MattK Finding the perfect designer is tough as unlike programmer--there’s no way specific way to go about it. But prior to that - first list down what are the main tasks you want your designer to perform. For example - you are looking for great icon designer who can do a bit of illustrations, if required. The key is to figure out 60% -80% of candidate's day to day task and then plan on how you can test those skills.

If you want a Designer who has multiple roles to perform say - coding, visual design, content writing etc. then have a checklist for each category. Example -

Coding - For ex- Designer should be well versed with HTML5 and CSS3 with a bit of jquery knowledge - Ask him/her to design a page and then do a code review. Easy one.

Visual Design - accounts for look and feel of the interface. - Show your product/company page and talk about how it can be visually enhanced and what is the thought process behind choosing the specific colors elements etc.

Content Writing - Ask for his/her fav product headline and how your site headline/content can be improved.

Apart from that few other questions can be :

• Walk me through your best and worst work in detail.

• Have you worked in team before? Who do you interact with most and how do you tackle communication issues or opinion differences etc.?

•What is the most amazing thing you have seen on the Internet this month? [Passionate check]

•What phase or type of design you like most and least?

Good luck

  • I would not suggest asking about your own company's products. It tends to be a loaded question with a biased listener. The interviewee is also lacking all history with the project and important context. The only proper answer to that would be "I'd need to spend time with your business owners, your customers, and an analysis of your overall objectives to make a proper assessment." (There's also the issue of "Why am I here for an interview, are you looking to hire me, or just looking for free advice?)
    – DA01
    Nov 1, 2013 at 1:16
  • The latter questions are excellent suggestions, though.
    – DA01
    Nov 1, 2013 at 1:17
  • I would not suggest asking about your own company's products. - Point taken. But usually helps if the interviewer is more on the lines of Non-designer. Mostly designers who really care about product design, UX etc do stand for their point with apt reasons - even if its negative. Example - I feel since the design violates these design principles, won't work well for the firm. Apart from that, the questions designer pose to the interviewer, says a lot about his/her process. Glad you liked the suggestions.
    – ideawebme
    Nov 1, 2013 at 1:29

One method is to ask the "Goat, Wolf, Cabbage" question.

Sailor needs to bring a wolf, a goat, and a cabbage across the river. The boat is tiny and can only carry one passenger at a time. If he leaves the wolf and the goat alone together, the wolf will eat the goat. If he leaves the goat and the cabbage alone together, the goat will eat the cabbage. How can he bring all three safely across the river?

This is a logic, and is a useful UI state machine question. Asked in an interview, I would let the designer draw the process and think though the solution. This question allows the designer to solve a complex problem and you will be able to see how a designer will solve complex UI problems. Harold Thimbleby, talks more about programming interfaces in Press On, .

  • 4
    What do you learn about UI skills from this? You might learn about their ability to solve logic puzzles--or maybe they heard that one before--but anything beyond that is suspect. Jul 18, 2011 at 15:06

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