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Key Questions every Product Designer should ask in an Interview

Posted on 08 October 2023

Key Questions every Product Designer should ask in an Interview

6-minute read

It seems that at least 70% of conversations we are having with designers gravitate toward their interest in finding a user-driven company.

This article is aimed at designers who want to get under the bonnet and identify how truly user-driven a company is, before taking the plunge to join them, as it is not always what it seems!

I was fortunate enough to be joined by Microsoft’s very own Martin Danty, Senior Product Designer, also Co-Founder of a music platform and AI advocate, to bring highly impactful questions for you to use in your next interview:

Martin Danty: “How do you measure product success?”

Why ask this: It’s a clear red flag if they don’t know or simply do not measure a product’s success. But remember that for smaller companies this might be exactly why they want to hire you. If you want the opportunity to build how they could measure this in the future, this red flag might be a blessing in disguise. But if you’re looking for a more mature design organisation, this is probably the first sign that you should continue looking elsewhere.

How to interpret their response: If the company measures, NPS (Net Promoter Score), customer satisfaction and retention rates, then you know these are user-centric metrics.

"Do you have budget for qualitative research?”

Why ask this: Most companies know that customer feedback is valuable, but probed further, many companies tend to neglect it regardless. Many will mention that ‘one time where they actually did it’ but try to dig deeper by asking if they set aside budget for research on an annual basis and research is consistent throughout their products.

How to interpret their response: A key indicator of a business-focused company may be that they use market research over their own individual research.

“On your last feature / release did you do any evaluations before release?”

Why ask this: Just like interviewers ask about your most recent project, asking them about their most recent release is important too.

How to interpret their response: It might not be the one they are most proud of, but that’s exactly why you’re asking this specific question. You want a realistic picture of what you can expect, not just stories from their greatest hits.

“When deciding what to build next, how are user insights weighted?”

Why ask this: If you’re applying for a more senior position, then this matters more. You don’t want to just test what others have decided to build, you want to have a seat at the table and steer the direction of the roadmap based on actual research and insights.

How to interpret their response: User-driven companies will be responding to direct customer feedback and see this as invaluable to improve whereas business-focused companies may be a little more selective with the input from customers.

“Have you ever decided to postpone or entirely cancel a feature based on user tests?”

Why ask this: This is normally where companies struggle the most. Even if prototype testing and user evaluations show that this might turn into a disaster, there’s simply no going back now that they’ve spent months working on this feature. …Or is there?

How to interpret their response: This is where a company can truly shine, if they can highlight a release where senior management decided to change the release date or the scope of the release based on input from designers then see this is a green flag.

“Does improvements in customer satisfaction have any impact on my compensation, or how does design impact translate to compensation in your company?”

Why ask this: You want to know if the company offers a bonus or other incentives based on performance because this will directly impact your role as a designer, more specifically the balance between the user and business needs, as well as stakeholder management on a project.

In situations where a big part of your salary is based on performance, the metrics that the employer use to evaluate impact must account for customer satisfaction too.

This is almost non-negotiable, simply because if it is not, you won’t be able to properly do your job. If the only incentives for your role are to onboard as many users as possible and make them pay as much as possible, there is nothing stopping you from going down the dark pattern rabbit hole.

This can end up hurting the company eventually, however, it is important to strike a balance. As a designer you are the voice of the users, but you also need the company to stay profitable and grow.This is in my opinion where the most exciting part of our responsibility as designers lie.

How to interpret their response: It is important to see how the company values your contributions as a designer, and you are ideally looking for companies that have some form of customer satisfaction as part of their compensation scheme.

 

Aimee Ellerton: “What is the collaboration like for designers?”

Why ask this: A key indicator that a company is user-focused is the structure of the team. Is there a Head of Design and other designers to collaborate with?

How to interpret their response: Typically, with this there will be design processes in place already and an indicator of personal growth within the company. Is the team working cross-functionally where you will be having different touch points with the product, making for a more collaborative approach? With this, user insights can be advocated throughout the product lifecycle allowing for the user needs at the forefront of discussions. Alternatively, in a business-focused company, you may have little communication with product or sole communication with just one area of the business and the team limiting your ability to advocate for the user.

Are there UX Researchers already within the team? This shows that the company places a high value on research not just execution.

You might find that you will be joining as the first designer but consider who will you be working closely with. Is there a Product Manager or a leader who will advocate for design and the user?

 

“What part of the design process do designers already in the team focus most of their time on?”

Why ask this: Understanding a company’s current design process will identify what they believe is most important.

How to interpret their response: Typically, user-driven companies focus their time on research, prototyping and then user testing, making sure they are aligned with the user needs. Is there time for testing and iterations based on feedback? This would be a key indicator if the company truly values customer feedback or values more on taking the product to market and hoping for the best.

 

“How well is iteration encouraged?”

Why ask this: Understanding how a company focuses on iterations is crucial in identifying how user-driven a company is.

How to interpret their response: How open they are to refining products based on feedback is a strong indicator here and the time they set aside within the design process to do so. Alternative responses from business-focused companies may be that they are resistant to any changes from the product and reluctant to dedicate time for iteration as it could impact financial budgets and goals.

 

“What is the company’s mission?”

Why ask this: Understanding a company’s mission statement also works as a guide for decision-making as a designer. You may be using this to anticipate the company’s strategic alignments and priorities and therefore design choices that could be impacted because of this.

Additionally, directly asking what the CEO’s thoughts are on user experience, will set the tone for how much the rest of the company value UX.

How to interpret their response: In an ideal world, the answer is that their mission is to be ‘fully user driven’ or surrounding user satisfaction, although this is an immediate green flag, here it would be good to identify how they are going to do that to gain an understanding of how your pivotal role as a designer will be part of this.

 

Using just a couple of these questions should help steer you towards an employer that matches your values and mindset, and ultimately help you make a more informed decision about your next career move towards a user-centricity.

A special thank you to Martin Danty for offering his insights, we hope you find this article helpful and if so, please share it among your network so we can collectively bring simplicity to the chaos of recruitment.

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