Need advice on upcoming interview: presenting my projects that didn't include much UX work

15 Feb 2011 - 12:25am
3 years ago
8 replies
1841 reads
savvy
2011

Hi- I'm relatively new to the UX world. I've done some UX work in my current job (but not nearly enough - long story- I have a UX title, but haven't been given the opp to do much at all) and have landed an interview for a UX Design position in several days (mix of interaction and visual design). The company I've been at for years placed no focus on user-centered design- it all came from the top-down pretty much (ie., we built sites with content given to us, staying within corporate template; major design decisions or any pre-design thought either came from higher up or was given to someone else on the team, not me- or we were just building static sites and never adding ideas or changing anything). I feel I have the raw skills for UX- obviously I'm getting to the interview stage- and I have a portfolio (some work projects, a few personal designs of site concepts I just created because they were interesting to me), but I'm a little stymied by what to say in the interview (truth: terrified): They want me to do a presentation of my projects, showcase my "presentation" skills, discuss the problems I faced in my projects and my roadmap to a solution, show variations of designs, what was successful (or not), and when possible, show the final version of given projects and speak to how they succeeded and, perhaps, how I could make have made them even better.

So, the major problem is we didn't do iterative design at my company, no user testing, nothing you would think of as standard UX practice (wireframes, even producing more than one design, etc). There weren't even a lot of "problems" per se- I did a lot of site building (coding, content, throw it into a corporate template) and not a lot of design. I was not the person with the ultimate decision or responsibility as to how the user experience went, or we didn't take that into consideration in that culture, so how can I explain what "my" process was?? I've gone back and done some of the relevant work for my portfolio (sketched out flows, wireframes, interaction-type models, variations on a few designs, etc)- but how do I speak to what the real process was like for these sites I just mostly took content for and built with no extra thought? And if I don't feel I have enough "good" examples, is it kosher to add in another one that's "made up" (maybe even of the company I'm interviewing at, but that feels a little risky...)- maybe take some random website out there and critique or re-design it as an "exercise" to include in my project showcase (is that what I'd say: "I just did this because I was frustrated with this site- or whatever- and wanted to do an exercise in re-design"? I'm assuming that's better than not having any examples of "projects"? I have the website design I created on a subject I'm interested in but didn't do any user testing on it- just created it. Should I go further and create some variations on its design or interactive pages, maybe run it by a few people for my "testing" and somehow try to expand on it??

I am very nervous about this- I have to start somewhere in the interview process and it will be painful, but I'm terribly worried that I just don't have the information to back up the actual projects, even though I know how I *would* have done them if I'd had the license I'd wanted (do I say that? "I didn't have the opportunity to actually do all the UX steps I'd have liked, but here's how I WOULD have done it."???).

Any help and advice is GREATLY appreciated here- I've read all the stuff on the discussions I can find about interviewing and am hoping some seasoned people here can weigh in and help. If anything above is not clear, please let me know!

thanks!!

Comments

16 Feb 2011 - 6:09pm
Vicky Teinaki
2008

Interestingly enough, some job listings for UX postings specifically ask what you'd to to change your website, though you do need to be careful about how you do it — if you remember the Dustin Curtis's AA redesign story, you have to be careful about suggestin g changes without thinking through the wider implications — and showing it may come down to the culture of the company.

If you didn't have much say on designs, there's not much you can do about it, the best thing is to talk about what you did have control over. It'd definitely be a good idea to do personal projects that show what you want and can be doing — not only showcasing your skills, but also that you're prepared to do your own work.

Speaking of interviewing, Jared Spool once recommended on this thread Adler's book "Hire With Your Head". Read it, if you can act like the interviewees in that book (namely back up what you say you can do with examples) then your most of the way there.

18 Feb 2011 - 3:44pm
savvy
2011

thanks a lot Vicky! I have been working on my own website, and since I have the freedom to do what I want with it, will use it as one of my primary examples. I'm hoping to learn as much as I demonstrate in this interview - it goes both ways. I'm prepared for them to ask about a re-design of their site and, from what I've read here and elsewhere, rather than being totally focused on the final product, I'm prepared to explain assumptions I make (even if they're not true in the culture of the company, I have to make some, right?) that back up the design decisions I'd present. I keep hanging onto some of the folks' comments here that they're much more interested in a demonstration of my thought process than whether I get it "right." Let's hope that's so!

I just hope it's not held against me that I didn't have all the influence I'd have liked on my corporate projects. There wasn't much of a UX focus at all there. And since I posted the above, I've managed to do some small-scale user testing on my own site, so I'll have more to talk about there.

thanks!

22 Feb 2011 - 12:26pm
lolab
2010

My .02 - I would give a brief explanation of your current environment and also state that's why you're looking for a new position where your skills can be better utilized.  Don't overapologize or dwell too long about how you were unable to follow a UX process - talk about what you *did* do and how you made the best of the situation, and what you would have changed if you could.  Then direct the conversation toward your process and those projects where you did have more control over the situation. 

If I were the interviewer, your past experience/work wouldn't be what I wouldn't necessarily what I'd be assessing, it would be the potential for your future work and how you communicate your thought process...as well as your confidence level.  If you can, practice how you'd like to talk about your portfolio with a friend, or even by yourself (I usually will do a bulletpoint outline about all the things that I want to talk about prior to an interview).  I find that this helps me keep any nervousness in check.  Best of luck to you!

22 Feb 2011 - 7:26pm
savvy
2011

Lola- thank you very much. After it I'll try to post some thoughts on it and a list of questions I was asked to help others out.

1 Mar 2011 - 1:11pm
savvy
2011

as a quick followup- here are some types of questions I was asked (this is for a hybrid IXD/visual design role):

  •  from the developer: how do you prioritize/balance UX needs with developer bug list/priorities/platform limitations?
  •  give an example of when you had to solve a design problem and how you did it?
  • talking over with a product manager the site I presented in my presentation (of my work projects)- batting ideas around, challenging me and asking questions- presumably to see how I think and also how I receive and respond to critique
  •  how does one optimize graphics for the web?
  • what is the difference between semantic markup (and some other kind of html? can't exactly remember- interesting, b/c this is NOT a coding job and HTML wasn't even mentioned in the description, although I can do it).
  • how did I implement the web style guide at my company?
  • how do I sell my ideas and the user's view to other stakeholders at the company?
  • and a bunch of other questions shot at me so fast I don't remember all of them.

 

Interestingly, I wasn't asked to draw anything, though I was ready to (had no idea really what to expect, but thought this was a possibility).

Disappointingly, they did not leave much time at all for questions. They were more interested in squeezing every single minute out of each interview to grill me. Advice to hiring managers: leave plenty of time for interviewee questions. Sometimes you learn as much from their questions as you do from your questions, IMO.

I have some followup questions for you guys, will write in a separate comment here.

1 Mar 2011 - 1:16pm
savvy
2011

I may have a followup interview there and one group I may be talking to is the developers. I think they want to discern how easy I am to work with or how well I understand their perspective on the design/development process. Would be interested in any bright responses to this- I mean, I think they're looking for whether I understand there's more than one competing need when you're designing and developing something, but I'm not sure what some "right" answers are to it. Anyone? I mean, my basic answer is that you have to balance out user needs with platform and code limitations, etc. but that seems too simple...

thanks!

 

2 Mar 2011 - 10:03pm
Julie_S
2009

Explain that you try to remain cognizant of software architecture needs, and that you realize that sometimes what seems like a trivial design change in the styleguide is many hours/days/months of modifying an unruly framework/platform - often because of baroque inheritance rules.  In complicated platforms, it's often stunningly difficult to do things, espcially if there's legacy code involved.  Because you aren't a developer, you rely on those that are to give you and idea of how difficult something is relative to other things - devs simply saying "no, that's out of scope" is not as useful as "that's out of scope because it's three times as hard as that other thing that has more priority" - so in such situations you would ask for that sort of context.

That said, I've never had bad reactions when I say that part of my job as a designer is to be an advocate for the user and usability, and therefore I have a responsibility to try and push in those directions.  If at an impasse, putting on the Product Development and/or Project Manager hat and looking at a problem from a ruthless business need standpoint usually does the trick.  The important thing is to make sure you don't come across as a creative diva who neither gives reasons for decisions nor considers others' expertise.

Good luck!

Julie

3 Mar 2011 - 7:30pm
lolab
2010

Totally agree wtih Julie.  I would also mention that key to this is involving them in the process from the beginning, i.e. sharing your first round of wireframes with the development team to understand the technical limitations/constraints, and continuing to iterate and check-in with them regularly throughout.

Also...based on my own experience, I would use the opportunity to evaluate how "design-friendly" they are.  Are you getting good or bad vibes?  Do they seem like they would be supportive of your work, or undermine it?  Would you have a lot of work cut out for you in terms of educating and evangelizing UX process/user-centered design etc?  If they're agile, how does UX play into that? 

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