Getting better at Design Problem Solving

By Neil Ballinger - 02 August, 2017

The Whiteboard challenge
When we’re interviewing for positions at Nimbletank, we hire with a few things in mind. Culture fit and capability are important, but we like to employ smart, diverse people who can really add something to the company.
As Steve Jobs said:
So the fact that you have the right personality and capability is always more important than how well you can animate or how quickly you can code a homepage.
Getting smarter at your job and being better at making hard decisions isn’t easy to learn. It comes with experience, and more often than not, is taught by failing. When it comes to UX and Design there are now a lot of options out there, when it comes to wanting to improve. You can take tutorials on Lynda, or if you really think it’s worth it, spend thousands of pounds with General Assembly.
For me the best way of improving as a professional User Experience Designer is improving your understanding of the user centred design process and capability to solve real problems. The best way of doing this is The Whiteboard Design challenge.
In this article, we’ll cover how exactly the Whiteboard challenge works.
What is the Whiteboard challenge?
The Whiteboard challenge is where a designer has 1hr to sketch onto a whiteboard, a step-by-step process walkthrough, from problem to solution. There are multiple versions, but typically in undertaking a whiteboard challenge, a designer needs to take a problem and:

  • Show a keen understanding and investigation of the problem
  • Interrogate and build assumptions around customers
  • Demonstrate a user journey or system flow a solution
  • Sketch out their solution
If you can, do the Whiteboard challenge with a partner, who is as enthusiastic about Product Design as you are. Being able to talk through your process is as important as being able to execute it. Your capability to deal with and understand criticism is also important.
The challenge itself is not about evaluating a solution, but your ability to communicate your ideas and an ability to hone the process you go through in producing solutions.
Step 1: What’s your Objective?
Before jumping into any design, it’s important that you understand objectively what you’re trying to achieve.
Write down questions such as

  • Who are you designing for?
  • What is the goal of this design?
  • How are you trying to improve the life of your customer?
  • What will be their reaction to using it’?
  • Where and when will it be used?
By asking questions like these, you not only help scope down your solution, you also guide your design solution.
Step 2: Understand your user
The most important part of User Experience is of course the person using your product. Who is this person? What do they do? What do they need?
To keep this space simple, it’s best to create 4 quadrants, similar to a proto-persona. The quadrants include -
User Needs: What need are you fulfilling and what do they currently do at the moment to achieve this?
User Goals: What are they trying to achieve by using this product?
Constraints: What are the technical, geographical, economic and behavioural constraints that may need to be considered when designing for them?
Context: What is the context of using this product? Where and when is it going to be used? What touchpoint do you need to consider?
Step 3: User Journey
Once you’ve listed out the four quadrants and have detailed as much detail as possible, it’s time to map out the steps your user will go through in using your product.
This could be a list of bullet points, but is best executed as a systems flow, as our experiences with products are rarely played out in a linear fashion.
Think about your customer's first interaction with your product, and create a flow all the way through to where their objective has been met.
Step 4: Sketching
Now that you’ve got your flow sketched up and have an idea of the journey that your customer will go through, it’s time to imagine what the pixel portion of your flow is going to look like.
These can be really simple steps. If your flow is more than 10 screens - its best to pick out the 3-5 most important screens. Show them in flow too. The screens that you do design do not have to be detailed, but have to be concise and understandable to inquisitive minds.
Make sure the device you decide to design for reflects the context of the situation the product will find itself in and the preferences of your customer.
In conclusion, Whiteboard challenges are great because they get you focussing on your problem solving capability rather than your craft. They go beyond UI and make you think about the bigger picture of what you’re designing and train you to question every decision you make.
A lot of people use the Whiteboard Challenge as an Interview technique. We don’t do that at Nimbletank because it can make candidates uncomfortable.
If you do work with us though, we do expect you to be able to facilitate and manage our clients through similar processes in devising relevant and innovative products.
A process and a job that hopefully you agree is pretty exciting.