Examining the ethical, psychological, and practical concerns surrounding design challenges, and advocating for a more inclusive, human centered and effective approach to evaluating designers.

Ornamental image. Top view of a wooden desk with pencils and pens. At the center a book. The cover of the book has modern designs depicting skyscrapers on the right side of the cover and on the left side a series of circles and spheres similar to planets

Since over 10 years and inheritated from the speculative work of the “physical world”, design challenges are a mainstay in the design hiring process of many businesses of any size. They faced and are facing a growing chorus of dissent from designers who find them unfair, disrespectful, and ineffective.

This analysis examines 186 comments in order to try to understand the psychological and practical reasons behind this discontent, uncovering concerns about unrealistic time expectations, lack of respect for expertise, limited skill assessment and ethical considerations surrounding unpaid work.

Largely picking up from the voices of designers themselves, the article amplifies their call for reform, advocating for a more human-centered and ethical approach to design talent evaluation.

Alternative assessment methods, such as portfolio reviews, collaborative discussions are presented as more promising avenues for assess the candidate and promoting inclusivity in the hiring process.

This article not only highlight the pitfalls of design challenges but also charts a path toward a more respectful and successful way to find and grow candidates.

Table of contents (part I)
1. Background context
2. Methodology
3. Findings
4. Objective and/or Scientific Foundations of Designers Complaints
5. Negative Impacts for Businesses
6. What designers wants?

Table of contents (part II) click here for the second part

7. What motivates designers to promote design challenges?
8. Why do designers who advocate for design challenges continue to insist?
9. But what about whiteboard challenges?
10. I’m still going to ask for a design challenge
11. Conclusions

Background Context

Overview of Hiring Practices

Some digital companies, during the recruitment process to fill positions like:

  • UX Designer
  • UX/UI — UI/UX Designer
  • Product Designer
  • Lead
  • Head of
  • Director of
  • UX Researcher*

usually require a challenge at the second step, other times as first step.

*designers are the most involved, but the challenge can also be requested from UX Researchers, sometimes (and this happened to me) presented as a request to design something.

The design challenge also called a task or take-home assignment, usually consists of one of these requests:

A. Conducting an audit of a web app or a mobile app (generally an heuristic analysis)

B. Following a prompt that requires producing a certain type of deliverables/artifacts generally related to the design or redesign of a web app or a mobile app.

When the request directly concern the companye’s product or a client’s product, or when the work concerns a similar product, for example, an eCommerce company that requests a design challenge in the eCommerce sector albeit different in the type of product sold, then these challenges are called unethical and, when they require for the source file of the work, are considered the worst ever.

These challenges are considered unethical as the ideas, designs, and/or consultancy of the candidate could be used by the company to their advantage and without paying the candidate.

Another type of challenge is called “whiteboard challenge”, which, in addition to potentially falling into the above unethical categories, involves inviting the candidate to the office and asking them to solve a prompt at the whiteboard while members of the evaluation team observe the candidates and/or interact with them.

This latter is divided between whiteboard challenges that inform the candidates in advance of the prompt that will be given, thus providing context, and those that do not inform them.

In the digital age and post-Covid, this practice has been transferred to a video call, for example on Miro, FigJam, and other digital products capable of simulating a whiteboard.

Personal notes

The use of this practices does not seem to be confined to a specific industry, company size or country. In my personal experience I rarelly found whiteboard challenges here in Europe (DE, IT , ES, GR mainly)

However, there could be a correlation between exposure to digital innovation/expansion and its practices (resulting in a kind of spillover), as well as the age of the company’s employees and their ability and interest in staying current.

For instance, individuals who are active on the internet and conduct research related to their profession, could become aware of this practices and subsequently introduce them to their company.

On the other hand, more mature individuals, aged 50+, could transpose it from the physical world (such as architecture, graphic design) to the digital one.

Furthermore, a candidate who had to complete a design challenge to secure a job, could emulate this practice to the next candidate if they ever find themselves in the position of being the interviewer.

Even at a contractual level, the context varies. For example, as a freelancer, I have never been asked to do a design challenge, possibly due to the fear of being invoiced, but I have been asked to do so as an employee.

Emergence of Design Challenges

Tracing the exact starting point of design challenges as a hiring practice proves tricky. Here’s why:

  • Global Variations: The timing could differ significantly across countries and continents. What might have emerged in one region years ago could be a newer trend elsewhere.
  • Language Barriers: Exploring this topic across various languages adds another layer of complexity. For example, translating “design challenge” into Italian, my native language, it’s weird and probably I would have called it “lavoro gratis” (free work)
    Someone more sophisticated, again in Italy, would have called it “lavoro speculativo” (speculative work or spec work) like in US.
Artificial illustrtion with just ornament purposes. It depicts people with 17th-18th century clothes and design of projects of that time

The practice of unsolicited design work to prove your skills in order to get the job or the project, likely stretches further back 2000, especially in fields like graphic design and architecture, when it was and still it is called “spec work” or “speculative work”.

I found a trace of the term “spec work” in this pdf produced by Entrepreneur Inc dated 2004 with this word used by a Graphic Designer.

The image it’s a screenshot of the following text: “Working on “spec,” is an area of contention among graphic designers. Some refuse to work on “pitches” or do graphic designs on speculation. “I do not participate in spec-work or pitches. It’s bad for graphic designers to take part in this type of business development strategy,” says Los Angeles-based Pertrula Vrontikis. “The graphic design industry doesn’t pitch for million-dollar accounts like an agency, or for assignments that last three…

Against this practice several sources emerged, like nospec (a site that also offer articles against it), a page on wikipedia

Speculative work, also known as spec work, is any kind of creative work that has been completed or submitted by volunteer designers to prospective clients, under the circumstances that a fair or reasonable fee has not been agreed upon in writing. Designers are required to invest time and resources to contest with each other to win a contract. — Wikipedia

and this youtube video uploaded in 2011

The term “design challenge” is simply the evolution/adaptation of the term “spec work” applied to the digital context.

We have mention of it in a Twitter by Jared Spool in 2006 (I can’t find the screenshot) and trace of the term on Quora in December 2010

A Designer (possibly) asking on Quora in 2010 if spec work exercies in design job interviews are yes or a no

Who is Behind Them

I don’t have data on this specifically, but based on observations, when a company lacks dedicated designers or product managers, someone exposed to design challenges might implement them within the hiring process. In companies with product managers or owners, they often introduce them.

It’s worth noting that unless they have a background in UX design or behavioral sciences, none of the individuals mentioned above typically possess the complete knowledge to fully assess design candidates. Therefore, some companies opt to hire freelance designers for evaluation.

However, if a company has someone with a design title, they’re the most likely candidate to introduce the design challenge.

Unfortunately, in many cases, this practice is carried out by a fellow designer who often receives free rein from the company. Because the company itself lacks expertise in this area, they rely heavily on the designer’s judgment, even if the designer themselves may not have the complete knowledge required to effectively assess a candidate

Criticisms and Concerns

There is a general division among those who promote this practice:

  • Those who consider it effective and indispensable for evaluating a candidate
  • Those who declare they have never used it, such as Peter Merholz, former co-founder at AdaptivePath, and those who strongly criticize it (Peter Merholz too)
A screenshot of part of the article availble at the above link associated with the firm “Adaptive Path”. It calls out that design challenges are not effective and does not help you in evaluate a candidate

Concerns have been raised about their fairness, as they may favor candidates with more free time or resources.

Questions have also been raised about their effectiveness in accurately predicting job performance.

Additionally, there are concerns about inclusivity, as these challenges may inadvertently exclude talented candidates who are unable to participate due to various personal circumstances.

Purpose of the Article

The purpose of this study is to investigate into these criticisms by analyzing comments on LinkedIn related to design challenges.

The goal is to understand:

  • Why designers dislike design challenges?
  • Are their motivations objective and/or science based?
  • Do they offer alternatives?

By doing so, I aim to identify potential drawbacks of this hiring practice and explore alternative assessment methods that could lead to a more equitable and effective hiring process.


Data Collection

The data for this research was collected from LinkedIn, a professional networking platform. A total of 9 threads were selected for analysis. These threads varied in nature — some expressed opinions about design challenges, others questioned their validity as an evaluation method, and some promoted collaborative methods as an alternative to take-home challenges.

Data Analysis Approach

A research was conducted on 186 comments selected from these threads. The selection was based on the relevance of the comments to the research questions:

“Why do people dislike design challenges?”

“Do they offer an alternative?”

12 themes were identified, some could be further merged, but I’ve decided to keep it a bit granular for a more nuanced understanding of the sentiments and perspectives expressed in the comments.

Selection Criteria for Comments

The selection of comments was based on their contribution to the research questions. Comments that were too short or did not contribute to the discussion were excluded. All selected comments were in English.

The vast majority of comments were from designers who criticized the use of design challenges, some included whiteboard challenges as well.

In contrast, there were fewer comments from designers who openly declared they were adopting design challenges in their hiring process. A small number of commenters implied they were using this method, but did not explicitly state so.


The demographics of those who left a comment were diverse. They were mainly based in the USA, with a few from the EU and the Middle East.

They held various titles such as UX Researcher, UX Designer, CX Designer, Director of Design or UX, Product Designer, UX/UI Designer, Lead Designer, etc.

Their experience in the field ranged widely, with some having over 20 years of experience. They represented a broad spectrum of company sizes, from freelancers to employees of FANG companies.

This broad demographic and experiential range provided a rich and varied dataset for the research, offering insights from different perspectives and contexts within the design industry.


Chart bar of the numbers of comments per theme. The numbers of comments associated with their specific theme, are written right after the Theme name in the following of the article


1.Distrust and Ineffectiveness in Hiring Process (135)

The comments under this theme reveal a deep-seated skepticism about the efficacy of design challenges in providing an accurate measure of a candidate’s abilities.

They highlight concerns about the arbitrary nature of such assessments, a pervasive lack of trust in the hiring process, and the perceived inadequacy of interviews in fully capturing a candidate’s skills and fit for a role.

These comments not only question the effectiveness of design challenges but also express frustration and a reluctance to participate in such tasks, underscoring a broader distrust in the hiring process.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment with over 1000 reactions of a Designer complaining of a design challenge required in spite of a portfolio with 15 projects. I asked for another option and it was denied. The author is questioning “if my portfolio was satisfied you, then why give me a task to do again?”

2. Lack of Respect — Time Factor (85)

The comments under this theme express a strong dissatisfaction with the perceived lack of respect for candidates’ time but also their expertise as designers with previous working experience should not be asked to perform homework.

These comments highlight concerns about the insufficient time allocated for task completion and the unrealistic requests and expectations set by design challenges.

There is a clear preference for assessment methods that do not demand excessive time investment from candidates (eg portfolio walkthrough).

They encompass expressions of frustration with the hiring process’s disregard for candidates’ efforts and a call for more transparent and respectful practices.

3. Lack of Respect — Realism in Assessment (48)

These comments highlight the inherent lack of realism in tasks due to missing data and other information which upset designers that perceive it as a lack of respect towards them and their profession.

A likedin comment that complain about a company that asked for a design challenge, a user journey, without providing data forcing the UX Designer to invent things. The author then wonder “is this how they work in the company?” by guessing rather than by using data to devise solutions?

The comments underscore the importance of respecting candidates and the need for creating realistic assessment scenarios. There is a clear preference for assessment that accurately reflect the challenges and dynamics of real-world design projects.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author complain that those asking for a design challenge aspect a solution in few hours but in reality the work take several hours. The author point out that hiring managers reply “we care about your questions” but the author reply “how can I have questions if I have never researched before the problem” referring thus to the lack of dummy content and realism of the challenge

They advocate for more realistic evaluation practices that take into account the candidate’s work processes and experiences.

Furthermore, these comments critique the lack of insight into candidates’ processes in take-home challenges.

Designers suggest that discussing case studies from their career provides a deeper and more meaningful insight into their work and enthusiasm for the field.

4. Rejection and Avoidance of Design Tasks (65)

This theme contains comments where individuals express their outright refusal to participate in design challenges.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author states he always refuse these challenges because he has a portfolio and point out he would prefer a live design collaboration.

It includes instances where candidates decided to abandon the hiring process due to the presence of such task, or expressed an intention to avoid companies that require challenges in the future.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author says that he/she reject any sort of design challenge

This theme highlight the strong negative reactions and proactive measures taken by some candidates in response to design challenges.

5. Alternative Assessment Methods (55)

The comments analyzed suggest a variety of alternative assessment methods that are seen as more inclusive and reflective of a candidate’s actual abilities, thus providing a fairer evaluation process.

  • Portfolio Reviews
    This is the most frequently suggested alternative. The designer responsible for the hiring, reviews the portfolio candidate on its own.
Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author says that portfolio reviews are more respectful and achieve better results
  • Collaborative Discussions
    Soft skill interview to understand how people work. The focus is trying to understand how it could be work together, a way for both, candidate and future colleague to see if there’s a fit.
  • Portfolio Walkthrough
    This method provide insights into candidates’ thinking processes and collaborative abilities. It’s seen as more respectful of candidates’ time and expertise as they do not require speculative work.
  • Tailored Tasks for Senior Roles
    Some comments suggest creating tasks that specifically test differentiating skills for senior roles, indicating a need for more tailored evaluation methods.
  • Choice between Design or Whiteboard Challenge
    If the challenge is mandatory, a few comments suggest giving candidates the option to choose between a design challenge or a whiteboard challenge
  • Whiteboard challenge
    One/two designers were preferring this method as they stated they could not perform well with design challenges.

The overarching theme is a call for assessment methods that are more realistic, respectful, and reflective of the actual work designers do.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author is making an hironic comment. If the company feels it has to de-risk a candidate by asking a design challenge, then the author would like to ask a design challenge to the company so to de-risk him/he from ending in a company with poor management

6. Unpaid design challenge (49)

In these comments designers express frustration with the expectation to complete design tasks without compensation, questioning the fairness and efficacy of such assessments.

Screenshot of a linkedin post. The author complain of an unethical challenge he did and was rejected without any feedback. He says he will never do again design challenges.

There is a consensus that portfolios, resumes, and interviews should suffice for evaluating candidates, and the use of design tasks is viewed as outdated, unfair, and potentially exploitative.

These last aspects seem to play as an aggravating factor in front of the fact that the design challenge it’s not compensated.

7. Ethical and Legal Concerns (47)

This theme encompasses comments that underscore ethical and legal concerns associated with uncompensated design challenges.

Designers bring to light issues of fairness and legality, discussing the potential exploitation of a candidate’s work and expertise. They also raise concerns about adherence to fair labor practices.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author point out the possible legal consequences for businesses asking spec work without compensation.

Furthermore, these comments discuss various ethical dilemmas linked to design challenges. They highlight issues such as the lack of compensation, the potential exploitation of candidates’ time and ideas, and the exclusionary nature of these tasks.

Additionally, they express apprehensions about the fairness and transparency of the hiring process. There is a need for a more ethical and legally sound approach to design challenges in the hiring process.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. General comments that describe this practice as ineffective, borderline, unethical and inhumane stating that those asking for it prey on the power dynamics that a hiring company has over candidates and pointing out that these practices are not good at predicting if the candidate is qualified

8. Challenges with Portfolio not Being Valued (45)

This theme includes comments from designers expressing frustration when their portfolios are not sufficiently evaluated or credited during the evaluation process.

These designers advocate for portfolios as the primary means of evaluation, as they believe these collections of work accurately represent their skills and experience.

Frustration is especially pronounced when design challenges require tasks identical to those already presented in their portfolios. These fictitious design challenges without dummy content are useless when a portfolio contains real scenarios or more detailed design challenges that instead included dummy content.

Design challenges are seen as redundant and dismissive of the effort and skills already demonstrated in their portfolios.

In summary, there’s a desire for a hiring process that recognizes and respects the value of candidate portfolios and avoids unnecessary duplication of the work already presented in them.

9. Risk Mitigation and Fairness (43)

In these comments, designers specifically call for compensation for candidates who invest their time in completing design challenges.

They argue that this would not only be a fairer practice but also a form of risk mitigation for both parties involved.

The comments highlight that if the attitude of those asking for the design challenge is to mitigate the risk of hiring an unsuitable designer, then the candidates should also be allowed to mitigate their own risks.

They point out that the not paid time invested in a design challenge could be used for another design challenge, paid or better crafted, preparing for an interview process that does not require a design challenge, applying to other jobs, and so on.

Designers emphasize the importance of creating a level playing field for all candidates, where their time and effort are respected and compensated.

10. Lack of Human Centered Design (26)

This theme contains comments that critique the hiring process for not adhering to human-centered design principles. The comments underscore the need for fair treatment and consideration of candidates’ time, skills, and unique ways of processing information.

They highlight that the hiring process often fails to consider the individuality of candidates, their diverse ways of processing information, and their other commitments.

The comments also advocate for a more human-centered approach to interviews. They emphasize the importance of empathy towards candidates and the need for meaningful discussions about the job and how candidates can contribute.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author point out that these challenges are not inclusive. If the candidate is working or it has children or other activities, there will be less time available compared to other candidates.
Screenshot of a linkedin comment. This comment enforce the previous one calling for a more human centered approach as this practice it’s not inclusive

They critique interviewers who adopt a grill-style or test-like approach, calling for more empathetic and inclusive interview processes.

11. Collaboration and Communication Assessment (8)

This comments emphasize the importance of assessing candidates’ ability to collaborate and communicate effectively. Designers argue that these important aspects are often overlooked in design challenges, which may focus too heavily on technical skills or crafting abilities.

They advocate for observing how candidates articulate their thoughts, respond to feedback, and engage in constructive dialogue.

Designers commenting here are seeking for a 50–50 relationship with their colleagues engaged in evaluating, this is another type of “collaboration” they are looking for, suggesting that interview exercises should not feel like exams or performances but rather opportunities for mutual learning and understanding.

These comments also stress the importance of collaboration in design-based roles and suggest that design challenges may signal a lack of value for collaboration within a company, this because the design challenge happens in a siloed context and the whiteboard challenges are too short and often, like take at home challenges, badly designed.

12. Inclusivity and Bias Concerns (6)

This theme captures comments that address concerns related to inclusivity and potential biases in the hiring process.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment stating that they are not realistic, not inclusive, that do not assess the the collaborative skills and that the author of the comment has hired successful designers without asking for a take at home task

The comments point out how design challenges may disadvantage certain groups of candidates, such as neurodivergent individuals or those with limited time availability due to other responsibilities (eg parenthood, caregiving, etc).

They underscore how these challenges could perpetuate inequality in the hiring process by not accommodating the diverse needs and circumstances of all candidates.

These concerns persist, with designers asking for a more inclusive and equitable approach to design challenges in the hiring process.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author point out that design challenges are full of biases and that sound as incredibily lazy.
Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author point out the lack of inclusivity suggesting that companies in this way are excluding the groups of candidates with diverse perspectives that the company needs and stating that it assumes that everyone play by the rule adding the potential legal risk for the business asking for unpaid work.

Objective and/or Scientific Foundations of Designers Complaints

Designers through these comments has rised up many topics and problematics about design challenges, let’s see some of them.

Lack of UX Design knowledge and so Human Centered Design

User Experience (UX) Design is rooted in the scientific research method, drawing from fields such as behavioral and cognitive psychology, anthropology, sociology and human-computer interaction.

These disciplines provide the foundation for our research, educating us about cognitive heuristics and biases, and guiding us on how to mitigate them beside helping us to deconstruct interactions and not just between man and machine.

Moreover, these fields enable us to understand the human brain as a computer, with diverse processes that can vary from individual to individual.
This understanding can then leads us to the discovery of neurodivergent processes, for instance.

Among other things, this set of knowledge is what allows a UX Designer to work on a SaaS as well as an eCommerce without having previously worked on a SaaS or an eCommerce.

Part of this, it’s also because UX Design discover problems and devise solutions based on data coming from research, not on guessing, and this is why people called for “realism in design challenges”, because often are just prompts without dummy content, data.

The one thing I can predict with certainty is that the principles of human psychology will remain the same, which means that the design principles here, based on psychology, on the nature of human cognition, emotion, action, and interaction with the world, will remain unchanged. — D.Norman (The Design of Everyday Things

All along his book (first published in 1988) Don Norman reminds us of the connection with Psychology, not just with Technology and its importancy. At least other two times he has reiterated this, here when he complains of the lack of knowledge in designers in 2010

Screenshot of a paragraph of the Don Norman essay presented in the link above and in which the connection of UX Design with sciences is made

while here always in 2010 he underline the importancy of these scientific knowledges

In this screenshot Don Norman complaints that students in design are not trained in behavioral sciences and to not anderstand the importancy of research to lead the design decisions

again here in 2014

In this screenshot Don Norman again reiterate that UX Design comes from sociology, cognitive science, anthropology

and Don Norman continue to call for this in the next years, also in 2016 when he point out that design became just craft.
It is no coincidence that perhaps all of the design challenges are just crafting, like in the job advertises: “wireframes, user flow, figma” no science required.

Yet in the end, scientific disciplines equip us with the ability to understand and effectively apply Human-Centered Design.
Once we internalize these principles, they can be utilized to identify issues in any form of interaction even human-to-human.

This understanding becomes so pervasive that it’s hard to pretend that our application of knowledge should be limited to the interaction between the customer and the product or service we’re working on.

Consequently, any objections to design challenges become transparent and self-evident.

Limited Scope

Design challenges frequently concentrate on particular tasks or scenarios, which might not adequately represent the full range of a designer’s abilities and experiences.

Candidates often perceive these challenges as an oversimplification of the design process, failing to evaluate their capacity to address intricate problems.

This refers to the fact that these challenges often focus solely on the crafting aspect, neglecting considerations such as user needs, usability, accessibility, research analysis or, the focus, may be exclusively on a single aspect.

This limited scope combined with a lack of realism, make often looks design challenges as ceremonies rather than evaluative processes.

Books likes “The Design of Everyday Things”, “Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things”, the snapshots of Don Norman essays or article like this one about emotional design, highlight the complexity and breadth of design work, suggesting that design challenges focusing narrowly on specific tasks or scenarios may indeed not fully capture a designer’s skills and experience.

Artificial Environment & Realism (lack of dummy content)

Design challenges are conducted in artificial or isolated environments, disconnected from real-world design scenarios.

Designers argue that this, artificiality hinders their ability to showcase their true capabilities and problem-solving skills.
I think we can back up with science some of the elements that were part of the above themes:

— Lack of User Interaction and Feedback
Social proof and anchoring (just to mention two) are psychological concepts that play significant roles in user behavior and decision-making process not just for a person using a product or a service, but for everyone, the candidate too.

Social proof is the tendency we have to conform to the actions or behaviors of others especially when we are uncertain.
Anchoring refers to the cognitive bias we have when we relies too heavily on an initial piece of information when making decisions.

These concepts aren’t inherently negative and they can be leveraged to guide user behavior and improve user experience.

For example, in a design challenge, in absence of user feedback, a candidate could leverage the principles of social proof by use existing data as a form of social proof.

Anchoring instead, could be used to make strategic design decisions. If the design brief mentions specific user expectations or industry standards, these can serve as ‘anchors’ that guide the process and the candidate can then design solutions that meet or exceed these anchored expectations.

However, in the typical design challenge scenario (as well whiteboard), the lack of dummy content (fake user interviews, personas, empathy maps etc), place this evaluative method into a limbo of everything and nothing that make it challenging for designers to effectively apply these concepts.

Without dummy content, designers may struggle to evaluate the effectiveness of their solutions and may lack confidence in their work.

This can undermine their ability to showcase their true capabilities and problem-solving skills, as they are unable to demonstrate how their designs would perform in real-world scenarios or how they would respond to user feedback and iterate on their designs accordingly.

Artificial Pressure
Many design challenges, in addition to not taking into account the candidate’s available time, often have extremely tight delivery times (for example 48 hours) which make this evaluation method further ineffective.

Stress and pressure can impair cognitive function and decision-making.

High levels of anxiety or stress can reduce the efficiency of cognitive processing and often lead to impaired performance, moreover also time pressure can negatively contribute as it can influence decision-making and task performance.

Indeed, working memory, attention, response inhibition and cognitive flexibility have all been found to be impaired by stress (Girotti et al., 2017). At work, impairments in these domains translate to a reduced ability to concentrate, control our impulses, remember and plan. — Cambridge Cognition

This study on Nature called “Time pressure changes how people explore and respond to uncertainty” studied the way in which time pressure affect our decision making and help to sustain “spec work detractors” motivations.

— Emphasis on Style over Substance
Spec challenges lacking of dummy content, often end up to emphasize visual outputs, potentially overlooking a candidate’s critical thinking, research skills, and ability to adapt to real-world constraints.

Psychology again explain this through cognitive heuristics, social belives and the way in which our brain works and form quick irrational decisions.

Time Constrain

While the unjustified time constrains posed by design challenges can negatively impact the quality of the final output of the challenge in any candidate, neurodivergent individuals, such as those with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), dyslexia, and other neurocognitive conditions, may require more time to process information, organize their thoughts, and complete task.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author complaint about time constraint stating that 5 days are never enough to complete the task and calling out for a lack of inclusivity for those who has other activities (eg childcaring)

The strict time constraints of design challenges can be particularly challenging for them, as they may struggle to work effectively under pressure within the allotted time frame, thus penalizing them over the other candidates but yet being perfectly able to perform the job within the company and, in some exceed in analysis over more traditional individuals.

Furthermore, this study titled “How Time Pressure in Different Phases of Decision-Making Influences Human-AI Collaboration” (very interesting to read for the take on AI) found that human cognitive and decision-making abilities depreciate under pressure.

This conclusion is also supported by the studies from RA Barkley (note: in some there are also children in the demography), Bennett Shaywtiz on Dyslexia and this other article.

A statement from the above research that says time constrains are administrative convenience and does not help to evaluate intelligence or potential

Lastly, while not specifically highlight in the comments, assessments for any candidate, must abide by equal employment opportunity laws to avoid any discrimination or adverse impact on candidates.

Subjectivity in evaluation

Although we are well aware that the evaluation of a candidate is a process highly subjective rather than objective, design challenges are often created with such a high level of approximation that they become even more subjective and therefore poorly effective in their evaluation.

As we have seen above, there is a latent lack of basic knowledge of the scientific principles that govern the fundamentals of UX and HCI that instead could help in improving the process.

This is compounded by the fact that design challenges are often created without any care; they often seem thrown together by our potential future colleague, as if to say:

“Here’s the design challenge, I’ve done it, now I’m done.”

Sometimes they are presented on PDFs without paying attention to:

  • information architecture and white space management
  • without clearly specifying what the deliverables are
  • without clearly indicating what will be evaluated and what will not
  • and without dummy content

All this laxity opens up all possible scenarios, and without reference points. For example, the candidate may say one thing and the designer responsible for the evaluation may say the exact opposite and be convinced they are right without any supporting data.

— Lack of Standardized Evaluation Criteria
One of the key issues contributing to subjectivity in evaluation is the absence of standardized evaluation criteria for design challenges.

Without clear guidelines on what constitutes successful performance, designers in charge of the evaluation may rely on personal preferences or biases when assessing candidates’ work.

In many cases, design challenges are evaluated in an unstructured manner, with the designer evaluator providing feedback based on their individual impressions rather than following a systematic evaluation process.

It can be considered somewhat paradoxical as we are talking about conducting user interviews…
The role of a designer typically involves things like understanding, empathy, research, critical thinking, metacognition etc

However, when it comes to evaluating candidates in a hiring process, especially through design challenges, the criteria for assessment may not always be as clear or standardized as one might expect.

This lack of standardized evaluation criteria can lead to discrepancies and unfair treatment of candidates.

— Variability in Evaluator Expertise
Another factor contributing to subjectivity in evaluation is the variability in evaluator expertise and experience.

Design challenges may be evaluated by designers with differing levels of familiarity with design principles, industry standards, and best practices.

Evaluator expertise can impact the reliability and validity of assessment outcomes, with less experienced evaluators exhibiting higher levels of subjectivity and inconsistency in their judgments.

Without adequate training and calibration among evaluators, there is a risk of biased or unreliable evaluations that may disadvantage certain candidates.
Which is another reason for not implementing this practice, which should not be implement because:

  • “I feel powerful”
  • “I feel proud”
  • “Wow I am responsible for the evaluation, such prestige”
  • “I’m feeling cool”
  • “This makes look me/us professional/s”

There’s nothing wrong in saying:

“I can’t do it”

and this is indeed is also another problem, some of us grow in the field with the wrong colleagues around, often ready to grill us and thus increasing social pressure.

The following was a comment about lack of training:

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author point out it must be recognized that sometime designers involved in the hiring process, just end up to be involved in it without having any type of training, thus opting for a design challenge.

Negative Impacts for Businesses

Here we try to draw some conclusions about the possible negative consequences for businesses insisting with this practice.

— Limited Insight
Design challenges may not provide a comprehensive understanding of a candidate’s abilities (interdisciplinarity of the profession).
If a company’s hiring process doesn’t accurately assess a designer’s skills, it could lead to hiring individuals who aren’t the best fit for the team or the work, potentially affecting the quality of the team’s output.

Restricted Talent Acquisition
Businesses or Designers evaluators that mandate unpaid design tasks, risk alienating skilled candidates who respect their time and abilities, and who might be willing to undertake a paid design challenge.

B. Experienced professionals and candidates who perceive the challenge as poorly constructed or lacking necessary data, may choose to bypass it entirely.

C. Designers whose portfolios already extensively demonstrate their interdisciplinary skills, may decline challenges that necessitate redundant replication of existing portfolio content.

D. Candidates with time constraints and those with neurodivergent conditions, might opt out of participation due to concerns about being evaluated based on the final work, which could be adversely affected by limited time availability or unique information processing methods.

These factors could lead to a narrowed candidate pool, potentially resulting in missed opportunities to recruit a diverse and highly competent design team.

— Lack of Diversity
A hiring process that is not accommodating of diverse needs and circumstances could lead to a lack of diversity in the workforce. This could limit the range of perspectives and ideas within the company and negatively impact innovation and problem-solving.

— Reputation Damage
If word gets out that a company is essentially asking for free work during the hiring process, or worst an unethical design challenge, it could harm their reputation in the industry and limit the talent pool.

— Human-Centered Design Principles Perception
A. By ignoring the principles of human-centered design, companies may be showing a lack of empathy for their candidates.
This could be a red flag for designers who value empathy and human-centerd thinking and may be as well a red flag of the way in which the design team or the design evaluator work.

B. Without considering the emotions and psychology of candidates, companies may not be getting a full understanding of a candidate’s problem-solving abilities, creativity, and design thinking.

Lack of Critical Thinking
Persisting with poorly crafted design challenges, despite evidence suggesting their ineffectiveness, may indicate a lack of critical thinking or metacognition in the hiring process.

What designers wants?

Designers are calling for a more human-centered approach to the hiring process, one that prioritizes fairness, inclusivity, one that respect their time, expertise, accurately reflect the realities of the job and consider their individual circumstances and needs.

This includes a shift away from design challenges that are seen as unrealistic, time-consuming, and potentially exploitative, towards alternative assessment methods that provide a fairer and more comprehensive evaluation of their skills and abilities.

They seek reforms that address the shortcomings of traditional design challenges and align with the principles of human-centered design.

This includes incorporating realism, authenticity, and comprehensive assessment methods, as well as accommodating the needs of neurodivergent individuals.

They aim to create a recruitment process that fosters a positive candidate experience.

Their 5 points

1.Comprehensive Assessment
Designers seek assessments that encompass the full spectrum of their skills and experiences, rather than focusing narrowly on specific tasks or scenarios.

This involves evaluating critical thinking, research skills, adaptability, and collaboration, in addition to visual design abilities.
They want this to be done through their portfolio as it provide projects and case studies based on data.

They want peer to peer interviews with their future colleagues, so to test soft skills, explore how both parties thinks and see how they could work together, this may involve developers too.
The understand that the lack of a portfolio, may trigger the request of a task.

2. Realism and Authenticity
If the designer evaluator insist with a design challenge (whiteboard too) designers want it closely mimic real-world design scenarios, allowing them to showcase their true capabilities and problem-solving skills.

This involves incorporating dummy content like interviews answers to analyze, personas, user journeys and so on.

3. Objective Evaluation Criteria
Designers advocate for the establishment of standardized evaluation criteria to ensure fairness and consistency in the assessment process.

Clear guidelines on what constitutes successful performance can help mitigate subjectivity and bias in evaluations.

In case of a design challenge, this also means clearly state what are the aspected deliverables (sketches, mid/high wireframes, prototypes, task analysis, interviews, user journey etc) and what is going to be evaluated and what not.

4. Inclusivity and Support for Neurodiversity
Designers emphasize the importance of accommodating neurodivergent individuals, such as those with ADHD, ASD, or dyslexia, who may require additional time and support to demonstrate their skills effectively.

Flexible time constraints and alternative assessment methods can help level the playing field for all candidates.

5. Professional Development Opportunities
Designers value opportunities for learning and growth throughout the recruitment process.

Constructive feedback regardless of the outcome of the assessment it’s desired but in case of design challenges, is strongly demanded.

Their Atlernatives

1. Portfolio Walkthrough
Portfolios contain work that designers have completed in real-world scenarios, often for actual clients.

They argued that portfolios offer a more holistic view of their capabilities compared to a single design challenge, which may not capture the breadth and depth of their expertise.

Screenshot of a linkedin comment. The author states that the same can be achieved with a portfolio walkthrough.

Portfolios often include projects that detail the designer’s process from start to finish, providing insight into their problem-solving approach, decision-making process, and ability to handle feedback and revisions.

This gives a more accurate representation of their skills and how they apply them in practice.

Personal note:
It’s indeed bizarre that some designers reject entry levels and junior portfolios for containing design challenges or case studies (notice that a case study is based on data) calling them not real, and then in their place, they propose design and whiteboard challenges that are not real and without data.

2. Peer to Peer Interview
This format involves informal discussions or “chit-chat” sessions that go beyond technical assessments and delve into soft skills, collaboration dynamics, and work styles.

In these interviews candidates have the opportunity to interact with team members who they would likely collaborate with closely if hired (typically designers, then developers and the product managers). This allows both candidates and interviewers to see if there’s a “vibe” but also to understand they works.

To read the second part of the article click here

Link sources
Linkedin 1
Linkedin 2
Linkedin 3
Linkedin 4
Linkedin 5
Linkedin 6
Linkedin 7
Linkedin 8
Linkedin 9

Design Challenges: Designers Demand Reform as Unfair Tasks Miss the Mark (part I) was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.