Book Review: Solving Product Design Exercises by Artiom Dashinsky

Book Review: Solving Product Design Exercises

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Solving Product Design Exercises by Artiom Dashinsky

No matter where you are in your current UX/UI or Product Design career, you are likely solving problems on a whiteboard with your team. “Solving Product Design Exercises” by Artiom Dashinsky was written to help you improve and practice these critical collaboration skills. This short book is also an excellent primer for anyone who wants to better understand the Product Designer role at big tech companies.

Why You Should Read This Book

If you’re a mid-level or more senior UX professional, it will help you refine and enhance your product thinking skills and work more effectively with other designers. You’ll also gain a better understanding of how design can impact business success. Entry level designers will find tips and strategies to build a more appealing portfolio along with valuable interview advice.

Dashinsky is a Product Designer based in Tel Aviv and Berlin. He has led the design team at WeWork and a number of startups. His products are currently used by tens of thousands of designers working at companies like Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Netflix and Boeing. They’ve also been featured in Wired, TechCrunch, Forbes, and more.

Overview

The book’s main premise is that successful designers have a deep understanding of how design impacts business and its value to the organization.

Unfortunately, many design schools don’t teach the critical skills that make designers successful, such as:

  • Understanding how and why design adds value to the business
  • The importance of research to understand customers
  • How to work with engineers
  • How to present your work to non-designers
  • Understanding KPIs and measuring success

According to Dashinsky, the top 1% of companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google have figured out how designers can help them achieve their business goals. This knowledge is not shared externally, so these companies can afford to both compete for top talent and train entry-level designers in-house if necessary.

As a result, many designers outside of big tech companies “don’t know what they don’t know”, and wind up working mostly on the visual elements of design. The downstream effect of this is what Dashinsky calls the “Dribbblisation of Design”. I call this “Skipping To Pretty”, and it’s an industry-wide problem.

What’s A Design Exercise?

To address this issue, many companies now require a “design exercise” as part of the interview process. Asking candidates to solve and present a proposed design solution in person helps interviewers assess a designer’s overall skillset outside of the standard portfolio and resume.

Interviewers want to make sure you can communicate effectively with the team, think critically by asking good questions, and handle constructive criticism. At the end of the day, a successful product design exercise clearly demonstrates your thought process and represents how you would work in the real world.

Types of Design Exercises

There are usually three types of design exercises:

  • Live Whiteboarding – candidates are asked to explain their thinking and decisions while solving a given design problem in front of 3-5 people.
  • On-Site Exercise – Candidates are given about an hour to solve a design problem in a quiet space with paper and pen, and then asked to present their solution at the whiteboard.
  • Take-Home Exercise – This is usually a visual design assessment. Candidates a required to deliver a high-fidelity design within 4-8 hours over the course of a week.

Commit To A Process

The single most important aspect of solving any design problem is following a process. To that end, Dashinsky offers three tips to help you solve most design challenges:

  • Make sure you understand the task
  • Ask questions and make assumptions
  • Be critical about your solutions

Design Exercise Framework

The author also offers a useful framework called the Design Exercise Canvas when solving and presenting any design solution:

  • Why – Understand Your Goal
  • Who – Define The Audience
  • When/Where – Understand Customer’s Context and Needs
  • What – List Ideas
  • Prioritize and Choose an Idea
  • Solve – Use Storyboarding, Task Lists or Sketching
  • How – Measure Success

Lots Of Useful Examples

Have no fear if you’ve never done a design exercise. In the “Questions and Answers” section, Dashinsky provides several well-thought examples of how to conduct each type of exercise from beginning to end using his framework.

Packed With Resources

Last but not least, there are a ton of valuable resources in the back of the book. Everything from Vinod Khosla’s hiring philosophy to Jared Spool’s advice to companies on how to create useful job descriptions.

Final Thoughts

This book is a very quick read at just over 150 pages. You can literally read it in an afternoon, but the biggest value will be in learning and practicing Dashinsky’s Design Exercise Canvas.

Solving Product Design Exercises is very expensive at almost $40 for such a small book, but I think the content is totally worth it. In fact, it’s one of the best design industry books I’ve read in a while. Whether you’re looking for your next job or looking for ways to improve your current design process, check it out and let me know what you think.

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