by Tiffany Eaton
I interviewed at Facebook as a new grad. Here’s what I learned about design.
Facebook is a company whose product is used for connecting and keeping in touch with friends. While that’s only part of what they do, I believe their goal is to meet the needs of billions of people across the globe.
I resonate with a lot of the work Facebook is doing, such as empowering small businesses with Community Boost and using Messenger’s conversational UI capabilities for social good. These initiatives are extremely relevant when you’re trying to connect with the right people, and they make once unreachable resources extremely accessible.
For any aspiring designer wanting to make big impact, it’s no surprise that we get extremely excited when we have the opportunity to work at a place known for doing big things. I recently had the opportunity to interview at Facebook where they thoughtfully matched me with the Business and Ads team.
I was excited about the opportunity to potentially work in an environment that values accessibility and inclusiveness while developing deeper human connections across all parts of the product. This is something I am currently looking for in a company.
Overall, interviewing with Facebook was a great learning experience. I discovered more about what the company does, how it aligns with my work, and what I want to do in the future.
Regardless of the outcome, every interview experience is a part of assessing where I am — from the way I think about products and craft to how I communicate my design process with others. After all, you can only get stronger and be more aware of the kind of work you want to do in the future.
I’ll discuss some takeaways from my interview experience, along with some of Facebook’s values that I glimpsed during the process.
There needs to be intentionality behind every design decision you make
When we talk about our design process, we often forget to explain why we did something and simply state what we did. This way of talking about our design is fine if someone wants to know about the product itself.
But for any design interview, the interviewers want to know how you got to a solution. What went wrong? What went right? How did this step influence the outcome, and what was the next step? For every design decision, always — Explain. Why.
Intentionality is important, because it makes sure we have contextualized the problem and really understand who our audience is. It shows other designers how we work based on constraints, our ability to work with others, and how we connect decisions to solving the problem.
If we can explain our decisions, it shows people that we were not making a decision just for the sake of making a decision. Rather, it shows that we understand the effect our design decisions have and how those decisions address people’s problems.
While interviewing at Facebook, it became clear that the designers I was speaking to wanted to understand the story behind my project and the intention behind my design decisions.
The small details do matter
While I was presenting my portfolio, I thought I would receive questions about my overall product thinking. Instead, I received questions about the details behind my design, such as why I made the border around a dashboard green and what purpose that served. This is because small details convey the bigger picture of a design. They influence how we interact with a product to get to our desired goal.
It’s important to consider every detail and have a reason why it exists — does it enhance x feature, or is it for visibility purposes? It can make a big difference in the long-run. Take Facebook’s Like feature, for example.
The Like feature is small but it has many implications. It allows people to engage with content that they enjoy. From a business perspective, it allows Facebook to rank posts based on popularity.
It is a feature that is used extensively and encourages people to interact with each other for long periods of time. The person who designed it probably didn’t know the amount of impact it could have until they tested it.
Here are some articles that discuss designing the small details at Facebook if you want to read more about them in depth: Caitlin Winner’s How We Changed the Facebook’s Friend Icon, and Jasmine Friedl’s What I’ve Learned Designing Small Things At Facebook.
Giving feedback is just as important as soliciting it
We need feedback to grow, but we also need to be able to present feedback to others to help them grow and improve their designs. The ability to explain our work and be proficient in the craft of design is what most companies want. But from what I observed at Facebook, they go above and beyond by assessing our product thinking and communication skills within the product critique.
Product intuition is something we all hope to have, but articulating it can be a challenge. You need to generatively understand interaction design and visual design along with how the two relate to the product’s goal. All this while thinking about the audience the design was intended for.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in describing what a design does, but we also need to explain how it conveys value. The hard part is balancing the way we explain the details: why was x designed this way to begin with, and how do we concisely connect it to the way it solves a user need?
If you can’t do this well, then how will you communicate your work and give feedback to other people?
Here are some links to the value of design critiques at Facebook: Tanner Christensen’s A Design Critique with Facebook and A Peek inside a Facebook Design Critique, and Julie Zhuo’s How To Do a Product Critique.
Telling a story makes our point of view more relatable
When we explain the outcome of our design, whether it’s working someone through our prototype or key screens, we often explain what our design does but don’t explain in it in a way that involves people. We need to remember that the things we are designing are for real people.
We need to explain our products so that people will be able to relate to what the product is trying to do. We want them to understand the complexities of our product without getting lost in the details of how it works. We don’t want to confuse people, but want them to understand the story behind what the product is and why it exists.
When I worked for QuickBooks, I was presenting a solution to the problem of accountant-client collaboration on a project. I started by explaining how the product addressed a user’s pain points, but I didn’t center it around a relatable story or contextualize it. It sounded less human when I used “accountant” and “client.”
But then I characterized the two roles and centered the story around two personas, giving them names and daily tasks. This allowed me to give context to the experience and explain who these people were, what they were trying to do, what their problems were, and how my solution was able to help them with their workflow.
By talking about an experience with humans, I could explain my story better without outwardly explaining the complexities of the product. I wasn’t explaining the features, but I was explaining how a real person would use those features in a certain context.
As humans, we are wired to tell stories. We use a basic story structure, because it makes things simple to understand while tying them back to values we can all relate to. People will understand better, and they’ll know that your design is meant for people. This means that humans need to be in the stories we are telling in order for other humans to understand our ideas and how our product will exist in the real world.
Impact is a metric for the value you can bring to an organization
My teacher, who is a design manager at Facebook, emphasizes showing real work versus theoretical work. This is because real work offers leverage and value to a company: there are stakes involved, and you are making things that have tangible meaning.
Impact is what drives us to constantly create new things that are meaningful to us. We want to figure out new ways we can improve, whether it’s for ourselves or designing better experiences for others.
This is why making your designs public is so important. Real people will be affected by it and can potentially bring forth change. Design exists to be used — not as an artifact that no one is going to build.
Throughout this process, I’ve observed that having a deep curiosity to learn and grow is what leads to producing impactful work. We are encouraged to work on the things we care about, and we spread value to people who are in need of solutions to their problems.
When we show impact in a presentation, it is important to show metrics or hard data to support it. While data can make a good design great, data can’t make a bad design good. This is why showing impact with user insights over data analytics, or a combination of the two, can speak volumes. This approach expresses the thoughts and feelings of users that are hidden within the numbers.
Impact in the form of design intuition can also result in meaningful conversations. Showing data to support your point can either be right or wrong. With user insights, it’s harder to prove but it allows both sides to understand the problem in a more critical light.
It’s not all about the content, but how it is visually presented
Some designers say that as long as your product thinking is sound, then the fidelity of the outcome doesn’t matter as much. Like the small details, the visuals are what bring your idea to life in a more tangible way. The visuals are what will be facing people, so it is necessary to make sure that they’re presented in an intentional way. They should guide users to do the things they need to do while making it pleasing to the eye and making them feel good.
It is important to look at the big picture. But we also need to know how the details help us understand the bigger picture. Visual and interaction design skills are just as important as product thinking skills. The visual design highlights the thought process behind the decisions about why a product looks the way it does.
Even in presentations, alignment and consistency of content are key. Make sure you design cohesively and understand the basic principles of designing a job presentation: use less text, don’t overwhelm the user, and use visuals.
Facebook wanted me to walk through an interactive prototype instead of using static screens. They wanted to see how interaction design connects to visual systems — which is essential in creating visually cohesive experiences.
They also wanted me to show high fidelity visual design because it encompasses all of my design decisions. And they wanted to see whether or not my visuals connected to basic design principles, the problem, and who I was designing for.
Here is an article about the emphasis on visual design at Facebook and why product thinking simply isn’t enough: Jasmine Friedl’s How to Make Your Not-So-Great Visual Design Better.
Humility is key to designing for millions of users
When I asked the designers what values they resonated with when designing products at Facebook, a word that came up frequently was humility. This means really understanding people and guiding them to improve their lives in small, subtle ways.
“Design is creativity in the service of others” — Margret Gould Stewart
As product designers, we design with purpose to improve life because that’s what drives us. We want to bring meaning into other people’s lives. Deep down, we are doing it for the sake of humanity and for the pleasure we take in seeing people’s lives improved by the things we create for them. For Facebook, this might mean making the world more open and connected in part through great design.
UX design requires you to look at design beyond the surface. You have to look at the intentionality behind every design decision that is made. It’s not just about being able to execute using the design process. It is about utilizing different methods and frameworks that will allow you to strategically create thoughtful solutions. Design is thoughtful when the designer can explain it from different perspectives with the user in mind.
From interviewing at Facebook, I can definitely see that they care a lot about their designers: from the way they care about intentionality and open communication to their product thinking and the basic interactions of how a product will work.
It’s not just about stating what a design does, but it is about why something was made (the look, feel, and touch). It’s about how it solves the user’s problem and connecting it to what the business was trying to do for that user.
Interviewing at Facebook made me realize that it’s not just about the name brand of the company. It’s about the mission a company is working towards, its values, and the kind of work you want to invest your time and energy in.
Time is limited, and I want to be able to work for a company that will help me grow and provide challenges that inspire me to think beyond what’s currently possible. I resonate with Facebook’s mission statement and the kind of work they are doing across all teams, particularly the business team.
But if you are interviewing simply for the sake of finding a job, you won’t be satisfied. On average, it can take 2–3 years to see the impact of the growth you made. That would be a lot of time wasted if you weren’t passionate about your job.
Thank you for reading!
Thank you to Kevin Mao for being my go-to-editor and support, Jasmine Friedl who took the time to help me peer read and give me tips on how write in my own voice and everyone else who has helped me throughout the process. ❤
To help you get started on owning your design career, here are some amazing tools from Rookieup, a site I used to get mentorship from senior designers:
- Build a portfolio with help from an experienced designer
- Essential tools to strengthen and build your portfolio
- Take control of your time and career by becoming a freelancer
- Tips and tricks to get an amazing design job
Links to some other cool reads:
- Successful UX Design is Intentional Design
- Journey Mapping is the Key to Gaining Empathy
- Making Yourself Stand Out in the UX Industry
- Prepping for Design Interviews (My Microsoft Onsite Experience)
- UX is Grounded in Rationale, not Design
- The Types of Design Research every Designer should know NOW
- When did Design become so Easy?