Questions (and Answers) from Design Interviews at Facebook

At the end of our interviews for Product Design at Facebook, we reserve a few minutes for the candidate to ask questions. It’s one of my favorite parts, where I can be asked anything about Facebook, the Product Design role or my experience, and I always try to answer those questions openly and honestly.

What’s caught my attention lately is how I’ve been introducing this bit. It’s become something like this: “I’d like to answer any questions that you have, because Facebook can be a pretty mysterious place.

Facebook has an incredibly open and transparent culture. Why would I choose to describe it as mysterious?

Our family of products covers a lot of ground, and yet many people still imagine Facebook simply as News Feed. There’s also the fact that design roles vary significantly in definition; Product Designer is an ambiguous title to many, and one that is left open to interpretation. And people interviewing are always pulling from past experiences both bad and good; while shopping for new roles, there are triggers and there are deal-breakers.

In the spirit of the transparency at Facebook that I firmly believe in — and to reduce that sense of “mystery”—here are my thoughts on five commonly asked questions in Product Design interviews.

What does your day look like?

Schedule-wise, I get in fairly early, usually shortly after 8am. I’m able to leave when I see fit, usually between 4 and 5pm. I used to be rigid about refusing to work on my “off” time — past experiences have compelled me to value and protect personal time — but now I’m comfortable going home and finishing up a thing or two in the evening if needed or prepping for the week on a Sunday.

It’s up to each individual to decide what they need to invest to be successful in their role.

Each day has a completely different flow. Often my calendar is packed; I call those days “all-day-meeting-days,” and I relax into that. This means I have product team meetings, design meetings, check-ins with cross-functional partners, 1:1s with mentees, design critiques, working sessions, interviews, etc. I might also attend one of our hosted events like our Facebook Design Lecture Series, our weekly Q&A where Mark answers employee questions, or informational talks on developing products. Sometimes I squeeze in an onsite chiropractor appointment or go to the gym.

We have an informal policy of “no-meeting-Wednesdays” where people in many roles are able to work remotely, often from home. At bare minimum those days are fully open for productivity. These are an essential complement to the rest of my week.

Ultimately, you’re in control of your own schedule, and it’s up to you to own both working time and non-working time. You make sure the flow of each day works for what you need to accomplish both short and long term, personally and professionally.

How do you decide who works on what?

I like to think that we’re very thoughtful about who joins what team. It’s not an exact science, but there are some clear facets.

Our group of Facebook products—and Facebook itself—span a lot of territory from consumer products to business tools, from complex systems to independent experiences. We have products and projects that rely heavily on strategy and product thinking, and we also have those that have bigger needs in interaction and visual design. The recruiting and interview process helps determine what products might be a good match for each new designer. At times we’ll hire people who are strong in a very specific area because we already have an open role in mind for them.

While we expect Product Designers to have a range of skills, it’s not an expectation that everyone is an expert at everything. This is where matching comes in.

Before you’re even hired, we do our best to match what you’re good at, what you enjoy doing, and where you’ll grow the most with an available and supportive team.

That might mean if you have experience designing systems, we’d want to look at teams with projects that have lots of complex dependencies. If you’re a junior designer, it’s important for us to consider teams that have solid mentors. If you’re passionate about a certain problem space, we might want to consider a team with that sort of content area.

It’s not a perfect system, but setting both you and your product team up for success means there’s a mutually beneficial partnership, and that’s the sort of match we strive to make.

What’s one thing you love and one thing you hate?

What I love most is that I’ve been able to get an enormous range of experience at one job, and that I have been in direct control of that path.

I’ve worked on three teams over my three years at the company: Payments — specifically Payments in Messenger — and simultaneously designed the first launch of Safety Check. I worked on Privacy for nearly a year, and I started on Facebook’s K12 Initiative at the beginning of this year. These teams have all had products and features focused around my areas of interest: complex problems faced by people using Facebook, often dealing with a common thread of trust.

The immense growth over the course of my time with these teams wouldn’t have been possible without the freedom to raise my hand and take action when it was time to move on.

I’ve been committed to and invested in each team, but I’m grateful to be able to ask for a new challenge or new environment when I need one and be able to find a good match.

As for the worst part of the job, for me, it’s the commute. I live in San Francisco, and the travel to Menlo Park is grueling. However, it’s a tradeoff, and I still keep coming in every day knowing there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

I’m fortunate not to get motion sickness, and I can get plenty done on our shuttles. It’s not difficult to be productive and get things done like emails, reviewing decks, doing audits or research with shuttle amenities like wi-fi. Many people sleep or listen to music or podcasts. I count commute time as work time; it is time that I do not have to myself. The time between home and work and vice versa are dependable ramping up and coming down periods, and personally, I value the time to switch gears.

I’d still rather have this job without the commute, but all of the other things I get from this job — not just the perks and benefits, but the growth and the ability to have impact—keep this tradeoff in balance.

How do you work with engineers?

For me, it’s been crucial to consider developers as my design partners. We work in a fast-paced environment, and products are often designed and built simultaneously; we don’t work in silos. Rarely is there a formal hand off of final designs and specs to a developer team. The best teams work collaboratively. We sometimes might have entirely different skillsets, but they’re always complementary. Often, we have overlapping expertise and interests.

I do my best to bring my engineers in early in my design process so that they can share ideas, feedback and constraints with me.

Likewise, I want to be involved in the development process so I can connect research and share the intentionality behind design decisions, and ultimately help the product get to the best state possible.

I host weekly design-eng syncs at the beginning of every week. I share early work, and my eng teammates share what they’re working on — all in the name of collaboration. I also utilize groups or chat threads or simply chat in person to share on the fly.

It’s up to you to build those partnerships with your engineering team; working closely together builds strong products.

What’s the design culture like?

We are invested in our design teams and the design community. We value inspiration, connection, and innovation.

Our design team hosts the Facebook Design Lecture Series where we bring in speakers from diverse perspectives that aim to inspire, elevate, provoke, and educate our entire Facebook community. We host our Artist in Residence program in which we bring in artists and designers to create installations in our workspaces. Our Analog Research Lab offers poster-making, screenprinting and woodworking, and they brings in external classes like TypeCamp. We have meetups like Draw Club, where anyone can come in and join an informal drawing class. We have quarterly hackathons—a permanent part of our product and design culture—where anyone can bring an idea to life and propose it in a few short days. We invest in building and teaching designers the best tools for the job like Sketch, Origami, and Framer.

Our resources have grown as our team has grown. Facebook’s Product Design team has changed substantially since I started three years ago; we’ve scaled to nearly 10 times our size.

Growth changes things, from operations to how we connect.

We used to have a volunteer team that worked on our interface guidelines comprised of a handful of people. Component questions or proposals would sometimes go through that group or often be resolved or implemented independently. We now have a fully functioning and comprehensive Interfaces team, which is ensuring quality, consistency and innovation in our standards.

There’s been some downsides as we scale. For a while, I hosted an intro session for my team in Design Camp — a three week training course for new design hires — and I had the opportunity to meet everyone that came through the door. Once I passed that role on to someone else, I no longer was guaranteed an introduction to everyone. I miss that, but even with that touchpoint it still would be difficult to maintain genuine connections with every incoming designer.

We still try to stay connected. We have events and offsites for both our entire design organization and our product teams. We’ve been to beach parties, visited goat farms, taken cooking classes, gone bowling, attempted glassblowing and gone kayaking. We’ve done metal-smithing, hung out on boats, taken mixology classes and baked croissants. We’ve had countless dinners together as a design family.

To keep abreast of current design work, we have quarterly all hands meetings with our entire design organization and regular monthly meetings for the our smaller teams. Our direct teams have weekly critiques, which allow us to share work with designers we interface with regularly and get continued feedback.

Everyone sits with fellow designers. We don’t, however, have our own floor or exclusive design space. I’ve twice in my career been the lone designer working on a product; I was still included in a team of closely related products so that we all could have support and camaraderie. Every design team also sits in close proximity to their respective product teams. Being at the cross-section of both design and cross-functional partners allows us to closely collaborate with every teammate, and in a way, that keeps us feeling small and connected, almost like a start-up.

I find this fascinating, that through the massive growth we’ve had, we continue to work in a scrappy yet connected manner. If you were ever to join our design family, I’m sure you’d be pleasantly surprised too.