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I applied for a design job at Google–and turned my interview task into a startup

I didn’t get the job, but the infamous interview task led to much more.

I applied for a design job at Google–and turned my interview task into a startup
[Images: courtesy of the author]

Over a year ago, I was lucky enough to bag an interview at Google for the role of visual designer. After getting through several tough rounds, I was faced with the notorious Google interview task. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the job. Fortunately for me, all was not lost–as I fell in love with the task so much that I cofounded a fitness tech startup on the back of that idea.

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The site I designed for my Google interview task (left) and the final landing site for my fitness tech startup, Tona (right). [Image: courtesy of the author]

Here’s the story of how we built Tona, which recently launched on Product Hunt.

The work I created for my task versus Tona, today. [Image: courtesy of the author]

The dreaded interview task

The bane of all product designers’ lives is the dreaded interview task. We all know the drill: you have “four to six hours” to design a slick product, with a memorable brand and cohesive working method. No one acknowledges the fact that in reality, you’re about to dedicate up to five working days to this task, with the potential of simply being ghosted afterwards.

When I interviewed at Google for the role of visual designer, this was no exception. After two rounds of interviews, I was slapped with the infamous task: they presented three design challenge options to pick from with a week’s notice and advised that we should spend no more than three to five hours on the task (wink, wink) and provide the following deliverables:

  • A low-fidelity overview of your proposed UX (wireframes or sketches are fine)
  • A high-fidelity mock-up for one widget or interaction
  • Any materials you used to arrive at final results (paper sketches, explorations, etc.)

To be fair to Google, they did stipulate they valued the work process and idea generation above pixel perfection. But, as a designer, I can’t help but fuss over the details. I know that great visuals capture attention and that every extra minute of work can help you get the edge over a rival candidate. And so, the late-night work began.

God is in the details. These were my interview task mock-ups. [Image: courtesy of the author]

The task

One of the options was to design a Fitness Class Leaderboard. As a regular gym goer, I decided to go for it. I figured it was a chance to flex my design skills in UI and UX, with a little fun thrown in. Fit-tech had already piqued my interest; with my friends (and future cofounders), I had spent many evenings nursing drinks and musing ideas for a gym-class booking app.

In order to cut down the production time, I reused assets I’d already doodled during the class-booking app ideation. Then I duplicated the layout and web page presentation format that I’d used for previous interviews (check out my previous work for Shazam and for Hudl).

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The holiday balcony workspace. Intentionally ruffled, by design. [Image: courtesy of the author]

I always strive to be as efficient as possible by reusing components and assets, but the dreaded interview task still got to me. I racked up 30 hours of work trying to make Google love me. All on a week in which I was also on holiday in the South of France, I was working until 3 a.m. on a balmy balcony in the town of Nice (not the worst thing in the world, but being on the beach or in the buzzing bars would have been a hell of a lot better).

I really wanted the job, and I put my all in. (You can see my final interview submission here.)

Interview task on the left, and Tona as it is now. Although the brand has visibly improved, the core facets of the product are still very similar. [Image: courtesy of the author]

From the interview task to a business idea

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the job. I was told it was extremely close and that I should reapply in 12 months, but it seems my ideas weren’t out there enough to excite them . . . so try and shock them, aspiring Googlers!

This pragmatic approach was intentional, however. I was already thinking ahead to how this product could sell to my local gym, or how I would use it the next time I hit a class.

The original versus the finished app. [Image: courtesy of the author]

While researching, I found there was no true platform for gym leaderboards–ones that record and display metrics, no matter your gym. What I had in mind would record everything, from reps to distance, load to calories, seconds to rounds, max heart rates to one rep maxes. In your gym or at home. No matter the location, this app would compare your results with friends, gym buddies, and the rest of the world.

My mind instantly went to an existing app I love, Strava. I use it almost daily to record my runs to share and compete with friends. But I also enjoy strength and high-intensity interval training in the gym. Because of the task’s gym leaderboard brief, I realized there was an untapped niche to create a social fitness platform for all gym-based activity, including recording and sharing reps and sets, not just distance and pace.

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The Tona app today. [Image: courtesy of the author]

Redemption

Fast forward to mid-May: We have finally released our product Tona (check it out on Product Hunt!). It has been one heck of a journey to get to this point. There have been plenty of ups, downs, and mistakes along the way–about which I’m sure I could write plenty more on. But looking back, one of the most interesting things is how similar my initial design for the Google Interview task was to where we landed today.

The “Explore” sections of interview task (left) and live App Store version (right). [Image: courtesy of the author]

Where we are today

We have over 5,000 users planning, recording, and sharing workouts–from boxing to yoga, CrossFit to HIIT, from Mexico to Japan and London to Los Angeles. In fact, our beta users have burned two million calories collectively and lifted 500,000 tonnes since we launched—all of which are displayed through over one million unique leaderboards filterable by sex, age, weight, and location.

Filters in the interview task (left) and the live App Store version (right). [Image: courtesy of the author]

Our gym solution is being trialled by five studios in our hometown of London, and we have international expansion in mind this year (if you are a gym owner, reach out to us at hello@tona.fit!).

[Image: courtesy of the author]

Try my interview task for yourself

Fortunately, this interview task had a life after completion. Unfortunately, for the most part, those weeks of work never do.

I hope this inspires you to treat future interview tasks, no matter your industry, as an opportunity to explore ideas beyond the first paycheck. You never know–there might be a startup in it after all.

This post originally appeared on Medium. Andrew Burton is a London-based product designer who has worked in multiple tech companies over the past decade. He recently cofounded Tona, which is free to use and available to download for iPhone, Apple Watch, and prerelease on Android now. You can also share your feedback on Product Hunt. 

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