What is this question about?
This product design interview question tests whether you are familiar with the principles of good design.
What is the interviewer looking for?
The interviewer is evaluating you on the following:
- Do you understand the principles of good design?
- When evaluating a product, do you use the principles of good design or are you subjective?
- Do you articulate a structured and logical answer?
How to structure your answer?
We suggest structuring your answer in the following way:
- List the principles of good design that you will use in your answer. We recommend reading The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman to learn about the principles.
- Pick a product and describe what it is and does.
- Describe the design problems and possible solutions.
- Wrap up
INTERVIEWEE: The Kindle desktop application is an example of a product that I think is not well designed.
A well designed product must have the following key attributes:
- The product solves the problem it is intended to solve.
- The product is understandable.
- The product delights the user.
- The product provides feedback to the user when things go wrong.
The Kindle desktop application is weak in the first three design attributes: solving a problem, being understandable, and creating a delightful experience. Here’s why.
The Kindle App is a desktop application that serves as an e-book reader, and as a books collection manager. The application has several features, but I want to talk specifically about two:
- The ability to highlight text and add notes that link to a passage
- Tracking of the last page read
Solving a Problem
The features to highlight and add notes are not efficient solutions. The Kindle App for desktops separates these functions into two features: Highlight and Add Note. The Highlight feature lets you highlight text and save that text as a new entry in a sidebar. The Add Note feature allows you to select text and associate a personal note with the text and save both as an entry to the same sidebar. There is no need for having two separate options. Most often people want to do both in one go; add a note to their highlighted text as a reminder to why the text was highlighted. A more efficient solution is to combine Highlight and Add Note into one feature by giving the Highlight feature an option to enter a note.
Then, there is the issue of finding a Highlight and a Note. Searching Highlights or Notes in the sidebar is not easy because the Kindle App does not provide a way to organize them. One solution would be to organize the Highlights and Notes by placing them under a chapter label Another way could be to let the reader create categories or labels to group the notes by. But the way the Kindle App is now, a user could potentially have 100+ Highlights and Notes in the sidebar, making it difficult to figure out what the notes are referring to.
Furthermore, it is not possible to easily see which Highlights or Notes are associated with a highlighted passage on the page. If a user clicks a highlighted section on a page, no Highlight or Note in the sidebar is selected or vice-versa. The user can click on a Highlight or Note in the sidebar and the page where that Highlight or Note was added will appear but that is it. If there are 10 passages highlighted on the page, it is difficult and time consuming to figure out which of those 10 passages is associated with a particular Highlight or Note.
The Location feature in the Kindle App is supposed to tell you how far along in the book you are. The feature is not a page number but a number without a description of its meaning. My guess is that it refers to the number of the last word on on the page the user read. However, this information is not very useful because it is too granular. If you have two pages open in a book, and the display says you are at location 5403, that does not help a user identify which page they read last.
Let’s now move on to the issue of delighting the user.
Delighting the user
Tables are poorly laid out in the Kindle App. When a table is longer than the height of a page, the table splits into two parts with column lines that are completely misaligned.
The table completely breaks the user’s reading flow, which will very likely annoy the user. One improvement could be to use smaller fonts so that the table fits completely within one page.
To summarize, I find that the Kindle App desktops has a few design weaknesses: its Highlight and Add Note features are not useful; the Location feature is not understandable, and the layout of large tables breaks the reading flow.
Amazon markets the Kindle as the best device on the market for reading, but related Kindle products like the Kindle App for desktops does not help support that message. Improving the design deficiencies I mentioned will strengthen the Kindle brand image.