What is this question about?
This product design interview question tests whether you have a sound process for making decisions on which product feature to build next. Your process should include the state of the existing product, the competitive landscape, the users and their needs and how you will use this information to decide which features to build.
What is the interviewer looking for?
The interviewer is evaluating you on the following:
- Is your answer structured and logical, or do you go off on a tangent?
- Do you provide keen insights about the customer and their needs?
- Are you able to provide multiple and diverse use case scenarios?
- Do you go beyond generalities in your solutions and provide detailed descriptions?
- Can you provide ideas that no other candidate has mentioned?
- Are you confident and sound credible?
- Would engineers and product people follow your lead?
How to structure your answer?
We suggest structuring your answer in the following way:
- Describe the product and what it currently does.
- Compare the product with competitive offerings.
- Based on your previous analysis, state what the goal of the new feature should be.
- Brainstorm use cases and prioritize them.
- Brainstorm solutions and discuss tradeoffs.
- Make a recommendation.
INTERVIEWEE: Okay, first I would like to take a step back and talk about the current VR product offerings from Google, and then examine how they stand relative to its competitors. This information will set the stage for a discussion on what the goal for a new future should be. After defining a goal, I will discuss possible use cases to consider, prioritize them, brainstorm on solutions, and make a final recommendation. How does this sound?
INTERVIEWER: Sounds great, go ahead.
INTERVIEWEE: Okay. Google today has two VR products, the smartphone based and the PC-based VR headset, which has a companion controller. Google has announced a future standalone VR headset and future integration of AR to the DayDream platform. Pilots in retail and automotive indicate that Google wants to introduce VR solutions in these markets. For example, Google has partnered with Gap to offer a VR solution to enable people to try on clothes virtually. Google has also partnered with BMW to create virtual showrooms.
Being the first to enter these enterprise markets with VR offerings is a good idea. But, I think the consumer market is a bigger opportunity, and the question remains, why would consumers prefer a Google DayDream VR solution over a competitor’s solution. Google needs to differentiate itself by solving a key problem only Google has the technologies and wherewithal to solve. Google could leverage its proprietary technologies and leadership advantage in some markets to develop compelling VR applications that leverage these strengths. This should be the objective of the next VR feature.
There are two markets in which Google has technological and market share advantages: office applications and education tools. Google office applications are ubiquitous in many work environments and have been successful at competing with Microsoft. In the education market, Google has surpassed Apple as the number one seller of devices. And not only devices but software too. Google has penetrated this market substantially in the US with its G Suite for schools.
Because of these advantages, I think these two markets are worth exploring for possible VR applications. Now I would like to brainstorm possible use case scenarios. Could I have a minute to explore some ideas?
(The interviewee starts drawing the following chart.)
Ok, I have some possible use case scenarios. Ones that com to mind involve offices and public schools.
Here are some use case for the office scenarios:
- Remote meetings — employees working in different locations often have the need to meet as a group. Web conferencing solutions exist today but VR could improve the experience by placing people in the same room to collaborate more easily and make meetings more enjoyable.
- Public speaking — VR solutions could enhance the experience by anonymizing people’s identities and thus making it easier for people that are shy to participate.
- Front desk — instead of dealing with customers over the phone, a VR environment could make the experience more enjoyable. For example, talking face to face with an avatar as opposed to voice without a face would improve customer service because the caller gets visual feedback of the intake process.
- Waiting on hold — most callers to customer service dislike having to wait on hold for extended periods of time. Instead of playing music while on hold, create a VR experience for the caller. For example, a business could create an enjoyable branded experience, which could decrease perceived waiting time.
Some use case scenarios for public schools are:
- Teaching classes — most classroom settings are passive. A student sits and listens or watches a lecture. Instead, VR could provide an active classroom setting by providing an immersive learning experience. I can see classes like History, Biology, or Chemistry becoming more engaging and memorable with VR.
- Office hours — conducting office hours in a virtual environment could have many benefits. For example, virtual office hours would be more convenient by saving travel time to students. It might also be an easier environment for shy students to ask questions.
These two markets have different needs, so I will choose the one with the best opportunity. One criterion is market size based on the number of possible users. Let’s do a quick estimate of the potential number of users in the office applications market and public education market. I will estimate this for the US only, since the US is likely to be the first market to adopt VR.
Let’s start with office applications users. From my general knowledge of the labor market, I know that the number of people working in the US is about 130M. Of those, I will assume that 50% are office workers, which results in 65M users.
To estimate public school users, I know there are about 100,000 public schools in the US. Since schools come in different sizes, I will segment them into large, medium and small to estimate more accurately. I will assume 30% for large, 20% medium and 50% for small. To calculate the total number of students, I will assume:
Students in Large Schools
= [% of large schools]
X [# of public schools in the US]
X [# of students/large school]
= 30% * 100,000 * 1,000
= 30M students in large schools
Students in Medium Schools
= [% of medium schools]
X [# of public schools in the US]
X [# of students/medium school ]
= 20% * 100,000 * 500
= 10M students in medium schools
Students in Small Schools
= [% of small schools]
X [# of public schools in the US]
X [# of students/small school]
= 50% * 100,000 * 200
= 10M students in small schools
- 30M students in large schools
- 10M students in medium schools
- 10M students in small schools
There are 15M more office applications users than public school users. So, I am going to focus on VR solutions for office environments, since it is a larger market.
Does this sound reasonable?
INTERVIEWER: Yes, please proceed with ideas for a new feature.
Okay, now I would like to go deeper into the use cases for office environments. The three scenarios I suggested were: remote meetings, public speaking, and front desk. I think having remote meetings is a frequent use case in offices and one for which a solution would have a big impact on employees. So, I would pick this use case as the one to focus on and go deeper into tasks that people need to perform. This will help think of new features to support these tasks.
In meetings, I think the following tasks are common:
- Presenting slides — The need to show slides during a meeting.
- Share your screen — The need to make a laptop screen visible to others in real time; or the need to make a document visible to others in real time to work collaboratively.
- Whiteboarding — The need to write or sketch to brainstorm ideas.
- Taking notes — The need to take notes during a meeting.
- Email and Messaging — The need to read email or send a message.
- Surfing the net — The need to perform online searches.
Some ideas for features to build to help accomplish these tasks:
- Presenting slides. Simulate a room with a table, chairs and a whiteboard to project the presentation. Place the chairs in front of the whiteboard so attendees can see the presentation without obstruction. A side menu should present options to select the presenter and to zoom in or out of the presentation since people have different eyesight levels. Use an external control of the VR headset to select the menu options.
- Sharing screens. In meetings today, people can share their screens with others via web conferencing applications. I can see people wanting to replicate this capability in a VR meeting. One idea is to place simulated laptops in front of the avatars and enable them to share their screens with others. Another option is to allow avatars to project their screen to the whiteboard. Use a virtual mouse and keyboard to control an avatar’s virtual laptop.
- Whiteboarding. Have avatars use simulated pens to write or draw on a simulated whiteboard in the scene. Multiple colors and stroke widths should be available as menu options. And, the whiteboard should provide a choice to save content to an avatar’s Google Drive account.
- Taking notes. An avatar could take notes by hand or by typing. Enable handwriting by providing an external surface where the person could write and have their handwriting display inside the VR environment. The notes could be stored on the avatar’s Google Drive account.
- Email and messaging. These could be communication features that are available on all VR applications, not only office applications. Email and messaging should be permanent options of a systems menu. An external keyboard could be used to facilitate typing. The email and messaging screens should only be visible to the avatar doing these tasks, to maintain privacy.
- Surfing the net. Searching the web while in meetings is very common. If people are in a VR meeting, taking the headset off to browse in the computer would be inconvenient and disruptive for the user. So one solution is to have a menu option to surf the net. Selecting this option would open a Google Chrome browser, putting the meeting scene in the background. An external mouse and keyboard can be synchronized with the VR scene to enable the user to navigate the web easily.
I would like to prioritize some features since there are too many to build at once. Presenting slides and whiteboarding are at the top of my list since they occur the most during meetings. The whiteboarding feature would probably take less time to build because the ability to write or draw with a virtual pen within the VR environment is already feasible. So, I would start with the whiteboarding feature first. Build it, launch a pilot, and get feedback from users about the experience. These learnings will be useful for a future implementation of the ‘slide presentation’ feature.
Google could make the whiteboarding and the slide presentation VR features part of its Google G Suite, perhaps as additional applications. Google could be the first to offer VR office applications. Microsoft could compete in this space, but I think they would have some big hurdles to overcome. First, OneDrive is third in market share behind Google Drive; second, Google dominates the public schools market where future generations of office workers are already using Google office applications; and third, Microsoft is behind Google and Facebook in the VR market.
In summary, I think Google should leverage its proprietary technologies and market leadership in the office applications space to provide VR solutions that no other competitor can match. The office applications market is large and growing; it is a huge opportunity.
I proposed and prioritized use case scenarios in the office applications market, opting to focus on the remote meeting scenario. In this scenario, I listed several tasks that could be enhanced with a VR solution, among them, making a slide presentation and whiteboarding. I recommend starting with the whiteboarding solution because it would be faster to develop.
Although Microsoft is currently number one in the office applications space, Google has advantages that could make it number one in VR office applications. Google has stronger leadership in the cloud storage market, large penetration with young people starting to learn how to use office applications, and market leadership in VR over Microsoft.