How many different types of technology have you used today? Your phone, favorite apps, computer, GPS — we can thank product designers for all of these.
Depending on their work mediums, a Product Designer might go by another title, such as Customer Experience Architect, Information Architect, Information Architecture Designer, or Interaction Designer.
What Is Product Design?
Product design is the process of uncovering a problem, then designing a product to solve that problem. Product designers lead the design process and guide supporting roles such as User Experience Designers and User Interface Designers.
Product design, which differs from project management, focuses on problem-solving to satisfy business needs, customer needs, and the user journey.
What Does a Product Designer Do?
A product designer is a problem solver who determines customer needs and how to best meet those needs. This process requires moving a concept through successive design steps to a final product. It’s also essential that the design be attractive and marketable to end users.
It is possible to specialize or generalize as a product designer. Working in the product design field could include designing the front end of an app, the physical packaging of a product in local stores, or both.
The product development workflow includes these key responsibilities:
Research end users (often creating journey maps) and user needs
Recruit users to test designs
Use test research to make prototype changes and repeat as needed
Launch final product
Measuring and analyzing live product data
Product Designer vs. UX Designer
While Product Designers and UX Designers are both essential in product development, each has different priorities.
What is the difference between a product designer and a UX designer? The difference between a product designer and a UX designer is that while a UX designer focuses on user interaction, a product designer is more of a flexible problem solver and often includes UI, UX, coding, and project management.
In UX, or user experience, the priority of their work is usability. Is a product easy to use? Is the design user-friendly? The UX Designer is responsible for finding problems with the user’s experience and solving them.
In Product Design, the priorities are the actual process of learning the user stories and the business and branding cost to meet the needs. Does this product make sense at its cost point? Is this design cost-effective? A product designer uncovers solutions to problems that affect the end product’s marketability and success.
Generally speaking, the product designer role uses a broader range of skills because it wields a more comprehensive range of responsibilities across the team members. In addition to the specific focus of their problem-solving skills, product designers must use professional decision-making grades and have high business acumen to produce successful products.
Becoming A Product Designer
Product designers can fill many roles in a company and may often cross into other fields. In this section, we aim to give you the key steps you’ll need to become a product designer and get hired in the field.
Skills & Qualifications You’ll Need
The skills listed in product designer job descriptions are as varied as the companies you could apply at.
What technical skills do you need to be a product designer? The technical skills you need to be a product designer may include coding, visual design, UI & UX design, research, communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.
Below you’ll find more examples of hard and soft skill sets needed for this role.
Experience creating both wireframe and prototype versions of mock-ups or beta products using software such as Figma, Sketch, and Adobe Creative Suite tools
Conducting testing and user research of product features
Proven work experience with other industry-standard software and design tools showcased in a portfolio
A design sense or knowledge of good aesthetics, such as typography
Big picture thinking, as well as detailed processes
Ability to strategize with a team
Able to conduct and standardize user testing and UX research
Proven ability of how to execute a vision
Look Into Design School
It is possible to work in the product design field without a bachelor's or associate’s degree, since no specific degree is generally required. About two-thirds of individuals currently in the product design field hold a bachelor’s level degree.
You could take select coursework in product design, graphic design, or related topics like industrial manufacturing as an alternative to a complete degree program. Online courses can help sharpen skills or teach skills you have yet to master.
In the product design field, it is entirely possible to be self-taught. You could start with YouTube tutorials or join online forums for beginning designers. There are plenty of reputable free options to dedicate time to before paying for training. Paid courses will focus on getting you up to speed quickly, however, or help you build a professional portfolio.
Find an Internship
The value of an internship in product design can not be overstated. Internships provide direct experience and create valuable relationships you can use career-long.
There are several places to look for internships if you aren’t a new graduate. Networking or meetups are great places to ask about potential internships or apprenticeships.
You can reach out directly to companies and hiring managers to inquire about potential spots. Some companies will post internships online to encourage non-graduates to apply. Even if the internship descriptions state a degree as part of what they are looking for, many will interview applicants with sufficient portfolio examples and design course training.
Developing Your Career
Is becoming a product designer hard? Becoming a product designer may be hard without a portfolio or direct experience. If you are ready to leave your current job and begin applying to product design jobs or start freelancing, use these tips to prepare.
Build a Portfolio
When first starting out, it’s important to craft a design portfolio. It doesn’t have to be a perfect, visual design masterpiece uploaded onto Dribbble. Instead, choose 3 projects that capture your aesthetic and how you solve business needs with your designs.
Make sure your portfolio reflects the type of work you want to pursue — if it’s just app and software design, key into those projects. If you want to work across multiple mediums, show that in your portfolio.
You can showcase your projects on any platform — your personal website, LinkedIn profile, or Dribbble account.
Nothing will make your life easier when pursuing a job in product design like a strong professional network. There are many places to find meetups or networking events for people in design-related fields. LinkedIn and other social media platforms are great ways to network AND follow trends in tech.
One of the great reasons to rub shoulders with professionals who know your field is that in most companies, prior to a job posting, employees are encouraged to refer people from their own networks. Sometimes it truly is about who you know.
Get Good at Interviewing
A job interview is the best place for you to display why you are the best person for the job. In product design, hiring managers expect to see a great portfolio, but that alone will not score you the position. As mentioned above, interviewers will want to hear specific examples of your systematic processes.
The importance of knowing your craft well enough to answer questions and discuss it thoroughly, with confidence, is key. Hearing you speak about how you reached your final design and what problems your design solved for real-life people is what informs a business that you are a good investment for their stakeholders.
Make sure you can speak specifically to each part of the process for any portfolio design you submit.
Resources to Check Out
Designers across all fields never stop learning or looking for inspiration. To kick start your creativity or to sharpen your edge, check out some of these great resources:
Read These Books
One of the best resources for people in any design field are books written by other designers about what makes good design. Here are a few consistently rated top books for Product Designers:
The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman. This is the best-selling product design book of all time. Every designer can benefit from Norman’s essential commandments of good design and the knowledge bombs he drops as he walks the reader through the consciously designed choices for everyday products.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, by Nir Eyal. In this book, Eyal presents his four-step “Hook Model,” to breed habitual use in users and customers. He presents a how-to method for “hook cycles,” or the way a company lures clients over and over using psychologically driven product design.
Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, by Jake Knapp. Writing specifically for lead designers, this former Google employee showcases his best practices for a sprint approach to production. Inside you will read how product design teams utilize ultra-shortened timelines to produce, sift through, and present quality and creative ideas, refining the design process down to just 5 days.
Take Advantage of Free Software
What is the best free product design software? Here are the top, most-recommended open source tools:
Blender has a sharp learning curve for beginners, but it is an excellent option for anyone specializing in digital product design. It contains tools for motion graphics, interactive 3D applications, virtual reality, and games.
LibreCAD is great for beginners looking to start creating 2D projects. For CAD drafting, LibreCAD is one of the best free options. Use it in industrial design for mechanical parts, to produce 2D engineering drawings, or to simulate projects.
Pencil is an open-source GUI prototyping tool available on all platforms. It is designed specifically for users to create mockups of different types of user interface, ranging from desktop to mobile platforms.
Keep an Eye on Available Courses
There are courses listed all over the internet touting their ability to train you in Product Design — but are any of them any good? Here are a few online course options that consistently get good marks for what they deliver:
Udacity - Product Designer. This free 2-month course is designed to help you turn an idea into a product that you can build a business around.
Norman Nielsen Group - Design Process Courses. The NN courses are designed to teach high-level and professional approaches at a product design process. There are 12 courses offered and each virtual course costs $948+, making them ideal for product designers looking for professional development.
FAQs About the Job
Here are a few common questions from those looking to work in product design:
What is the average salary for a Product Designer?
According to Glassdoor, as of 2022, US-based product designers make an average base salary of $103,229. For those working hourly or on a freelance basis, the average rate is $49.05 per hour.
What job titles should I be applying or searching for?
Job titles with similar roles to Product Designers include Customer Experience Architect, Information Architect, Information Architecture Designer, Interaction Designer, or UX Designer.
Is it possible to work remotely as a Product Designer?
For designers with a virtual design focus, it is possible to work completely remote. For physical products though, trips to manufacturing companies or clients may be required.
What’s Next on Your Career Path?
From the ideation of a product to the design system process to the launch of a new product — product design is an exciting and constantly evolving line of work. If you are ready to start a freelance career, we can help you find your first project.
Join the MVP Match freelance network, where we connect freelancers to companies across the globe looking for skilled technical experts like you.