Product designers oversee the design process of a product. You'll want to gain relevant skills and build a portfolio if you're hoping to become one.
A product designer is somebody who oversees the design process of a product from start to finish, or the improvement of an existing product. A product designer might brainstorm solutions to current pain points, take input from stakeholders, act as a liaison between designers, engineers, and researchers, and help compose mock-ups through wireframes and prototypes. They have an understanding of the bigger goals of the product while being mindful of the details needed to achieve them.
A product designer in the US makes an average base salary of $103,670 in 2021, according to Glassdoor . Compare this with user experience (UX) designers, who make a close $102,056, and product managers, who make $110,505 [2,3].
So what’s product design, exactly?
Product design is the process of creating a digital or physical good. The process is generally grounded in research and involves keeping the user’s experience in mind.
Product design has in recent years become associated with digital products like software or apps. But product design can also refer to the design of physical products, like furniture, electronics, and other manufactured goods. This latter type of design is also called industrial design.
A product designer’s job can be broken down into a few key tasks. These include:
Designing: While a product designer might wear many hats, their principal task is still to design. A product designer will use their knowledge of color, typography, detail, and other design elements to create a product.
Thinking of the user: A product designer will generally fold UX principles into their design. This doesn’t mean just making a product user-friendly. Product designers can be expected to conduct A/B testing, email surveys, and other UX research, or know how to build wireframes, prototypes, and journey maps.
Collaborating across teams: As a person that takes a holistic view to designing a product, a product designer often collaborates with designers, researchers, and business teams. This helps to ensure the finished product aligns with a company’s goals, and folds in all the processes necessary to make the product user friendly and well designed.
A UX designer usually focuses on a portion of the design process, making sure a product is optimally designed for user experience. A product designer might focus on the entirety of the process, including ensuring a product fits a company’s business needs. UX designers might also work more heavily in the initial design stage of the product, while product designers often work to improve existing products.
A product designer often works with UX designers, and is generally expected to have a good understanding of UX principles. Plus, sometimes the two titles are used interchangeably, which can lead to understandable confusion.
A role that wears many hats, there are several ways to become a product designer. Here’s a few ways to get the ball rolling.
UX/UI: Understanding what a user wants to accomplish, what their pain points are, and how a product makes them feel is a core component of design. Hard skills to learn can include wireframing and prototyping, conducting research, and testing product features. Prototyping tools can include Framer, Principle, or Figma.
Visual design tools: A product that’s pleasing to the eye can delight customers and make for a pleasant user experience. Job descriptions often request you have a sense of aesthetics, and some knowledge of the tools used in visual design. These can include Figma, Sketch, or Adobe Creative Suite.
Project management or leadership experience: Having some practice seeing the bigger picture of a process, being able to strategize, and knowing how to execute a vision can come in handy as a product designer. You don’t have to have worked as a project manager, but some experience creating, overseeing, or implementing a project can be useful.
A portfolio can show employers your past projects, your aesthetic, and how you incorporate business needs into design. A portfolio as a product designer can have an “About me” section to describe your background and strengths. You can build a portfolio through website builders like Wix, SquareSpace, or Webflow.
If you don’t have enough projects to fill out a website, don’t worry. You can start by uploading your projects onto your LinkedIn, and construct a full portfolio somewhere down the line. These can include past work projects, personal projects you’ve created, or work from courses you’ve taken.
The road to becoming a product designer isn’t always straightforward. You can gain related experience by working in roles that expose you to different aspects of product design.
Depending on your skill set, you can try starting out in UX design, graphic design, copywriting, or information architect roles.
Regardless of if you’ve worked in a related role before or are starting from scratch, courses can polish the skills that you have yet to master. See where the gaps in your arsenal of skills are. Here are a few that can be useful to you as a product designer.
If you’re trying to familiarize yourself with UX design processes, consider the Google UX Design Professional Certificate. You’ll have the opportunity to put together a professional portfolio, work with digital design tools, and learn the basics of UX research.
You can build out your product management skills with the Digital Product Management course from the University of Virginia, or learn the ropes of graphic design through a specialization from CalArts.
There are many technical skills that are useful to product designers, such as UX design, interaction/UI design, and visual design. You might also find it helpful to have familiarity with one or more design programs, including:
Knowledge of Figma, Sketch, and Photoshop are also helpful in product design.
Transitioning into product design isn't necessarily difficult. Chances are you already have skills that can transfer into this role, including problem solving, communication, and empathy. If you're considering a switch, focus on the technical skills and programs that you'll need to know. Study some product design job listings to get an idea of where to focus your efforts.
Common university majors such as industrial design, engineering, and architecture are useful for building a foundation for product design. Other subjects relevant to product design include graphic design, art, psychology, and organizational behavior. There is no clear path toward product design, but studying these can help you gain the skills needed.
Read more: What Degree Do I Need to Become a UX Designer?
Some key transferable skills for getting into the product design field include empathy, teamwork, communication, attention to detail, and a growth mindset.
1. Glassdoor. "Product Designer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/product-designer-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.
2. Glassdoor. "UX Designer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/ux-designer-salary-SRCH_KO0,11.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.
3. Glassdoor. "Product Manager Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/product-manager-salary-SRCH_KO0,15.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.