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How can I become a product designer?

Last updated

27 March 2023

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

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Product design is an exciting process aimed at improving user experience by creating solutions for new products or enhancing existing ones. It involves studying the audience's needs and ensuring the user's success with the product.

The demand for product designers is high. Over the last five years, the salaries of these specialists increased by 6%. Experts predict further growth.

If you’re a creative and communicative person who isn't afraid of digging deeper into the technical elements of product development, you could become an excellent product designer. 

Let's take a closer look at how product design works and what you need to get into the loop.

What is a product designer?

A product designer is a specialist who monitors the product development or improvement process from the beginning to the end. This expert studies the customer's needs and pain points and creates solutions that help address them.

The product designer helps compose product mock-ups through prototypes and assists engineers, designers, and developers with building a high-quality product. This expert sees the bigger goal that the company needs to achieve with the product and keeps the entire development team on the right track.

Essentially, a product designer focuses on the functionality of the product to ensure its best fit to the customer's requirements while keeping it technically feasible.

Products that a product designer works on can vary from physical products, such as furniture or household appliances, to digital products, such as software and apps. These may also be called industrial designers.

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What does a product designer do?

Let's say a product designer works for a company that’s developed a sports app. The management decides that their apps need significant improvement. It's the product designer's responsibility to figure out what the new and improved sports app will look and be like.

The product designer gathers information about the company's target audience, reviews the features they can change, considers the functionality of the design, and designs the new model. Then, they need to check whether the new model looks and works the way it should and whether it solves the customer's problem.

The main stages of product design include:

  • Product vision. You need to understand what the new (or tweaked) product looks like, who can use it, why you need the adjustment, and how you can implement the change.

  • Product research. You need to see how the new product or the adjustment fits into the market and suits your customer's needs. This can involve some market research.

  • Prototype. Next, the product designer builds a prototype that can test the hypothesis. The prototype can help the designer understand whether the product is truly viable. For example, if the app looks and feels as expected.

  • Testing. The product designer allows the users to test the new product and gathers feedback about the process.

Once users test the product and provide reviews, the product designer makes final adjustments. After they develop the final product, it enters the market. However, the product designer continues monitoring the product's success to evaluate opportunities for new improvements.

The difference between UX design and product design

While product design looks a lot like user experience (UX) design at first, they are actually two different specializations. The UX designer focuses on the customer-facing part of the product.

Similar to product designers, UX designers do customer research to make sure the user experience is smooth and easy. However, they don't go beyond the customer's interaction with the product or dive into the technical aspects of development.

Meanwhile, product designers are full-stack designers. They assist with the entire development process, from the moment an idea for a new (or improved) product occurs until the product enters the market. These specialists are also a bridge between stakeholders, developers, engineers, and end users.

In short, UX is part of product design. A company may expect the product designer to focus on UX design as part of their job instead of hiring another person to do it. Their titles have been commonly interchanged, causing further confusion between the two practices.

How to become a product designer

If you believe that product design is something you can enjoy, you need to take several necessary steps to become a demanded specialist.

Earn a degree

While it's possible to become a product designer without a bachelor's degree, you’ll likely have a hard time getting a competitive salary. Most employers prefer their product designers to have a degree in engineering, graphic design, marketing, management, or anything else related to the profession.

If your college degree is unrelated to product design, don't worry. You can always take relevant courses and put them on your resume.

Acquire relevant skills

A product designer needs various skills to help them supervise product design and development from scratch. If you already have a diploma in marketing, design, or engineering, it can significantly help you. However, you would also need to improve your knowledge in:

To get a job, product designers don't need to have specific product design experience. They can hone their skills in many different niches related to product development. For example, experience with product management can be a big advantage.

Stay relevant

Product designers gain their skills in college or at work. Many of them take relevant courses. It's possible to find both online and in-person courses that can provide relevant skills while looking excellent on your resume.

Meanwhile, the rapidly-evolving technologies require you to continue learning throughout your career. Staying involved with your local tech community can be a great way to make connections and keep up with evolving techniques. Many communities involve a Slack group, regular in-person meetings, or guest events like AMAs (Ask Me Anything) to keep everyone sharp. 

After you get your first job as a product designer, you’ll still need to continue learning. Some employers may be willing to reimburse the tuition if you choose to go the course route.

Build a portfolio

If you want to beat the competition, it's important to build an excellent product design portfolio. The portfolio should show the depth of your experience and demonstrate your ability to solve product design issues to hiring managers.  

A strong product designer portfolio includes detailed case studies that show exactly how you tackled previous projects from start to finish. You need to describe the path you took to come up with the solution and implement it successfully. Don't forget to mention how you met challenges and overcame obstacles.

Turn each project in your portfolio into a story that catches the reader's attention. Even if you don't have much experience, one well-told story can make a long-lasting impression.

Create or network

The world of product designers is highly diverse. Building a strong network of professionals with the same skills can help you find a job. Meanwhile, their insights can serve as an inspiration for new products.

While honing your skills and searching for a job, consider attending conferences and seminars. They can help you grow your network and find exciting employment opportunities.

Explore freelancing opportunities

Freelancing is an excellent way to build your product design portfolio while you’re still learning or working. You can combine freelancing with your current job until you are sure that your portfolio is strong enough to go to a new level.

Some product designers choose to become entrepreneurs. Amidst the Great Resignation, many companies have started seeking outsourcing options since they don't want to handle churn-related expenses. This makes it easy for product designers to find freelancing work.  

What's the average salary for a product designer?

According to Glassdoor, product designers can make $60,000 and $140,000 per year. These numbers can vary depending on several factors, including:

  • Location

  • Experience

  • Size of the company

  • Range of responsibilities

Beginners in the industry may not be able to get higher than the base pay. However, many companies offer additional bonuses and perks to reel in new talent.

Choosing a career and product design

A career in product design is an interesting option that doesn't just teach you many new skills but also pays impressive salaries. After becoming a product designer, you can take on challenging projects and help companies develop high-quality products.

While it may take some time to gain the right skills and experience to become a high-paying product designer, the ROI of such a decision can be impressively high.

FAQs

What are some job titles for product designers?

When browsing job listings, you can encounter such titles as industrial designer, prototype designer, digital designer, visual designer, UX designer, and UI designer.

Are there product design certifications to earn?

You can take a variety of product design courses as well as courses with any responsibilities related to product development. Examples are design management, product ideation, and user experience design.

How else can I build my skill set?

You can build a product designer's skill set by taking classes, building a network, considering an apprenticeship, and participating in job training.

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