What does a product designer do?

Hi, I’m Elle! I work as a product designer at Getaround and as an industry mentor here at Pathrise. I help our fellows land great jobs in product design through technical workshops and 1-on-1s. Check out my article where I answer the question, “What does a product designer do?”

Product designers have skills in UX/UI design, information architecture, process design, system design, and other areas. Because there are so many different types of product design jobs out there, finding a role that matches your specific skill set can be challenging. We want to help by giving you a better idea of what a product designer actually does. So, we mapped out the most common backgrounds and skills that recruiters and managers look for in potential hires. 

What educational background do you need to land a job as a product designer? 

While some aspiring product designers pursue degrees in product design, human-computer interaction, and other related fields, there are a number of routes that one can take to launch their product design career. Current and aspiring product designers have degrees in a diverse range of fields. Some examples are psychology, computer science, business, marketing & market research, mechanical engineering, art, and graphic design.

Besides traditional schooling, many people advance their product design careers by interning at major companies, freelancing for up-and-coming startups, or enrolling in a product design bootcamp that teaches them the necessary skills to land entry level design jobs. Thanks to these additional experiences, aspiring product designers can build a strong product design portfolio and impress potential employers with their diverse skill set. 

If you are preparing for product design interviews, check out our list of 70 product design interview questions and tips. Interviewers will be curious about your previous experiences. So, you will need to explain how your past projects make you a good fit for the role. People who have job interviews at top tech companies, including Dropbox, Google, and Apple, or those who want additional practice with answering questions, can take a look at our list of product design interview questions and answers from top tech companies

What is product design?

Like UX/UI design jobs, product design roles can vary widely from company to company. At startups, they usually wear a number of different design hats, whereas designers at major tech companies specialize in a specific set of skills. Product designers help design a wide array of things, including phones, computers, electronic toys, video games, websites, and applications. 

UX and UI designers generally focus on the needs of the user. Alternatively, product designers must advocate for users and the company, as well as other stakeholders, including clients. Besides ensuring that their designs are visually striking (both in shape and color), product designers make sure that the product is safe, reliable, and meets the needs of their target audience. In addition, they check to see if the materials that they are using to build their product are cost effective and environmentally friendly. 

Working with engineers, developers, sales representatives, marketing teams, clients, and other stakeholders, product designers demonstrate creativity, technical skills, business acumen, and scientific knowledge so that they can follow the product through its entire lifespan.

What types of roles fall under product design? How is it different from UX/UI design?

Product designers have responsibilities that overlap with both UX and UI designers. You can check out our guide to learn what UI designers do, but in general, they specialize in the product’s visual components, including colors, schemes, icons, fonts, and branding. If you’re interested in learning more about what UX designers do it closely resembles the work of many product designers. They ensure that the products are intuitive, usable, and accessible. Product designers typically are in charge of making informed design decisions based on the company’s budget. Therefore, they must approach the product more holistically. 

Relevant tools: Sketch, Figma, MockFlow, Balsamiq, Adobe Comp, InVision Studio, Proto.io

Depending on your product design background, you might be qualified for positions with the following titles:

  • Product designer (junior, senior, lead, director)
  • Experience designer (XD)
  • Information architect (IA)
  • Interaction designer (IX)
  • Experience architect (XA)
  • User interface (UI) designer
  • User experience (UX) design
  • Visual designer 

We want to help you understand what skills are required to land a job as a product designer. So, we unpacked the role’s various responsibilities to give you a better sense of what product designers actually do on a day-to-day basis.

Develop a strong understanding of the UX/UI design process. 

Product designers need to have a strong understanding of what UX designers do. This is especially the case when developing jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) frameworks, creating personas, and conducting A/B tests. They use UX research to identify users’ needs and ensure that the product is accessible to those with disabilities.

Like UX and UI designers, product designers practice empathy by placing themselves in the user’s shoes. That way, they can understand the emotions that they experience while navigating through their product. Moreover, they are in charge of identifying the product’s pain points, selecting the most effective triggers, and making sure that the journey maps tell a compelling user story.

Tools: UserTesting, Optimizely, Desinion, Visual Website Optimizer

Determine the information architecture 

After completing their initial research, product designers are ready to decide how to lay out and organize their product. They must also start to think about what content is needed. Then, they have to communicate their initial ideas to content strategists, UX/UI designers, and others. Navigating from one section of the product to another should be intuitive. Product designers help eliminate any bumps or awkward pauses that the user might experience while using the product. 

Similarly, if someone is designing a product that requires both hardware and software, they must think about how the screen and interface interact with the physical object. For example, a designer who is creating an elevator interface must take into account how a wide range of users will engage with the product, including people who are blind or deaf. They might ask themselves, “What emergency features are required?” or “How will people use the interface to navigate from floor to floor?”

Tools: MindManager, SmartDraw, Visio

Wireframe and map out user flows

Product designers create low-fidelity user flows and wireframes to map out the potential paths that users will take while engaging with their product. First, they must think about the user’s entry point and final interaction. Then, they need to take a step back and consider how the user journey relates to the product’s physical features. 

Tools: Lucidchart, Gliffy Moqups, WireframeSketcher, Justinmind, Pencil, Balsamiq, PowerMockUp, Mockplus, productPin, Solidify, POP

Create prototypes

Before committing to their final design, product designers create prototypes, which are simplified versions of their product. While some prototypes are written on paper, others are high-fidelity and closely resemble the final product. Product designers use prototypes to test their product with users so that they can incorporate their feedback and make necessary changes before taking the product to market. 

Tools: InVision, Adobe XD (Experience Design), Origami Studio, Axure Webflow, Framer, Atomic, Principle, productPin, Mockplus, Flinto, ProtoPie

Collaborate with others

Aside from demonstrating empathy, product designers should have other soft skills as well, including communication and curiosity. Product designers communicate with a number of stakeholders, including clients, developers, UX/UI researchers, writers, content strategists, and other designers, so they must have a passion for teamwork. Their roles are highly collaborative and require that they maintain an active interest in the latest tech trends across other fields, including software engineering, digital marketing, and data science. 

Team work: Webflow, Tilda, STUDIO, Lightwell, Mural, Zeplin, InVision, Marelapp, FileSquare, Notism, Red Pen, Memosort, Trello

Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. If you are interested in optimizing your product design job search by working 1-on-1 with a mentor, become a Pathrise fellow. 

Apply today.

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