The hottest design role is also the most misunderstood one.
Designers have evolved from individual contributors to being called upon to reform business models, drive design standards across the organization, and improve the overall customer experience.
Product designers aim to improve the way existing products look and work, and produce them at lower cost -- or they may be involved in designing entirely new products. The process starts with identifying a market opportunity, defining a customer problem, developing a solution, and validating that solution with real users to create a frictionless user experience.
Modern product designers are responsible for the end-to-end experience of a product, which may even include branding and marketing strategy post-launch.
Designer job titles have grown increasingly specialized and, in some cases, embellished -- sowing confusion even among design veterans. Alternate job titles for product designers include UX designer, customer experience architect, interaction designer, or information architect.
Small-medium businesses often use the terms “product design” and “UX design” interchangeably. At a FAANG company, the roles may be more distinct. The most salient difference is that UX designers focus on the needs of the customer, while product designers work to reconcile business objectives with customer demands.
Graphic designers, on the other hand, produce visual communications across different mediums, such as logos, banner ads, websites, and billboards. Major tech companies may employ different types of designers, whose roles overlap throughout the production process. For instance, graphic designers might help a product designer render high-fidelity designs or collaborate with UX teams on website design.
These categories serve as a useful mental model for the complex infrastructure underlying a great product.
System design - Defining the architecture, modules, interfaces, and data for a system
Process design - Determining workflow, equipment needs, and implementation requirements for a particular process
Interface design - Defining the interactions between a user and a digital product
In reality, you won’t be responsible for all three, but you should have knowledge of all of them to be successful. You’ll collaborate with IT and engineering on systems design, the operations team on process design, and work with UX teams on interface design.
These are 5 things product designers will deal with on a day to day basis.
Throughout the production process, designers are expected to produce deliverables to visualize their ideas and serve as documentation for production guidance.
A flow diagram that charts a customer’s journey from discovering your product to making a purchase decision. (Image credit: UX Planet)
A layout of a webpage that shows what interface elements will exist on key pages. (Image credit: Visual Paradigm)
A preliminary model of a product created to test a concept or process.
A final mockup of the product that closely resembles the final product once it is coded and implemented.
Product design requires a hodgepodge of competencies, from user empathy to coding, and the best designers are highly skilled generalists who collaborate effectively with teams that have the expertise they don’t. The core skills you’ll need to land a product designer job:
Even if user research is overseen by a UX team, product designers are still responsible for championing user needs and ensuring UX research insights are included in production considerations. Recruiters will be impressed if you exhibit familiarity with how studies are set up, from formulating open-ended questions to collecting feedback, and harvesting insights from qualitative and quantitative data.
Successful digital products hinge on intuitive interaction design that enables a user to achieve desired tasks with minimal effort. Interaction design consists of elements such as aesthetics, motion, sound, and physical space (where and how the product is used) that affect a user’s interaction with a product. You should be obsessed with user flows, information access, and the effectiveness of screen layout.
Content must be structured, labeled and organized properly for users to find it. Information architecture refers to everything from conversation pathways within a chatbot to how articles are organized in your knowledge base. Product designers take into account user needs for education and knowledge around the product, which involves content strategy.
Many product designers lack advanced visual design skills, but they still need to express their ideas visually. Additionally, visual is typically the ideal medium for pitching ideas to non-design stakeholders, so the ability to use digital drawing tools such as Sketch or create charts in Tableau will get you far.
According to a survey by Invision, 80 percent of hiring managers look for coding skills in product design candidates. You don’t need to code on the job, but you need a basic understanding of code to communicate effectively with front-end engineers.
Building something that doesn’t exist yet requires forward thinking and the ability to inspire others. Show recruiters you have this skill by using a ‘What, When, How’ approach when discussing your portfolio projects -- this shows you understand user needs (what), the production process (how) and the business problem (why).
Non-technical skills such as communication, teamwork, and initiative are key to landing the job, given the collaborative nature of product design. When you’re not answering technical questions or walking recruiters through your portfolio, focus on playing up these attributes during the interview.
Aim for at least three projects that exemplify your best work. Post your projects on Dribbble or Behance to get feedback from other designers and demonstrate your web presence. For each project, detail the customer pain point, design system, what tools you used, the process for problem-solving, and the final outcome. Include lo-hi wireframes, prototypes, sketches, personas, and journey maps to tell a comprehensive story.
The recruiting process is different at every company, but most product design interviews follow a general structure.
Practice these (and more) to give yourself a leg up in the interview.
If you land the job and decide to accept the offer, don't forget to review salaries first and see if you can negotiate a better salary before you sign.
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