Design process

How to Become a Product Designer: Grow Your Career Successfully


mins to read

Today, the product designer is the number one in-demand profession and one of the highest-paid positions in the design industry. No wonder, so many specialists from this field want to know how to become a product designer to grow in their career.

Eleken is a team of product designers. And product design is, first of all, about finding a solution. We tightly cooperate with product managers and engineers throughout the whole design process to create a product that solves users' problems. And we can definitely state that working in this position requires a very diverse skillset.

In case you decided to develop your design career, the first question that appears in your head is "What qualifications do I need to be a product designer?"

Let's think logically, to get the job you need to:

  1. Know what responsibilities product designers have and what methods they use to cope with them.
  2. Understand the product design process well. Create a system you use to effectively solve design problems.
  3. Build a portfolio that shows you know how to find a solution to the problem.

In this article, we are going to focus on these three points to figure out what you need to do to be able to put the words "product designer" in your job title.

To start with, we should clearly understand who the product designers are and what they do.

The essence of the job of the product designer

Image credit: elegantthemes.com

Basically, a product designer creates a product that solves the problems of its users taking into account both customer needs and business objectives.  

To produce a coherent and delightful user experience product designers invest their time in understanding their customers and defining what problems they have, and only then they create design solutions.

One more important fact to know about product designers is that they work in a team. Most often it includes a product manager, developers, marketers, and other product designers. That's why a product designer should be a team-player and have leadership skills.

Very often a product designer is considered to be the next step of a UX designer career growth.

Product designers lead a product from idea to implementation. Their responsibilities include:

  • Working with partners across functions. Build relationships with peers across disciplines. Learn how different disciplines work together to build products
  • Defining problems. Understand the problem and start all design work with a problem statement, goal, and context
  • Exploring and converging on solutions. Explore different ways to solve problems. Identify the pros and cons, questions, and implications that may arise
  • Conducting market research. Understand the market needs, know competitors, their solutions to fill the gaps in the company you work for
  • Conducting user research. Learn customers' needs and goals to create a design that focuses on the user's needs
  • Creating high-quality UX and UI design. Create simple, elegant solutions with a beautiful user interface and usable user experience
  • Initiating testing. Know how to conduct tests to evaluate your design solutions.
  • Developing the design system/Using your company's design system. Know the fundamentals of system design

To cope with those responsibilities a product designer should:

  • Learn the product area they work in well
  • Understand company vision and strategy for the product
  • Have empathy to be able to understand users, the market, the business, and their needs
  • Understand the roles, functions, and processes of all departments that work on developing a product
  • Know how to work in a team, collaborate, and reach out to others to receive and provide constructive feedback
  • Know the tools needed to fulfill all requirements (UI/UX drawing programs, analytical tools, tools to build prototypes, etc.)

Now you know the main responsibilities of a product designer and it's time to learn product design methods they use to successfully cope with their duties.

Product design methods you need to master

Here is a list of methods a product designer uses to create an effective design that provides an exceptional user experience and helps to achieve company goals.


Image credit: wikipedia.org

Brainstorming is a process of generating ideas in a group. It allows the team to come up with various design solutions before choosing the right one and receive constructive feedback on each f them from different team members.

Tools: pen and paper, Miro Google Sheets or Excel

Customer journey map

Customer journey map created by Eleken for LittleDate

A product designer creates a customer journey map to visually represent the logical order of steps a customer is supposed to take when interacting with a product. It allows designers to understand the needs and emotions of the user at each step of their customer journey to create an appropriate design solution.

Tools: Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD

User interviews

Image credit: interaction-design.org

User interview is a research method that helps to define the target audience or gain information about the existing target audience. The product designer performs a User Interview to understand the user's feelings, motivations, pain points to be able to develop the right concept of the product.

User flow

User Flow was created by Eleken for HandPrinter

User flow focuses on how the customer complete different tasks within the product.  User flows are diagrams that project the possible paths the user goes through when using the product until they achieve a certain goal. SO they help to identify what can be improved on those paths.

Tools: Miro, Sketch, Figma


Image credit: pinterest.com

With the help of sketches, a product designer can quickly visualize an idea of the interface to be able to quickly evaluate the concept with users or team members.

Tools: pen and paper


Wireframes designed by Eleken for TopVet

Wireframes serve as a rough representation of a future design that shows the main elements and the structure of each page. They are cheap and quick to build, so a wireframe is a perfect tool to evaluate different ideas during discussions with a team.

Tools: Sketch or Figma.


Prototypes designed by Eleken for LittleDate

A prototype is the basic layout of the product with the main purpose to test it. Prototypes allow a designer to test the idea, understand if it meets all the design requirements, gather users' feedback, and decide if some of the design aspects require improvements.

Tools: Figma, Adobe XD, Invision, or Framer.

Usability testing

Image credit: hotjar.com

This method of testing allows you to evaluate the usability and ease of use of the product. During Usability testing, you ask a user to perform certain tasks using a prototype and collect the feedback. It helps to see if the product meets customers' expectations.

Tools: Crazy Egg, Optimizely

These are just a few of the methods that the Product Designer uses to solve problems. The best way to learn using these methods is by sitting next to your friend designer and watching his/her work or by free product design courses on YouTube tutorials like Sketch Together,  Flux, etc.

Let's move to the next step: understand the product design process well.

Know your product design process

During the job interview, you will probably have to tell the recruiter about your product design process. The ability to clearly explain what steps you take when designing a product will show your potential employer how you explore problems, design innovative solutions, create an impact in new problem spaces, and understand business goals.

Below we will outline the main steps in the product design process.


Working on a new project always starts with conducting research. It's because you need to confirm the viability of a developed idea. In order to complete this task, a product designer examines the market and target audience.

During the research phase, you conduct user interviews, do visual research (conduct competitor analysis, create mood boards), etc. to gather enough data to be able to define the main user's problems and develop a strategy to resolve those problems.


After the research stage, you together with a team analyze all the received information (brainstorm) to get a portrait/s of the user and a business vector of product development.

To visualize the strategy a product designer creates user personas, customer journey maps, user flows, and wireframes which help to create appropriate design solutions.


An important part of a product designer's job is creating prototypes. We create a prototype to be able to validate the product quickly and at minimum cost before fully developing it.


At this stage, you show the prototype to customers and look at their feedback to understand what works well and what aspects need improvements.

You can conduct A/B testing, usability testing, dogfooding, or use other methods you prefer.


After testing a prototype, together with the developers, a product designer works on the implementation of the idea. The task of a product designer at this stage is to track if the final product matches the developed concept.

Measure and refine

Designing a product is a never-ending process. Even when it is on the market, a product designer tracks product performance and makes improvements. A product designer thinks about product growth and continue developing ideas that can help business development and solve user problems.

These were the main steps of the design process. Learn to explain your product design process to show that you know which your design decisions have led to a product that solves the problem of real users.

To get a deeper understanding of this topic read the Product Design Process: A Complete Guide to Create a Successful Product.

Create a portfolio

A well-written resume and a cover letter alone are not enough to get the job of a product designer. You need a portfolio that proves to your potential employer that you are the right candidate. Below are some tips on how to build a cohesive portfolio.

Consider the type of project you apply for

Tailor the works in your portfolio according to the project you are going to work on. It would be difficult for most recruiters to understand if you match this job position unless you have examples of works on a similar type of project.

That is if you are going to work on designing a mobile app for online education, it would be nice to have examples that show how you designed mobile applications for other industries.

In case you don't have relevant experience, you can create a fictional project for a potential startup. It's essential to show that you have design thinking skills and an understanding of the business goals, and not just the ability to use UI/UX drawing programs.

Tell a story

A link to Dribbble or Behance that shows shiny screens with perfect UI won't interest your potential employer. As the job of a product designer is to solve a problem, each work in your portfolio should tell a story about what exactly you did to find and design a solution.

In your case studies, you need to tell what problem users had and what kinds of researches you performed to discovered it. Include the information about the design solutions you suggested and how they've solved users' issues and helped to raise the company revenue.

Learn how to complete an effective portfolio from the designers you like, for example, Simon Pan, Jessica Harllee, Jonathan Patterson, and others.

As well, check our case studies to see how to tell a story in your portfolio.

Select the works you are proud of

It's better to show fewer projects that present your strengths as a designer than to include dozens of not your best works. Choose projects that you consider aesthetically beautiful, and those that show strong results of your work. As well, remember to include more than one project in your portfolio as it would be difficult to judge your product designer skillset based on one work only.

To understand how to make your projects appealing and focused on the user's experience and goals read the book  Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug.

So, when making your portfolio remember to include projects that can be relevant to your potential employer that clearly explain why your design solutions were useful in this or that specific case.

The takeaways

If you want to be a product designer first of all pay attention to the following points:

  • Learn the methods that help product designers cope with their responsibilities
  • Know your product design process well
  • Create a portfolio that looks relevant for your potential employer

We hope that now you know what steps to take on your way to a dream job. Becoming a product designer is challenging and requires hard work. But in case, you can identify a gap between a customer and a need and find a solution that fills this gap you will cope with this challenge.

Let's get it started!

To get a better understanding of what employers are seeking in product designers check the Product Designer Job Description: Find a Perfect Candidate For Your Team.

Kateryna Mayka


Table of contents

Top Stories

Design process
min read

Product-Market Fit: How to Interview Users [Questions List Included]

Startup founders spend lots of time preparing to make a good pitch that would be the magic wand for their product.

But what if I told you that it can be no less important to talk to potential customers without even mentioning the idea? And this situation is way more likely to happen than the dreamed elevator ride with an angel investor. The moment comes when you have an idea and want to find out if it will reach product-market fit. Questions are more important at this point than telling your story.

As a SaaS design agency, we often work with startups on their way to the product-market fit. This initial period is a key moment when little things can make or break the whole business.

But how do you assess product-market fit? The answer is metrics.

Product-market fit metrics

When startup founders ask themselves “How to find product-market fit” (or anything else), the most secure answer is “By measuring relevant metrics”. They include the churn rate and the number of specific surveys.

One of the most popular surveys related to product-market fit is known as the Sean Ellis test. It goes with just one question:

How would you feel if you could no longer use this product? Very disappointed, somewhat, N/A, Not disappointed
Image credit: pmfsurvey.com

If you want to know some other product-market fit survey questions, read our guide on product-market fit. It contains a few metrics to choose from, but all of them fit to the existing product that already has customers. But what about those that are yet to be launched?

Smart founders start thinking about product-market fit before it even gets to the market. One of the best ways to do this is by talking to users directly. We will talk about this later in the article and share some tips with you on how to prepare product-market fit interview questions. But now, let's discuss why asking the wrong questions might cost you a fortune.

The cost of the wrong question

Asking the wrong question can cost millions. It is not an exaggeration, but a real story. In 2009, Walmart decided to make a redesign in order to de-clutter their shops. To find out whether the user would like it, they ran user research.

The question they asked their customers was “Would you like Walmart aisles to be less cluttered?”. Of course, most people said yes. So, Walmart invested millions in the redesign, convinced that it would make customers happier. The result was a large decrease in sales (maybe customers actually became happier, but that’s not what you care about when the sales plunge). Walmart lost over one billion dollars.

Now that we look back at the situation, it seems obvious that the question was driving biased answers. So, how do you pose the right question when you want to verify an idea? There are some rules that you can rely on to check the quality of the questions.

Mom Test

When you come to your mom and tell her a new exciting idea, asking what she thinks about it, what would be her answer? Great idea, darling, I'd love to see it! Is she lying to you? No. Should you base your business decisions on it? No once again.

It does not mean that your mother can't give you a good business advice. But the secret here is to shape the conversation in a way that would not be about praising your idea.

This is a key idea behind the mom test invented by Rob Fitzpatrick, who even wrote a whole book on it. Thanks to this test, you can turn any conversation into a useful source of information to get to product-market fit.

Imagine you have a genius idea: make an app that would connect dog groomers with clients. You come to your mom and ask her if she likes the idea. She says “of course, what a great idea, darling”.

But the conversation doesn’t end there. Next, you ask if she would use this app to find a groomer for her terrier. And if the answer is yes, you ask her if she would buy a monthly subscription. Of course, your mom will be willing to pay a good price for her kid's app! It doesn't mean though that other people will do so.

Naturally, moms want to support their kids and therefore they give compliments to their ideas. The challenge is to lead the conversation in a way that would give really useful information and not just compliments.

The mom test teaches us rules to make interview questions unbiased. Here are the main ones:

1. Talk about the problem, not the suggested solution

Shift the focus from your product to the customer. It is a bit counterintuitive because we really want to know whether our idea is good or not and whether people are willing to pay for it. And asking questions about the problems your customers is nowhere near as easy.

Still, asking about the solution is OK when it is not put in a hypothetical way (Do you think a new productivity app would solve your procrastination issues?), but refers to real experience (Have you tried some methods to fight procrastination?). It brings us to the next rule.

2. Ask about the past, not the future

Here is a real-life story. When people who just bought a treadmill were asked how often they plan to use it, they said 3 times a week. After one month, it turned out that they used it about once a week. They were asked again and the answer was “five times a week” this time, as customers hoped to to recover lost time.

Humans tend to imagine the future way more optimistically than it really is. These pink glasses help us survive in this not-so-optimistic world. That is why you can't rely on what people predict about their future behavior. They are not lying, they are just being optimistic.

3. Avoid compliments

When you hear something like "your product is a great solution", it's time to move the conversation in another direction. Compliments are a symptom of the “mom bias”. The interviewer has to carefully return to talking about customer experience instead.

Coming back to our example of a dog grooming app, how could you shape your questions? First of all, you would start asking about her experience instead of telling the idea.

This question asks about the past. Then, you can find out where she got the info about her groomer. Did she google it or was it another dog owner’s recommendation?

Further you might find out that Lucky hates car rides and the only reason why your mom goes to a dog groomer is that they live on the next street. That's when it becomes clear your mom wouldn't use the dog groomer app.

That’s it, your mom just ruined your idea… Now you don’t rush into it and do more research before investing in the development. Also, you can try looking at other kinds of customers: for example, those attending a dog competition, where people are very serious about grooming.

4. Listen more, speak less

Getting the interviewees to talk is hard, but talking as little as possible can be even harder. It is commonly believed that 90% interviewee / 10% interviewer speaking is a good distribution. How do you get there? Don’t interrupt, even if they start speaking of something that is not very relevant. Ask open questions, not yes/no.

5. Pay attention to emotions

When interviewees show excitement or annoyance about the things they are talking about, ask more questions about their emotions. At the same time, you should be sensitive to topics they don't want to talk about and not push in that direction. Interviews must not be uncomfortable.

6. Don’t ask about prices

This goes back to the rules mentioned above: people can’t predict their own behavior and they want to compliment you. In an ideal world, they would pay a good price for useful products. In reality, most people are not willing to pay more than the minimum price.

What if top managers of Louis Vuitton were asking clients “How much are you willing to pay for a bag?” They would never get to where they are. We are very far from luxury bags, but you get the idea. Don’t base pricing decisions on users.

7. Organize the process

Don’t think of it as “just a talk about our product”. Now that you see how considerate you should be with every question, you understand that the best way to make it is by properly writing all the questions down and trying to follow the script.

Use whatever instruments that can help you: recording devices, note-taking, and so on. Make an exception only for those occasional situations when you meet a customer at a conference or see your mom at a Christmas dinner, trying to get some valuable information about your product.

For more tips on organizing user interviews, read our article “How to talk to users”.

Good Questions

Now that you know all the rules, preparing questions becomes both easier and harder. Here are some examples of questions that can be included in the mom test. Take this list as an inspiration and make your own.

  • What does your typical day at work look like? 
  • Tell me about the last time you faced this [problem]?
  • What have you tried to do to solve [this problem]?
  • What is good/bad about the solution you are using now?
  • How did you find this solution?
  • Have you looked for alternatives to this solution?
  • How much did you pay to solve this problem?

To make the most of the interview, finish it with a plan for the future (yes, at this point you can talk about your product and about the future).

  • Would you like to be on the list of beta testers when we launch?
  • Could we meet next week to hear your opinion on our product?

Bad questions

If you already have a draft interview script, make a fast check that your questions don’t look like these:

  • How often do you fail to do [a task]?

NO — this question makes the interviewee feel guilty

  • Would this [product] be useful to solve this [problem]?

NO — this question is begging for an affirmation and a compliment

  • Would you be willing to pay a bit more than you are paying now to get a much faster solution?

NO — the answer will never predict the future.

How do you know that the interview was unbiased?

You never know for sure. That is why, whenever possible, you should use different types of user research to prove your hypothesis right or wrong. For example, in the case of Walmart, an A/B test would do the job.

Curious to find out what is out there beyond user interviews? Read our article about UX research methods.

Design process
min read

4 Reasons You Might Think You Don’t Need User Research (Spoiler: But You Do)

All the startupers want to know why startups succeed, but few people want to know why startups fail. The way to success is not just following the successful, it is more about avoiding failure. 

We all know famous statistics showing that 99% of startups fail. Basically, not failing is already a success: it means that you are in that top 1%. Luckily, there are already studies that explain the reasons behind such a dramatic result.

Forbes made massive research which showed that 9 out of the top 20 reasons why startups fail are related to user needs. People were just developing products that didn’t bring value to the users, didn’t meet their expectations, or didn’t address their problems.

top 20 reasons startups fail

At Eleken, we often do UI/UX design services for startups. The founders are typically in rush and want to get the product on the market or on the investors’ pitch as soon as possible. So at the initial stages of the product development cycle, when the budget is scarce, people try to cut costs. 

One of the first things that gets cut is user research. We’ve heard from our clients many different reasons why they didn’t want to do the research. We’ll share the most common — and give some tips on how to deal with those issues.

1. We have no time

user research meme

Time limits impact development decisions a lot. In the end, if we didn’t have deadlines, who knows how many products would make it to the final stage? That is to say, I totally understand people who opt to skip research to save some time. But there is one thing that they have to understand as well.

Developing a product without user research is like gambling. You have a chance to make something great and succeed, but you also have lots of chances to make something that people won’t buy because they don’t need that thing. And if you remember the statistics from the beginning of the article, you understand that the risk is big.

user research meme

User research helps you find out what users need and what they think of your product — before it is even released. Saving is good, but going wise on saving is more important.

If you do a product without user research, you are gambling your resources, time, and money. The stake is bigger than the time spent on research.

So, how much time does the research take?

People who have never done research may imagine it as a serious science-like venture that involves people in white lab coats doing experiments in sterile rooms. Maybe some UX researchers would like it to be that way even. But what some people don’t know is that UX research process can be simplified and still bring results — with minimum time and money spent.

User interview  is one of the easiest user research methods. At the same time, it is one of the most efficient. Studies show that as by conducting 3 to 5 interviews you already get most of the insights. 

user interview timeline

Five 30-minutes interviews would take no more than three hours of your working time. Add some more time to recruit the interviewees and analyze the results, and there you go — you can schedule and conduct interviews in less than two weeks and the actual working time is much less. UX research activities don’t have to take the majority of the design team’s time.

Michele Ronsen, UX instructor, says that you can say that there is no time for research only in “really extreme situations, like one or two-day turnarounds”. According to her, recruiting a person for user research takes no more than three hours. We believe that recruiting the minimum amount of interviewees can be done in 4 to 6 hours.

People who say that they have no time for research often just lack experience. Not every product owner knows how to do UX research and how to do it fast and efficiently.

2. We have no spare budget for user research

The story with lack of time can relate to this case, as well. Just count how much these 10 to 20 hours of time cost and you’ll see that this is a tiny dash of your development budget — but as important as a dash of salt in a soup.

There are very cheap and very expensive ways of doing UX research. And usually the cheap ways are more than enough to reach your goals. And that’s the next point of our excuses list.

3. We don’t have specific goals

When people say that, it means they have some basic understanding of how research should be done. It’s true, having a goal is crucial for efficient research. But goals don’t just appear on their own.

Especially if you are not used to doing the research and don’t have a clear vision of the value it brings, the goals won’t be clear as well.

User research checklist

Defining the goals should start with questions and challenges. Often research can help resolve roadblocks in product development. And then, there are always questions that every product manager should keep in mind regularly:

  • Is the product easy to use?
  • Does it solve the user’s problem?
  • What do users want?

And these are exactly the questions that user research answers.

4. I can’t do the research without involving stakeholders

Sadly, not everyone in the world is fond of research (and that’s why this article exists). Not all product teams are at a high level of UX maturity, and when you are the only one interested in conducting user research, you may feel that it won’t have much impact: simply because people don’t care.

On the other hand, why expect that people will get enlightened at some point? They won’t, unless they are being pushed to it. There are a number of methods that help convince your colleagues of the importance of user research. Here are some ideas:

  • Tell them stories about products that failed or succeeded because of (not) doing UX research
  • Share some statistics that prove the business value of research
  • Do little research on your own and present the results. Make sure that you boil it down to the most important insights, and don’t present lengthy documents that no one will read.

There’s no guarantee that it will magically turn your team into UX research Buddhas, but little by little it can change the situation. For more tips on how to become a user-centered company, read our article about UX maturity.

ux research buddha

Real reasons

The purpose of this text is to combat the excuses, but when you dig deeper, it becomes obvious that there is the other side of the coin where user research is really unnecessary.

Apart from fake excuses, there are real reasons that can justify skipping user research. If you have that annoying colleague who is a fan of user research, just tell them one of these:

1. When you do user research just to prove your idea

Though it sounds like a case of an unprofessional person, this bias is very common even among academic researchers. Scientists say that no result is a good result, but UX professionals probably wouldn’t agree with that.

If you notice that your team approaches user research that way, it’s time to consider whether it is worth wasting time at all. Confirmation bias is one of the main UX research challenges.

2. When you can reach your goals through different types of research

When starting to do UX design for a new project, our designers often get many ideas from users’ feedback on competitors. It’s more than simple: you just go to Apple store, Playstore, or any review website and read what people are saying. 

From there, you can learn what features users lack and what makes their experience pleasant or unpleasant. It gives lots of hints on how you can shape your product to get a competitive advantage.

alternative ux research methods

If you only know two or three research methods, read our article about 14 UX research methods.

3. When the results of the research don’t turn into design decisions

Here we go back to the question about stakeholders. When you take on the initiative and conduct user research on your own, but other team members just go on with what they believe is the best, the situation gets frustrating.

The only satisfaction is telling those sweet four words later when you get feedback on the product after launch: “I told you so”. Is it worth the effort? It’s all up to you.

4. When there is no professional available who can do quality user research

This reason is pretty clear. When you can’t ensure good quality, don’t jump into the research until you find an experienced professional. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a dedicated consulting company. Finding a designer who did user research in the past is enough.

If you decide to do user research without previous experience and previous knowledge, you should take it more as a self-educational experiment than a reliable basis for design decisions. Experiments are good — just don’t think that user research is a piece of cake. There are many pitfalls that you are not aware of.

So, to do or not to do?

What are your reasons, fake or true? Not sure yet? When in doubt, just do user research. And if you don’t have a UX professional with relevant experience in your team, contact us — and get to know our designers.

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