How to Become a Product Designer: Grow Your Career Successfully

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

what does a product designer do?
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.

Brainstorming

product design methods: brainstorming
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

example of a 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

What are User Interviews? methods of product design
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

method of product design: example of 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

Sketches

methods of product design: Sketch
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

example of wireframe as a product design method
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

methods used in product design process: prottypes
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

Website Usability Testing as a method in product design
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.

Research

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.

Strategy

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.

Prototype

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.

Test

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.

Implement

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.

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