A Complete Roadmap to Become a Product Designer in 2023
Product design is one of the highest-paying tech jobs if you're looking for a more varied career, unlike coding. It's an industry experiencing colossal growth and with many different roles to choose from.
Product Design is blending the technical chops of software developers with designers' creativity. It's a perfect fit for tech-savvy professionals who enjoy figuring out how people interact with technology.
Product design does not require programming proficiency, allowing designers to explore creative solutions to complex user problems and feed their creative souls. Additionally, the industry welcomes people from varied educational backgrounds and experiences.
The only attribute it expects in return from aspiring designers is the ability to spot the right problems, come up with creative solutions, and tie those solutions to business goals.
Does that mean it's an easy industry to break in?
People with innovative ideas and attitudes can be professional product designers while making an impact on the users. The gist of this profession is that it requires creativity and a fair understanding of technology to make digital products appealing, practical, and engaging.
This comes with a bunch of soft and hard skills one needs to be aware of to evolve successfully in this career.
But before we dive in and discover those exact skills, let's go over some basics.
Difference b/w UX and Product Designer
Yes, you heard it right!
Many people use UX design and product design interchangeably, but both have a thin line of difference, ultimately making a huge difference in these two roles.
- While UX design is more design-oriented, product design is more business-oriented.
- UX designers are user-centric and focus on improving the existing user flows using human-centered design principles. While on the other hand, product designers are referred to as "full-stack designers" who make sure their and their team's designs align well with the business objectives.
- UX designers specialize in research, visual design, and making it easy for users to navigate any digital product. On the other hand, product designers are usually involved in designing, brainstorming, project management, analyzing data, and user testing to make informed decisions for the product. This way, they are certain that they cater to the users and stakeholders and oversee the business side.
Top 5 Skills Needed to Become a Product Designer
It's actual product designers wear many hats throughout their careers. But, as discussed above, they are full-stack designers who do more than just design. Their responsibilities include:
- Managing tech and design teams.
- Acting as a liaison between stakeholders and management.
- Ensuring execution happens on time.
This suffices a mix of soft skills and hard skills one needs to master before one can think of a career in product design.
The skills are as follows:-
1. Basics of Design as a Discipline
To start with design, you have to start from the basics.
To begin with, you'll have to understand what users want, what their frustrations are, and how as a designer, you can make it effective for them to get rid of the problem. Not only this, but you'll also have to eventually find out how to use psychology to create designs that are not just aesthetically pleasing but are also usable and functional for them to get used to. This involves going through a rigorous design process and learning wireframing skills, designing, prototyping, conducting research, interviewing users, testing, and so on.
Once you get a good hold of how to implement user experience, you'll have to navigate the tough waters of user interface design, also called visual design. This step helps any designer turn their UX research into tangible outcomes. UI design is getting familiar with the design principles that include a good grasp of working with colors, typography, iconography, and designing for apps, websites, software, and products.
2. Solid Knowledge of Design Tools
To ensure you're quickly able to synthesize your research into tangible outcomes, you'll need the help of software and tools to make that happen. Figma, AdobeXD, Creative Suite, and Framer for designing and prototyping are the most popular ones in the industry for product designers and UX designers.
You need to master at least one tool to visually communicate your design decisions effectively to your fellow designers, team members, and stakeholders. This way, you can collaborate better and produce results faster.
3. A Fair Understanding of Project Management
Being a product designer involves managing a team and backing up the lifeline of a project too. So from inception to execution, you will be expected to show up now and then to give your valuable input to deliver a refined product at the end of the day.
How can you make a product experience better?
✔️Being able to participate in implementing a project
✔️Articulating your design decisions in front of stakeholders
✔️Holding your team accountable for project delivery
✔️Overseeing the results generated in user testing
✔️Re-engineering obsolete ways
✔️Bringing fresh ideas to the table
These pointers mentioned above are the key indicators of your efficiency as a product designer.
Tools like Zeda.io, Trello, and Jira assist you in streamlining the process and keeping tabs on multiple teams like design, engineering, marketing, and sales, all on the same page at all times.
4. Team Leadership and Collaboration
Even though this goes without saying, product designers are confident regarding rich communication and collaboration.
Whether defending their proposed design solutions, disagreeing with a stern stakeholder, or appreciating a team member publicly, they know their way around words. This is because they are empathy-led designers.
Knowing exactly when to stand up and face challenges, switching from a user POV to a business angel, and using industry insights and facts as their weapons are how they know how to make use of how and when.
5. Data-Driven & Curiosity
When you stand firm with your findings using qualitative and quantitative data, real user feedback, and interview insights, it seems more trustworthy than a mere assumption that validates your arguments.
Also, good product designers always ask questions. So you'll always find them digging for the "why's" and getting restless and desperate until they find the core problem of the users, unlike most designers who say yes to any request or demand that arises from the management or the clients.
If you want to make sure you're doing a great job as a product designer, don't feel shy or fearful asking these questions:-
> What problem needs to be solved in the first place?
> Why is this problem arising in the first place?
> Who will benefit the most and the least if we solve this problem?
> What impact will it have on the product's bigger picture?
> Do we need this feature at all? Will this solve the bigger problem for our users?
And until you reach the core of the pain point, don't stop asking 'why.'
Now coming to the main question…
How to get started in product design?
Step-1 Start with an Introductory Course in Product Design
There are several high-quality free introductory courses by reputed organizations like Coursera, Udacity, CareerFoundry, and many more where you'll at least get a foot in the door for the design world.
Either of these courses will equip you with essential UX and product design knowledge, which will help you decide if this is the right career path for you. If you're convinced this is what you want to do for the rest of your professional journey, you can go for a paid and dedicated product design Bootcamp or course for a structured learning skill.
You can choose from an online and offline mode of education and decide how you want to progress further.
Step-2 Learn, Practice, Repeat
Once you gain momentum with your design learning, you've got to stick to the schedule. This means learning and practicing design actively and passively, just as dedicatedly.
Read product, design, and UX-related books, watch tutorials and videos on human-centered design and constantly practice improving yourself.
A few platforms and tricks to help get you started are as follows:-
i) 100 Days UX Challenge: This resource sends a new design challenge/prompt to your inbox every day for 100 days. The prompts will help you build your design skills from the basics to advanced levels.
ii) Design Hackathons: Work with other designers in a group setting to solve design problems. Design hackathons are an excellent way to learn, collaborate and produce solutions with tight time constraints. Meetup.com and Facebook groups are good sources for local hackathons.
iii) Copy Work: Explore great designs on Dribbble and Behance.com and create screens for your practice using the same UI guidelines. This is a sure-shot way to get inspired, broaden your design eye and quickly improve your visual design skills. Again, give credit where it is due, but don't plagiarize.
iv) Concept Project: If you feel there's a real problem with the products, software, or apps you use daily, try developing a creative design solution using user experience principles. This is a great way to solve real-world problems and apply your theoretical knowledge to practical use.
Step 3: Create a Portfolio
You can attract recruiters' attention by posting your work in public for them to see. A collection of detailed product design case studies and related UX and UI work gives an impression of your awareness of different design disciplines and willingness to learn.
Designers use websites like Wix, Webflow, UXfolio, and Linktree to create quick links or a dedicated portfolio website.
The sooner you can get your work out in public among fellow designers, mentors, and professional communities, the higher your chances of landing your first gig in product design.
Also, you can have a partial-blown website for your projects to make it as a product designer initially. Instead, you can start by uploading your concept-based projects or work from courses you've taken onto your profile and construct a dedicated website later.
Step-4 Get an Accountability Partner/ Mentor
Becoming a designer is a challenging process. To ensure you keep your heart and keep going, finding someone who can guide you through the process is essential. Getting a mentor can be invaluable to ensure that you stay on track and don't give up.
ADP list is a community of designers where you can ask and answer questions, find mentors, request feedback on your latest designs, get help when designing specific parts of your product, or connect with other designers worldwide.
Step-5 Start Applying!
Now that you've learned the skills, practiced them enough, built a detailed case study, and have a portfolio in place—it's time to get out there and apply for product design jobs.
Be bold and ask for feedback. Interviewers and design managers will often be able to tell you what they liked or didn't like about your application. Work through the input to become a better designer.
To Sum it Up
By doing the work, learning from your mistakes, and putting out what you've learned, you can become a great Product Designer.
Design is a team sport and cannot happen in a void:
- Involve others in the process.
- Collaborate with people who inspire you.
- Keep refining your existing skill set.
- Learn to take a punch from users if things go north.
- Give back to the community by building a personal brand when possible.
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