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What Is a Product Designer? Everything You Need to Know
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AnnaMarie Houlis,
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Journalist & travel blogger

Product designers can earn a lucrative income throughout the course of their careers. Their jobs are complex, but the plans and, ultimately, products that they come up with can lead to tangible and, therefore, particularly rewarding outcomes.

What Is a Product Designer?

Product designers work complex jobs that aren't so easy to explain.

"There’s a widespread misconception that design is all about aesthetics; most people don’t seem to understand that it’s about solving problems instead," writes product designer Jessica Lascar for UX Collective. "Unlike art, aesthetic in design does not play the lead role, but supports the main purpose-functionality... [Product design is] about the entire process of creating usable products and experiences, starting by defining real people’s problems and thinking about possible solutions. That will eventually lead to the best design."

Another product designer, Cam Sackett, writing for Protyper.io put it this way: "You know those products or tools you use that are super easy, that actually help you and are delightful to use? I’m the person behind that usability and delightful experience. You know that door that says pull to open but it really means push to open; I make sure that doesn’t happen."

Sacket said that "design is design."

"Let’s try not to fuss about it too much (even though we will) — more or less, are we not all trying to accomplish the same thing?  he asked. "Discover and define a problem, then empathetically design the solution."

Ultimately, product design refers to the process of the idea generation and development of new products. Product design, therefore, includes creative and critical thinking, engineering, industrial design work and development that all takes a product concept from an idea to an actually reliable, cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing manufactured and finished piece.

After all, according to Oxford Product Design, "design is often the deciding factor in the success of a product; many customers make purchasing decisions based primarily on product design because good product design ensures quality, appearance, performance, ease of use, and reliability." Product design is also "vital for businesses to provide creative and innovative product design, as "the design of a product affects the maintenance and running costs and cost of production through the choice of materials and assembly methods."

With that said, "the role of design is to create a marketable product from an innovation" and "[enable] product differentiation and clearly [communicate] the function of the product to the user," according to Oxford Product Design.

Of course, there are different types of product designers. For example, you might be wondering, what is a UX product designer? or what does a digital product designer do?

According to the Interaction Design Foundation, "user experience (UX) design is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users — this involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function."

Meanwhile, a digital product designer "uses creativity and computer skills to design visuals associated with electronic technology," according to Study.com. "They create everything from websites and computer-game graphics to special effects for movies, and may work in a variety of industries, including entertainment, education and advertising."

Product Designer Responsibilities

Though product designers' tasks vary by industry, company and product, there are some umbrella responsibilities that all product designers take on. These include the following, according to Oxford Product Design:

  • Come up with design concepts in the form of sketches, drawings and illustrations
  • Determine the best presentation strategies for these concepts
  • Keep abreast of current market trends
  • Coordinate artists and/or layout designers to create accurate and efficient designs
  • Modify or make revisions to designs to meet customer demands or needs, and/or correct production limitations

A product designer's job is a complex one, which is why they can earn good money doing it. If you're wondering, what is a product designer salary?, the answer is varied. According to Payscale, a product designer with mid-career experience (which includes employees with five to 10 years of experience) can expect to earn an average of $84,000. This average is based on 269 salaries on the site, which means that some product designers might earn more or less.

What Do You Need to Be a Product Designer?

How do you become a product designer? Becoming a successful product designer requires an education and great degree of experience.

As for education, most employers will only hire product designers who hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field — and those who have relevant work experience are typically preferred.

"At Oxford Product Design, we require our product designers to possess an iconic sense of form, convey their ideas quickly using freehand sketching techniques, have a talent for producing jaw-dropping visualisations, have a keen sense of Colours, Materials and Finishes (CMF) and, most importantly, to produce designs which are realistic and achievable," Oxford Product Design writes, for example.

Product designers need to be able to multitask, work well in teams (of all types of people from engineers and prototype fabricators to sales staff and advertising staff), communicate well, understand design technologies (such as Computer-Assisted Design, 3D modeling and blueprints) and possess creative and critical thinking skills.

According to Protypr.io, the design thinking process looks like this:

  1. Empathize with people
  2. Define the problem
  3. Ideate a solution
  4. Build a prototype
  5. Test your solution

That said, a product designer's day-to-day life might look quite different throughout the week.

Product designers usually work full time in an office environment within a number of industries. Otherwise, product designers might work as freelancers who contract with companies. They'll often make frequent use of workshops, studios and factory spaces, as well as meet with customers and co-workers to discuss the designs, in addition to their time in the office.

What types of companies hire this position? According to PayScale, "all industries that manufacture consumer products employ product designers." For example, product designers might work in "electronics, furniture design, general manufacturing, automotive manufacturing and many other fields" including more specialized fields such as "medical technology and telecommunications device manufacturing."

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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