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What is a Product Designer?
Portrait of Andy Leverenz
Andy Leverenz

November 13, 2016

Last updated November 5, 2023

What is a Product Designer?

The job title “product designer” has been flooding online job boards for quite some time. After searching for new jobs a few months back I noticed the role being authored more and more.

What I found surprising was that no two job descriptions were alike. This finding leads me to do some research on what a product designer really is. Care to hear the results?

The truth about the title

From my perspective, the job title “product designer” is basically a person who can do it all. Employers are looking for a cost-effective away to “design” their products using one resource rather than many. This involves anything from copywriting to UX design.

Is this ethical? I’m not so sure. Why? Well, typically one professional will always excel at fewer things than many. That’s not to say that this professional in mention can’t be good at many things but in my own case, I’m definitely better at some aspects of design over others. I’ll bet you are as well.

Having said this, I’m wondering if the title “product designer” really applies to anyone at all?

Some job descriptions lead me to believe that being a product designer means that you are in control of molding a product. Your employer hires you to take the reigns and be involved in a product's lifecycle. This can be anything from adding and removing features to coming up with new product ideas altogether.

What a Product Designer is

I’m not a product designer nor do I really believe in titles but if you’re designing anything to make the lives of people easier, then you already fit the advertised description of a product designer in my book.

Most “products” I speak of life inside the digital realm. These can be anything from applications to websites. Obviously, tangible products exist outside the digital ecosystem but I think that’s an entirely different role of “design”.

To really grasp what a product designer is (and does) you have to take note of design roles already in existence. Below are just a few that a Product Designer may or may not use inside their typical workflow:

  • Graphic design
  • Interaction/UX design
  • Animation design
  • User research
  • Data Analysis
  • Business Strategy
  • Prototyping

Product design is the entire process

All of these are individual roles and can make up your entire experience as a designer if you want to focus on only one.

A product designer is a myriad of all of these. As a modern designer, the industry is pushing us to become more aware of these other facets of design so we can contribute as well as make fewer mistakes in the process. Having experience inside all of these facets of design will allow you to mold the product into something better than ever.

What a Product Designer isn’t

Product design isn’t only about “design”. Product Design is about solving problems and shipping solutions. Using data, research and the combined skills listed before will help lead to the best possible outcome for the product in mention.

If you give a product designer a solution they then figure out what the problem is with it.

A product designer doesn’t focus on beauty as much as the problem the product is trying to solve.

Sure, the interface needs to be pretty badass looking but it should first be solving a problem users are having. If the problem isn’t being solved you are wasting a lot of time and resources for nothing.

A Product Designer doesn’t make assumptions.

He or She uses data to back up their solutions to design-related problems. You can’t assume anything when designing products as one user may have a different perspective than the next.

A product designer doesn’t focus on “design” alone.

In terms of UI and graphic design, making a product look good is certainly a crucial step but it’s not always necessary.

There are many ugly interfaces in the wild that work well for a reason. immediately comes to mind as there is little which meets the eye on the website (this is on purpose).

Users actually prefer the lean and minimal interface Craigslist offers as it’s easy to navigate. No design elements stand in a user's way slowing them down. Sure, there are restrictions set in place on what a user can and can’t do but if you gave a user each and every feature they wanted, the application would Frankenstein into something unusable. In the “tech” industry is known as feature bloat. As you might have guessed, a product designer is partial to blame for these restrictions.

Closing up

A product designer takes on multiple roles and is a big commitment. They are challenged to take a product and build it into something that solves a problem.

Design, interaction, continuity, strategy and more are all steps of the process that a product designer must utilize to create something great.

No product designer can focus on one single step of the design process alone and achieve impactful results.

If you’ve worked as a designer in any realm you can become a product designer. Doing so requires advancing your skillset. Most product designers you hear of today didn’t get to where they are by accident. They just worked hard and began to develop their own process by combining many facets of the design into one.

I’ll leave you with this:

To design great products you must be empathetic towards your users. It’s truly that simple.

Until you identify a user’s needs and wants will you truly begin building and shipping better products? Also remember restriction is a good thing.

Product Design is rendered useless if you are not solving a problem.
Step 1 is identifying the problem

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