What is the role of a product designer?

A product designer designs digital products including software, websites, apps, animations, etc. to satisfy the user needs. They are mainly responsible for:
  • Spotting opportunities for a new product
  • Understanding the customer and business needs
  • Translating user requirements into a design
  • Solving problems by understanding UI (User Interface), UX (User Experience) and design systems. Design systems are libraries of design components and patterns.

They can be involved in the end-to-end product process, from product development strategy to getting the product into the market, working closely with developers, engineers, other designers, and marketers. And they are different from industrial designers, who deal with physical products.

As a career, I would say product designers are one of the most in-demand professionals, especially one with cross-functional skills such as front-end coding and marketing experience. With more and more physical products having a digital component, I think this role will only grow in the future.

What is the difference between product designers and UX designers?

Product designers and UX designers work closely together but they do have different roles. A product designer knows the business objective and current market. They usually ask:
  • Is the product a right fit for the current economy?
  • Does this product align with the business goals?
  • How can I make the design cost-effective, consistent, flexible, or scalable?
Meanwhile, a UX designer is fully focused on designing the best user experience. They usually ask:
  • Is the product easy to use?
  • How can I make the design more user-friendly?
These designers hold different priorities. UX designer prioritises usability, while for a product designer, the brand, business, and process need to be considered too. Finally, there’s another term called the UI designer, who concentrates on how the product looks and feels – the aesthetics for the users.

What does a product designer do daily?

1. Research market trends and user requirements

User and market research is the foundation of product design. You will be searching for market data regularly, reading past interviews and surveys, analysing use cases and user behaviour, and keeping up with the latest news and trends in design. All this gives you the perfect springboard to design better products and spot opportunities in the market for new products.

2. Create and understand user personas and user journey maps

User persona and user journey maps are important ingredients for generating ideas. By understanding who the users are, what they need, and what the buying experience looks like, you are in a better position to design solutions that actually matter to your users.

3. Outline the product design

Product designers build or deal with sketches, storyboards, wireframes and UX flows daily to shape the product or prototype design. These tools are the bread and butter of a designer, helping to communicate the product vision, idea, and goals.

4. Design the prototype or product

This includes designing high-fidelity prototyping, general functionality, and menus. Product designers will hold a holistic view of the design, such as typography, visual hierarchy, layout, color theory, but may not be an expert in it. In big companies, they usually have a UI designer to design the nitty gritty details.

5. Conduct user testing and interviews

Getting user validation is critical to a successful product. You cannot launch if you fail to test rigorously. From doing user interviews and iterative testing, a designer is expected to know this at the back of his hand and be closely in tune with the users.

6. Develop design systems

Design systems help create a consistent look and feel across a portfolio of products, especially if you have more than one product or multiple brands. A product designer will create and use design systems.

7. Collaborate with different teams

Product designers do not work in isolation. They are always in discussion or working together with developers, engineers, marketers, other designers, and even the sales team from discovery, designing, development, and getting the product off the ground.

8. Get buy-ins for their product

Depending on the size of the company, a product designer may have an added responsibility of convincing stakeholders and investors to bank on a product or feature. They use tools like prototypes, user research and market data to get management buy-ins.

What skills does a product designer need?

A product designer must have skills and experience in industry-standard design and prototyping tools such as Sketch, Adobe XD, Figma, Invision and other creative suites. On top of that, they also need to have a decent command of:
  • design thinking principles
  • product and project management
  • product design for desktop and mobile devices
  • prototyping skills
  • user research skills
And finally, you will require common soft skills such as teamwork, creative problem solving, and leadership. However, the skills required depend on the size and the nature of the company you work for.
In a bigger company, a product designer role is more specialized in one area. On the other hand, if you work in a small company, the product designer may also be the UX designer, with some front-end coding skills.

Many product designers come from different backgrounds such as graphic design, marketing, sales, and UX research. This is because a product designer doesn’t just design but needs to have enough business acumen and the skills to discover what the user wants in a product. You can acquire these skills from other jobs, and when you’re ready to make the leap to a product designer, it can be an exciting career.

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.