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How to become a Product Designer

6 minute read

Product designers have become highly sought-after in the tech world, and it’s not hard to see why. Digital products are big business, and having the skills to design them means you’ll always be in demand.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to become a Product Designer.

What is a Product Designer?

Before we go any further, let’s be clear: when we say ‘Product Designer’, we mean ‘Digital Product Designer’.

We’re not talking real-life products (the people who design those tend to be referred to as industrial Product Designers). As a Digital Product Designer it’s your job to design things people use online or on digital devices: websites, apps, tools and so on.

Product Designers can be referred to by different job titles, such as User Experience (UX) Designer, User Interface (UI) designer, Information Architect (IA), Interaction Designer (IX), Experience Architect (XA) and so on. Some of these can be used interchangeably and there’s a lot of overlap between them.

Taking two of the main ones, a UX Designer designs all the functionality that contributes to someone’s experience of using a digital product, such as its underlying structure and execution.

A UI Designer deals more with the look and feel of the product and the journey a user will take with it.

Overall, the aspects a Product Designer works on can be split into three areas: system design, process design and interface design. These deal variously with the underlying structure, the way it works and the way it looks and feels.

How much does a Product Designer earn?

According to Glassdoor, a Digital Product Designer earns an average of around £44,000 a year, with a starting salary of around £27,000 and rising to over £70,000 for senior roles.

What does a Product Designer do in a typical day?

As a Product Designer, your typical day might involve anything from conducting user research to creating wireframes that mock up how a digital product will look. You could be creating a journey map that outlines a user’s pathway as they work through using the product.

Later in the project you’ll be creating a prototype, testing it and producing ‘high fidelity designs’ – final mock-ups ready to be passed to a developer to create.

It’s these that show your development team exactly how the product should work and look, from functionality to colours and fonts.

Skills needed to be a Product Designer

As with ‘offline’ products, good product design involves working out the best solution to a problem, so problem-solving skills are key.

But as a Product Designer, you’ll also need good business acumen, and to have knowledge of a wide range of website-related disciplines, such as user experience and interface design, and sound and motion design.

It’ll also help to have at least some background knowledge of related disciplines such as copywriting, SEO, coding and user testing. We’ve discussed all these skills in more detail in our article on skills you need to be a Product Designer.

How do you become a Product Designer?

There’s no typical amount of time it takes to become a Product Designer, as there are different ways to make it in this job role and a certain amount of your learning and professional development will take place ‘on the job’.

There’s no one set route to becoming a Product Designer, so it’s a question of choosing the way you feel is right for you. Here are the main ones:

University

Most Product Designers have a degree, and university is the most common route to becoming a Product Designer. More and more universities are offering degrees in product design, which you can find a handy list of here.

As the job covers a variety of disciplines, and you may also find that some universities cover product design as part of broader courses on computer science, industrial design, entrepreneurship, engineering or other information technology subjects.

Private courses

If you don’t feel university is for you, or you already have a degree but it’s not too relevant to product design, another option is to take a private course in product design.

These are available at organisations such as UX Academy, which offers a course that enables you to become a certified Product Designer.

Teach yourself

Finally, if you’re limited on budget and time, you could also teach yourself using the huge variety of free or low-cost online product design courses, such as those available from Coursera and Udemy.

Creating a product design portfolio

When you’re applying for Product Designer jobs, you’ll need a way to show potential employers what you’re capable of. That’s where your portfolio comes in.

This is a place where you can showcase work you’ve done previously, and here’s how you can set one up:

  • Get some inspiration – Google Product Designer portfolios and take a look at what others have done – how have they presented their work, and which portfolios stand out for you?
  • Set up a website – to keep things simple, there are plenty of low-cost and free ways to do this, using websites such as WordPress, Wix and Squarespace. To make it more professional, buy your own domain name.
  • Pick your best work – your portfolio is meant to impress, so choose the work you’re proudest of. This could be paid work you’ve done, a school project or even things you’ve worked on in your own time.

Two interesting ways to make your portfolio stand out

Wondering how to make your portfolio stand out? Here are a couple of ideas to help you do things a little differently and set yourself apart from the competition:

  • Redesign – boost your portfolio by looking at a product that already exists and thinking about how you could make it better. How would you redesign it? This is a great way to show off your problem-solving abilities.
  • Tell a story – show or explain how you got to a final design idea. Everyone has an idea, but people forget to show how they got there. Take the reader on the journey of why you did it, how you did it and what the final product you came up with was.

Both these ideas can make your work stand out and give you another discussion point in interviews. If you can explain your work and decisions, people tend to have more confidence in you.

Product Designer career prospects

There’s huge demand for Product Designers, so you’ll have plenty of scope for career progression.

Starting off as a Junior Designer and learning on the job, you can then progress to Senior Designer and director level within an agency or ‘in-house’ working for one brand. Many Product Designers go freelance or start their own design agency.

If you’re looking for a job that exercises your problem-solving skills and ensures you’re always in demand, Product Designer might be the perfect job title for you. For more on what it takes, have a read of our article on skills you need to be a Product Designer.

Feeling inspired? Take the THIS IS HOW quiz to find out more about what you’re good at and possible job roles that could be a match for you or have a listen to our podcast with Carl, Lead Product Designer at YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP.