Product Design is commonly defined as the holistic approach of building a new product from start to finish. This encompasses everything from doing market research, identifying problems, product development, designing informed solutions—and everything in between. Still, this definition of Product Design could read pretty vague.
To get a deeper understanding, we decided to ask eight real-life Product Designers how they define and approach their roles. As it turns out, there are a ton of different skillsets that fit under the umbrella of a Product Designer. And in a lot of cases, the Product Design process takes a team of designers with different specialties to create and implement design solutions.
Let’s take a closer look to discover what Product Design looks like in our modern design world:
“Product design is about creating products that meet the needs of its users through business strategy, data analysis, user experience design, user research, user interface design, motion design, mockups, and prototypes. It’s all about problem solving and design thinking, which is part of that product design process.
“Here at InVision the focus is understanding the different ways that people use our product. Our design thinking and brainstorm process begins with our design team defining the problem, using research to help inform what our solution could look like, and then validating those proposed solutions with user testing. From there, we define the scope of executing our ideas and refine them further until we have an experience that we are confident putting into production.”
2. Elona Jaquez
Elona Jaquez is a mobile Product Designer based in Boston, Massachusetts. She currently works as the Principal Product Designer at Care.com leading the native app design and visual design for all platforms.
“Product Design is the intersection of the various UX design disciplines that go into creating modern digital products. These generally include UI design, interaction design, user research, information architecture, problem definition and design thinking, prototyping, visual design, motion design, and management of design systems. While the trend in recent years has been for Product Designers to be generalists and proficient in all of these disciplines, it has also become widely acknowledged that individual designers often have greater specialty in a subset of skills and that successful Product Design is best achieved as a design team effort that leverages individuals’ areas of expertise.
“In my day-to-day design practice, I am fortunate to be a lead Product Designer at Care.com, a platform that connects families with caregivers, which allows me to do meaningful work that I care deeply about. My primary area of focus is mobile experience design for native apps, visual design, and brand building. A “typical” workday for me can consist of collaborating with other designers and product managers, doing competitive user research of apps and features, ideation with cross-functional peers, sketching, wireframing or prototyping (as needed), working on pixel perfect comps in Sketch, designing iconography in Illustrator, animating in Principal, and light user testing. As a lead, I also work to keep the team running smoothly as we work together to create excellent experiences for our customers. No two days in Product Design are exactly the same, and that’s a big part of why I love it!”
3. Andrew McKay
Andrew McKay is a Sydney based Product Designer focused in the mobile app space. He’s worked with leading Aussie apps such as Domain, Atlassian, and Macquarie Bank but most recently launched his own friends-based app called Friendly. Andrew’s skillset is tailored around the visual side of design specializing in the user interface, motion, illustrations and all-around aesthetics of the product. Here’s how he defines Product Design:
“One of the biggest differentiators between a traditional user experience role and a Product Designer role is the lifecycle of the designer’s role. As a Product Designer, my role is to not only deliver to a client’s brief but to also maintain and constantly iterate and improve on that product, based on the user base and the original assumptions evolving into new pathways.
“As a Lead Product Designer, I work across multiple products at the same time, all living and breathing at different speeds under the one overarching brand. This takes that lifecycle one step further with my role now to not only evolve, iterate, and improve an individual product but to also make sure all product development stays consistent, that no products diverge or get too left behind from our design system, and to oversee that all designers working under these products are working towards the same design ideas and company vision.”
4. Charles Shin
“At Warby Parker, we define Product Design as creating the best-in-class experiences for our customers no matter how they interact with our brand—through our website, apps, vision tests, retail stores, CX, etc. We believe there is an opportunity for Warby Parker and our design team to ideate and create effortlessly seamless experiences, and great design is an incredibly key component of that.
“I work on a product team dedicated to improving the e-commerce experience for returning customers. Depending on the scope of the project, a typical day involves a stand-up meeting with my team, close collaboration with other types of product designers, creating and using prototyping tools for usability testing with our UX researcher, and meeting with various stakeholders to ensure all perspectives are considered to achieve our project goals. And one last thing is meeting with prospective designers because yes, we’re hiring!”
Tim Pleiko-Izik is an experienced Product Designer with a background in Front-End and iOS/Android development. Originally from Europe, Tim is now based in San Francisco and below explains what he believes is the distinction between a UI/UX Designer and a Product Designer:
“Many people do not differentiate the role between UI/UX Designer and Product Designer. Having experience in a design agency and one of the leading tech companies in the world, I began to make this distinction for myself. The work of a UI/UX Designer ends the moment that project files are sent to a client. At this point, the UI/UX designer begins work on a new project. But the life of the new product and work on it does not end until after shipping the first version.
“You can compare these two concepts with a sprint run and marathon. I believe that Product Design is a much more in-depth process. This person should clearly understand business values and be a user advocate. A Product Designer’s priority is to solve a problem through design. He should be a link between marketing, managers, and developers. Work on product never stops, and Product Designers should care about a product long after the release of the first version, and continue to do so after researching the data and studying the user interaction with a product.”
Crista Stanescu is an experienced Product Designer hailing from Savannah, Georgia. She’s currently helping the team at UINugget with all things Product and shares some insight on what tasks she’s in charge of as a Product Designer:
“Product Design is a determining part in the process of delivering a beautiful, functional, and successful product, who’s story is always a different one—as well as its path in getting there. It can include every other branch of design, but on top of that, it consists of project management, strategy, and planning. Product Design generates an infinite list of possibilities in which you can define a product. It is applied to almost everything we interact with, visually and physically, from the most basic thing like toilet paper (e.g. how Zewa changed the game) to smartphones, digital apps, and tools, etc. A Product’s usability level decides how satisfied their targetted user is and how successful that product is/will be. This all comes from a team’s efforts and collaboration and how they deliver that product.
“As a Product Designer, I handle multiple products at the same time so there’s a lot of switching around between tasks. I usually start off by gathering and analyzing all the information and help with further research for any missing pieces. Next, I create a logical, yet flexible path that I can present to the rest of the team based on user research AKA the “discovery & strategy” phase. This includes solution concepts, priorities lists, goals, and interest diagrams. Once that’s done, the lo-fi visual fun begins as I start putting the pieces together to create the user flow (story -> task -> action -> result). This is followed by wireframes and conceptual mockups. Finally comes the design process (user interface, micro-interactions, design systems, and any other related elements). In some cases, products will stop evolving after their first release. With others, we continue improving them using feedback & testing as primary sources, and everything else will follow.”
Santiago Alonso is a multi-disciplinary designer based in New York focusing on Product Design and Art Direction for startups and tech companies like Apple, AT&T, and Infor. Santiago shares a really interesting comparison between the Product Design process and the scientific method:
“One of the things I enjoy most about working in Product Design is that I get to play scientist. My process is nowhere near as rigorous as the scientific method but I do try to approach every challenge as an experiment, with a hypothesis (or assumption) to be tested. Would this new feature increase engagement? Would a redesign affect brand perception in a positive way? Would removing a feature make a product less confusing?
“The deliverable is the process itself, and as a designer who doesn’t code, the only power I have is a grade of influence on the people who are indeed building the product. Providing useful assets and a common understanding by communicating what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we are going to measure its success gives the team the clarity and context they need to do what they do best.”
Anna Kukhareva is a Product Designer at PlasmaPay in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Below, Anna shares insight on all kinds of tasks she has to complete and/or oversee as a Product Designer.
“It’s common for designers to wear many hats in a startup environment. As a Product Designer, I take care of most of the design requirements, creating screens and flows to solve a given problem. I also make sure that we’re building the right thing, trying to answer the right question (considering user needs and business objectives), and keep track of the project success.
“Before deciding on the implementation/development of something, I always consider the next design process steps. Part of the role of a Product Designer is to describe your users, their needs, areas of activity, and create a comprehensive portrait. You should understand whether there is an explicit separation of users into groups, or whether they are all for the most part similar. I’ll then create an Objective Tree for each group of users from the general to the specific one. I prioritize these tasks for one particular group of users. Then, I define what user tasks our service is currently solving and determine whether there are better solutions on the market or whether we can make a better solution that is not on the market. I’ll take the user tasks our service does not solve and find the best practices while thinking about how to improve the user experience. Finally, I create a to-do list including prototyping, development, and implementation.”
If we had to gather all of these ideas into one sentence, Product Design would be defined by the process of creating a digital experience using principles of human-centered design. It’s ultimately the intersection of multiple design disciplines working towards the same goal, oftentimes taking a whole team of researchers, product designers, strategists, and developers to execute.