What Does a Product Designer Do?



Updated October 11, 2023
Land Your Dream Design Job

You’re reading an excerpt of Land Your Dream Design Job, a book by Dan Shilov. Filled with hard-won, personal insights, it is a comprehensive guide to landing a product design role in a startup, agency, or tech company, and covers the entire design interview process from beginning to end, for experienced and aspriring designers. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

The design industry has evolved significantly over the last few decades. Significant innovations in mobile computing have increased design scope to native and wearable devices. Larger tech companies translated psychology principles with the help of design into engaging, and at times addictive, products. All of this is to say that the roles and responsibilities of designers have significantly changed over the last few years.

The titles of design have also evolved. Previously, specialist skills present in roles such as web designer, service designer, interaction designer, UX designer, UI designer, and information architect are now commonly seen collapsed under the title of “product designer.” This sometimes adds more to the confusion since product design expectations vary by company.

confusion To keep things focused and less wordy, throughout the book I’ll be using the term product design to refer to UX/UI design as well.

While the definition of a product designer is in flux, here are some general things to keep in mind if you’re applying for this role:

  • Craft skills. Baseline visual design and interaction design skills, sometimes with fundamental user research skills mixed in.

  • Collaboration skills. The ability to work with other designers and cross-functional stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page and is able to deliver a great product together.

  • Professional traits. The ability to lead, take initiative, and handle complex situations.

  • Strategy. Also known as “product thinking,” it’s thinking about business implications of your design decisions and ensuring your work influences positive business outcomes, such as scaling the company’s team to help the company grow or reduce costs.

There’s more to being a great designer than having a collection of skills, of course. Having the ability to execute and deliver work that leads to impact is the ultimate marker of success. Everything ladders up to why a designer is hired by a company in the first place, to either improve or grow the business.

What’s Your Design Shape?

Different models exist out there to map out design skills. It’s a rough science and more of an art. IDEO popularized the T-shaped designer—someone who has deep knowledge and expertise in one or two areas (for example, interaction design and research) but has broad knowledge of other areas (for example, service design and brand design). Larger companies, usually with bigger teams, are composed of a mix of designers. Some of those designers tend to be I-shaped—deep specialists in their domain (motion graphics experts, for instance).

Figure: Assessing Your Design Skills

You’re reading a preview of an online book. Buy it now for lifetime access to expert knowledge, including future updates.
If you found this post worthwhile, please share!