What the hell is a Product Designer?

What do we specifically do?

The definitions are all over the place and they vary. And that’s a-ok

This article will focus on Product Design and a few skills that are under that umbrella. I’m not writing a comprehensive and exacting list of all the things that a Product Designer does— the permutations abound.

That said, here’s what I think: Design is design. Let’s try not to fuss about it too much (even though we will). More or less, are we not all trying to accomplish the same thing?

Discover and define a problem, then empathetically design the solution.

Short story

I solve problems for people. One method that I personally like is design thinking.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”
 — Tim Brown, president and CEO, IDEO

The design thinking process:

1. Empathize with people

2. Define the problem

3. Ideate a solution

4. Build a prototype

5. Test your solution

Remember, even though this appears linear, it isn’t. The design process is non-linear. It’s also cyclical.

See my other article Make Navigation a Game to see an example of how I used this process.

Longer short story

For me, I specialize in these four things:

User Experience Design (The way a product feels). I create the product’s logic. I love user research and user testing. I’m people driven as well as data influenced. I enhance people’s satisfaction with a product by refining the usability, accessibility, and pleasure given in the interaction between a person and a product.

Interaction Design (The way a product behaves). I think about what the interface does after a person touches it, speaks to it, or looks at it — I make interactive experiences. I prototype and do user testing. I create animations, transitions, and other interactivity to guide and delight.

User Interface Design (The way a product looks). I think about the interface elements: typography, buttons, headers, images, icons; you name it. I make sure a person’s interaction with those elements is as efficient and straightforward as possible.

Information Architecture (The way a product is structured and how the content is organized). I help with user flow, journey mapping, how a person performs and complete tasks — How they get from A to B.

Now, there are some other things a Product Designer should be familiar with such as basic development (HTML, CSS, Javascript), UX writing, data analysis, etc. (the list can get very long…).

I’m not suggesting everyone go be a magical wizard unicorn designer. That said, Product Designers should know the holistic process of designing meaningful products and experiences. The key is to learn to be adaptable and have a love for learning.

Start with these four disciplines: User Experience Design, Interaction Design, User Interface Design, and Information Architecture. Intimately know and practice these four disciplines and they will will push you in the right direction.

Overview with an example

You know those products or tools you use that are super easy, that actually help you and are delightful to use? I’m the person behind that usability and delightful experience. You know that door that says pull to open but it really means push to open; I make sure that doesn’t happen.

Bananas — photo cred: Amazon Grocery, banana section

UX and Bananas

Think about a banana (I know, an overused example but it’s so good).
Let’s begin: A banana shows you when it’s ready to eat, it’s mobile and easy to take with you everywhere, it has a protective peel, and when it’s ready to eat, it peels quickly without the need of any other tools. Bananas are not messy; they don’t fuss. You don’t have to wash them before eating. You don’t have to do much really — just peel and eat. Plus, a banana is healthy.

Once you peel that banana, eating it is pleasant and effortless. There are no hidden parts, no seeds or a core that takes up all the space inside.

And as a bonus, bananas can help produce serotonin in our bodies — a chemical that makes us happy.

Bananas are impeccable designs.

I design bananas in products.


Above all, please keep this in mind: Humans.

People should be at the center of all your designs. You should have a passion for people and solve their problems as well as enhance their experience with a product; When we focus on defining a problem, being empathetic to a person’s overall experience with a product, and designing a solution to help a person meet their need/goal — when that is our mindset and the lens through which we view, only then can we even begin to design meaningful products, ones that reflect that of the banana.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.