Ask DN: How do you define a "Product Designer"?

over 3 years ago from , brand & product stuff

Having seen and talked to lot of my family over the holidays. It became pretty apparent to me that I have no idea how to describe what I do to folks who aren't familiar with it.

"I'm a Product Designer" is what typically leaves my mouth when asked what I do. I'm not really one to care job titles, but I think it accurately describes what I do. I design products.

"What does that mean?" is the usual response...

I don't really like getting hung up on titles, so I begin to describe that it's this weird mashup of Web Design, Digital-Industrial Design, UX, UI, etc etc etc blah blah blah... It's hard to really pin down quickly and elegantly.

Anyone out there have a short, concise & clear explanation of what a product Designer does?

26 comments

  • Justin EdmundJustin Edmund, over 3 years ago

    Crossposting this from Quora.

    As a designer, I feel like there are very subtle differences in these jobs, but ultimately they all end up with around the same results at the end of the day. That is, they design how a user interacts with a product.

    Let me explain, and keep in mind that this is my own view of the design world, and others very well may have different opinions of the functions of these titles:

    • A product designer oversees product vision from a high level (how does this feature make sense for where we want to be in 6 months) to a low execution level (how does styling this button this way impact how the user flows through this function). Product designer is a term that I believe was largely popularized with the rise of Facebook. They should perform all of the functions of the other listed designer types, combined.

    • A UX (user experience) designer is closer to a product designer than an interaction designer. These designers often deal with diagrammatic user flows opposed to based in pixels, wireframes instead of mockups, and user research. As the opposite of an interaction designer, they focus more on high level design decisions and mostly aren't very concerned with pixel level detail. These are the analytical thinkers.

    • An interaction designer is similar to a product designer, but I don't know if I would put one in charge of high-level features. They are also close to UI designers. I feel like interaction designers specialize in the actual interactions of an app — what happens when you hit a button, how a menu flies out, how to design your forms, etc.

    • A UI (user interface) designer could be a interaction designer, but most UI designers I find on the internet tend to teeter onto the side of visual design. More often than not, they design the aesthetics of the UI elements, but not necessarily how the elements behave after interaction.

    In the end, these people all perform slightly different functions to reach the same goal. Of course, you will find designers that say that they are one title and perform the function of another — this is, after all, my opinion, and also with job functions so close together, overlap is bound to happen.

    It's also important to keep in mind that you don't need to hire one of all four functions when building a design team. Usually, based on the kind of company that you're running and the stage that you're at, one of the above (two max) will do just fine.

    22 points
    • Nick Dominguez, over 3 years ago

      This is probably one of the better explanations I've seen of these job titles. "Product Designer" to me is an umbrella term with all these other titles/responsibilities falling under it.

      Ultimately, if you work on a small team like I do, what you work on falls into a little bit of all these spaces. Even though I call myself a UX designer I could probably put any of these labels on myself.

      0 points
  • Mark WillsMark Wills, over 3 years ago

    When friends or family back in the midwest ask I say: I get to decide what technology looks like, and acts like. Most people get the word interface so I'll say I design interfaces. For the most part I don't go much further into describing it unless they seem interested. I would let go of trying to get people to have a full understanding of what you do, they might not give a rats ass they're just trying to relate—trying talking about the Bears or something.

    4 points
    • alec s, over 3 years ago

      I definitely don't get hung up on folks not understanding, but rather wondered if anyone had a nice, quick way of explaining it that makes sense to most people. Agreed, most people probably understand "interfaces" as products.

      Ironically, all of my family is from Chicago. So the Bears are a common (albeit sensitive) topic ;)

      0 points
  • Osandi Sekoú, over 3 years ago

    You translate vision, ideas, and prototypes into what people use and interact with.

    3 points
    • alec s, over 3 years ago

      Good definition, but that's still pretty vague IMHO. I probably should've been more clear, I'd like this "definition" to be understandable to people who aren't designer, or might not be very tech savvy at all (i.e. family, old friends, etc...).

      I think my challenge lies in that I began my career as a graphic designer years ago, then naturally progressed to the web, then to an agency, then into the product world. So they mostly still just think I do "web design" but it's often hard to articulate the difference.

      2 points
      • Joshua SortinoJoshua Sortino, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

        In my opinion, we are not verbose enough with our job titles. To the average person, I think "Product Designer" clearly communicates that you design products. However, "Product Designer" does not define whether those are physical or digital products.

        1 point
        • alec s, over 3 years ago

          Yeah, it's definitely a situational occurrence. When I talk to other designers, it's pretty easy to communicate what type of work you like to do. But when family or friends ask, I typically just say "I design things like Facebook or Twitter". Not ideal, but it get's to the point so I can move onto to not talking about myself hahaha.

          0 points
  • Nick NobleNick Noble, over 3 years ago

    Product designer == you design products. A jack of all trades that puts their skills together in order to make things people will want and people will use.

    2 points
  • Tor Løvskogen BollingmoTor Løvskogen Bollingmo, over 3 years ago

    I usually clarify by telling them there are products like facebook and gmail, and there are websites like new york times. Then I design both, but mainly products.

    1 point
  • Philip KarpiakPhilip Karpiak, over 3 years ago

    Product Designer is still a relatively new term and when I describe my job to those outside the field, I just say I help build things for the web to try to have a positive impact on our society.

    If someone is really curious I explain that a Product Designer is someone that does a bit of everything – planning, business, programming, design, with emphasis on the latter – in-order to get a useful and profitable product out the door.

    1 point
  • Spencer HoltawaySpencer Holtaway, over 3 years ago

    "I used to be a graphic designer, then I became a digital/ui designer, then I became a ux designer, and now I do all of those things every day in a holistic way"?....

    0 points
  • Ryan Hicks, over 3 years ago

    To keep the pain from having to go into a long conversation about what I do with non-tech savy people. I just say, "I make web and mobile apps look pretty, and user friendly."

    0 points
  • Nicholas HendrickxNicholas Hendrickx, over 3 years ago

    What if a product designer also performs the act of developing the product — software or service — he initially helped designing? Is there a more specific title for such a person? Or does the title “Lead Designer” also contain the execution of the design, without a need to emphasise it?

    0 points
  • Jitachi Garcia, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    I like Tuhin's definition:

    Products—not just apps or websites

    What the hell do I even mean by that? Mostly that our work is no longer confined to interfaces inside a viewport in the browser or on our phones. The apps & the websites are just the means of interaction we enable. We are here to design the larger system of which the apps and websites are one aspect. It is equally our job (or should be, if it is not) to understand how they fit into the larger sphere of things. What is the product market fit? What do the release cycles of the app look like in terms of features? Does it make sense to launch feature A without sub feature 1, 2 and 3 which are part of the next release cycle? How similar do the app and the website need to be? Do they need to be optimized for particular use cases versus being at feature parity? What about our iPad app? How does the account creation flow work if a user connects via Facebook on iPhone but closes the app before they complete their profile? How do we handle this edge case if they open the app on a desktop device next? How does their data sync across platform and what are the design affordances for it? In a world of A/B tests and instrumentation of design, how do you tell the stories that need telling.

    (src: http://tuhin.co/what-kind-of-a-designer-are-you.html )

    0 points
  • Dave Levine, over 3 years ago

    Maybe this. "I'm a product designer. I design and build web and mobile apps". I know that you could potentially design for other mediums such as tv's, tablets, gaming systems but I think the general consumer can relate most to the web and mobile applications.

    0 points
  • Jim SilvermanJim Silverman, over 3 years ago

    product designer is an utter shit title. doesn't describe what you do. doesn't describe your authority. doesn't describe your field/expertise.

    0 points
  • Matt BaxterMatt Baxter, over 3 years ago

    It doesn't sound glamorous, but "I work on software/web" usually sums it up pretty well. Sure, that would fit designers and developers, but its something that anyone can understand. I've learned that being any more nuanced than that is really not helpful for 80% of people.

    If they ask more questions like, "What kind of software?" then you can get into more of the details.

    0 points
    • alec s, over 3 years ago

      I like that. I don't want it to sound "glamorous" at all, I just want it to make sense so I can move onto the the next subject :)

      0 points
  • Osandi Sekoú, over 3 years ago

    Along the lines of what Mark W said, even people who have digital products out and live on the web won't always know what you do.

    Ever been asked to design something, but without any requirements or goals? Ever provide an engineer or founder a SOW that entails what involves research and analysis, building use cases and stories, all to have them retort with "Can you just design this widget in an eighth of the time you said you need to design it?"

    Point is that design, for most people, isn't understood because the product is in itself the process. Most process-oriented professions, crafts or skills aren't understood from the top level, which is why stories are such a big part of what we do. Even we have to give it a face and name to really understand what problem it is we are trying to solve.

    Just get better at your craft and tell your story through the things you envision and create. For me, that's the best way I can show and tell people what I do.

    0 points
  • Toby KellerToby Keller, over 3 years ago

    If I'm explaining it to non-technical people, I use something like Facebook as an example: "The idea is 'a site to post and share with friends'. I take that idea and turn it into software that makes sense: a News Feed, a Share box, a Profile… and decide where all those things go and what they look like."

    It certainly doesn't sum up everything, but it results in the fewest puzzled looks of any explanation I've tried ;)

    0 points
  • Ben LeeBen Lee, over 3 years ago

    Architect for digital products.

    0 points
  • Danelle BaileyDanelle Bailey, over 1 year ago

    Outside of our industry, people often think that means physical products. I have been leaning more toward "software designer" in those situations.

    0 points
  • Rishabh Saxena, 20 days ago

    Think this post might be exactly what this question needs: https://blog.zipboard.co/who-really-is-a-product-designer-2f2cd1bb8db2

    0 points