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Ask DN: What is a "Product Designer"?

over 7 years ago from , Co-founder @ Sensive

I always have a really, really hard time trying to understand all the title trends in the design community. Some call themselves Product Designer, others Service Designer, UX Designer, etc.

From my perspective, Designer should be enough, what you have done should define what you're capable of doing, not your title. All these titles sound like a way of saying that you are a multi-disciplinary designer. But isn't Designer equally effective?

Of course, this is an open question. I want invite people who have these titles to justify themselves.

30 comments

  • George ChenGeorge Chen, over 7 years ago

    Product Designer, to me at least, has a much stronger say and business involvement in the design / development process due to their specific domain expertise. i.e. the toy industry, or outdoor apparel industry where you deliver a physical product.

    9 points
    • Simon GoetzSimon Goetz, over 7 years ago

      It can also refer to a interactive product. Which includes helping to envision the product that will suite the business needs and the users needs.

      1 point
    • Account deleted over 7 years ago (edited over 7 years ago )

      I think if you say that you design products, 'digital' should prefix it.

      2 points
      • Daniel FoscoDaniel Fosco, over 7 years ago (edited over 7 years ago )

        I don't see why physical products should be the default.

        Historical respect for Industrial Design put aside, if a person spends 20 hours a day staring at a screen, their apps are as real as their chairs.

        But yes, I agree that it makes less sense for people outside of the software field — and those cases require clarification.

        0 points
      • Travis VocinoTravis Vocino, over 7 years ago

        That reminds me of a time when we used terms like "etailer" and "ecommerce."

        Those days are long gone. Products are products. People use technology interfaces as much, or more, than they use a well-designed physical thing.

        2 points
        • Account deleted over 7 years ago (edited over 7 years ago )

          Those days are long gone. Products are products. People use technology interfaces as much, or more, than they use a well-designed physical thing.

          You cant just discredit all the real product designers out there and appropriate their title. I would be mega pissed if I was designing actual things like microwaves, bikes, watches, etc for a living and some digital schmucks steal my title. LOL! But yea, I get it..you make products too. Still I gotta say, normal people outside of the tech space don't say or see it as 'products'..they see 'apps' , 'websites' and 'features'. So i'm still on the fence about this. Needs a few more years to become a commonplace term I guess.

          0 points
          • Travis VocinoTravis Vocino, over 7 years ago

            What's the difference? Your title is "Designer." There was certainly a time when people would have thought you designed furniture or clothing.

            0 points
          • barry saundersbarry saunders, over 7 years ago

            That's true, but then I imagine people don't think of furniture designers, whitegoods manufacturers, watchmakers, motorcycle engineers as 'product designers' either.

            Also i imagine a lot of watchmakers are working with digital schmucks given the push for smartwatches, and motorbike engineers have been dealing with interface designers (and controls engineering) since the invention of the speedometer.

            'Product designer' is a useful way of differentiating a strategic, UX and business-process heavy design specialisation from 'digital designer' or 'UI designer' specialisations. A product designer is probably going to spend more time in Excel / Project / Omnigraffle and workshops than Photoshop or Sketch. More gap analysis and business projection than kerning and grids.

            Sure, 'designer' can cover both roles, if you're making small talk at a party, but they are different roles with very different skillsets.

            0 points
  • Nour MalaebNour Malaeb, over 7 years ago

    As an Industrial Designer (who have been known as Product Designers for quite a long while), my problem with the new usage of "Product Designer" is that "Product" is quite vague when it comes to the digital realm (not that it is much clearer for physical goods). So to help us better understand what a Product Designer is, I'd like to ask: what is a product? Is a website a product? Is an app a product? Is a downloadable PDF a product?

    5 points
    • Luke MillerLuke Miller, over 7 years ago

      I'd say its most like a SKU to a business and a tool to a user.

      0 points
    • pjotr .pjotr ., over 7 years ago

      We often leave off the 'digital' prefix.

      When I tell people outside of the software industry what I do I typically describe the role as combination of project management, web design, web development, and interface and experience design. I then go on to say that I am a 'Digital Product Designer'.

      Inside the industry I think most people understand, that when I say I'm a product designer I'm speaking about digital products.

      1 point
  • pjotr .pjotr ., over 7 years ago

    Reposting this. My answer is the top one: https://news.layervault.com/stories/21387-what-does-a-product-designer-do


    It's a bit of everything.

    I help to define:

    • The experience and interface of our products
    • The brand and marketing strategy around those products

    What I'm actually doing:

    • Wireframing
    • Coding/Prototyping
    • Creating styleguides and patterns
    • Conceptualizing product definitions and naming conventions
    • Building requirements documentation with other engineers and designers
    • Manning support and helping fill tickets to better understand our customers from the front-lines
    • Any number of other things to help tie up loose ends on the design side
    4 points
    • Daniel FoscoDaniel Fosco, over 7 years ago

      Agreed.

      As a Product Designer, you're doing the product, in the maximum extent a designer can and interfacing with as many areas as possible, end-to-end.

      0 points
  • Jim SilvermanJim Silverman, over 7 years ago

    call yourself whatever you want; all job titles are meaningless without context.

    3 points
  • Lete PaceyLete Pacey, over 7 years ago

    The last few years I've used 'Designer'. I design products, I design brands, I design experiences, I design interfaces, I design services. I'm not equally as good at all of them, and I don't do each in equal amounts – but I hold enough of a skill and an interest that singling out a specific one would be more misleading than being a bit vague.

    I used "Product Designer" for many years prior. It always lead to confusion, and a general "Oh, I thought you did X when you really do Y". Saying a I'm a "Designer" still gets me questions for clarity, but sure doesn't lead to confusion.... or disappointment ("Oh, a web designer".)

    2 points
    • Rolando Murillo, over 7 years ago

      That's exactly the reason why I call myself Designer, I do many things, and I want to do many things. So I prefer to be ambiguous and answer the question Can you do this? than limit myself.

      1 point
  • Eric HuEric Hu, over 7 years ago

    Tech Industry: "Design isn't just how it looks."

    Creates job title called 'Visual Designer'

    2 points
  • Mitch De CastroMitch De Castro, over 7 years ago

    Yeah, it doesn't help when it comes to explaining it and educating people who are unfamiliar.

    I'm still a student but, I spend a lot of (perhaps too much) time reading articles and learning about this side of the design industry.

    I'm constantly confused by all of the jargon that goes around in the community.

    2 points
  • Rolando Murillo, over 7 years ago

    Not to confuse your corporate, hired title (like I'm a Product Manager at Catchafire.org) vs. your professional, career title (Designer in my case).

    2 points
  • Nicolle RichardNicolle Richard, over 7 years ago

    Read "Product Design for the web" by Randy J. Hunt Creative Director at Etsy. Although he's a "creative director" he started out as an interactive designer to then product designer and lead to Creative Director. The book outlines what all these "designer" titles mean as well as what each role entails. It's a fun, easy, and quick book that you could read in a matter of days! I am a product designer @ Fullscreen and it's helped me understand the direction I want to take in my own career as a designer. I hope it brings you clarity but also enjoy his book as much as I did!

    1 point
    • Pedro PintoPedro Pinto, over 7 years ago

      This book is really interesting.

      0 points
    • Rolando Murillo, over 7 years ago

      Thanks Nicolle! I'll give it a shot. I probably didn't introduce my concern properly, however: even I am a Product Designer by being a Product Manager at Catchafire.org, it's a different title but the responsibilities are the same at the end of the day. My question was whether we should transfer our job title to our career path. Outside of Catchafire.org, I'm a Designer, I've done so many different kind of projects and I want to explore different disciplines of design.

      I wonder why people call themselves "Product Designers" outside of their jobs. Say, you go to their portfolio websites or social media accounts and you will read that title and basically see interfaces, for example. An entire application (online or mobile) is a product and mainly an interface. Could it be that people don't feel as confident calling themselves Interface Designers (or UI Designers) that they need to include something that sounds more profound? The kind of work delivered hasn't changed, so the only reason I would think titles have is because there is a trend involved.

      1 point
      • Nicolle RichardNicolle Richard, over 7 years ago

        I see what you're saying.

        I believe it depends on the company you work for, and all companies are different. In my experience if you're at a smaller company (10-50 people) your role consists of MANY job titles. You're a product manager, a designer, a business owner, maybe even a developer. But at certain companies where they are large enough, they might need a "product designer" to dedicate all their efforts on usability and interface designs. Not to say that product managers and designers aren't intertwined because they are in many ways.

        Think of it this way, if I am at a 200 person company designing a marketing site for a new product that collects emails to grant early access, I need to think about the user experience when collecting those emails. I also need to describe the feeling that we're trying to convey for those signing up. Now, deciding where those emails go, how they are filtered and organized, what messaging we need to come up with as a business strategy is not my main focused. BUT of course they are considered during the process.

        @ Fullscreen Being a product designer means, like you said, being a product manager, concepting these business strategies except your main focus is creating the experience "UX"(sketching, wireframing, prototyping), usability "UI" (making sure the experience makes sense to a user) , as well as look and feel "visuals" (clean and simple, creating style guides and eventually translating them to CSS).

        Being a product manager @ Fullscreen collects information with the business owners whether it's B2B or B2C or beyond. They also deligate tasks amongst the business owners, the users, the devs and the designers.

        Whatever your interests are you should take the path you enjoy the most. You could continue to be both product manager AND designer. I would still recommend reading that book "Product Design for the Web" it will seriously explain your concerns on this matter and possibly shed light on your career path. Hope this helped!

        0 points
  • Jian Wei LiauJian Wei Liau, over 7 years ago (edited over 7 years ago )

    I like this quote on being a digital Product Designer

    Design is a set of decisions about a product. It's not an interface or an aesthetic, it's not a brand or a color. Design is the actual decisions.

    1 point
  • Kevin DoyleKevin Doyle, over 7 years ago

    Design is a process, not just a title. We're using the same process regardless of what is in front of the term "designer" -- we all still need to understand the business need, understand the user's needs, create prototypes, and deliver solutions to a problem.

    0 points
  • Beth DeanBeth Dean, over 7 years ago

    Some context: I've had the job titles UX Designer, Interaction Designer, UI Designer, UX Developer, UI Developer, UX Researcher and generally a veritable bingo card of the last 10 years of ever-changing taxonomy of designing for the web and software.

    My personal thoughts? Product Designer means that you design for the entire product. You don't design a few screens of it. You don't slap a skin over top of someone else's interaction designs. You don't just live in wireframes. You think holistically about a product and end to end experiences. The design doesn't stop with comps or wireframes or a release.

    There's something to be said for getting to learn deeply about a specific subject in highly specific roles (facilitate over 200 user tests and starting work from a user-centered perspective becomes second nature in a way it could not otherwise,) but all of those learnings added up to me being able to make better decisions about how an entire product should work and feel, and have empathy for the other people I work with (people who use the things I make, developers, business folks.) In companies where the roles of design were so heavily decoupled, a lot of considerations slipped through the cracks. How can a visual treatment truly elevate the interaction if it's tacked on at the end, and not a collaborative process?

    0 points
  • Helen TranHelen Tran, over 7 years ago

    Product designers take in all aspects of design and business strategy to make decisions about how to build a project. The most important aspect for me is the ability to understand business and how design could serve it.

    Whereas visual designers are more focused on the look and feel and information architects are more focused on the flow of the content, product designers take in everything and use it to guide the product. I like to think of it as the digital product version of a Creative Director.

    While you can argue that all designers should be involved in the business and understand strategy, some designers are simply not good at that nor do they like doing it.

    0 points
  • Vlad Drimbau, over 7 years ago

    I really like how this article explains who does what http://www.fastcodesign.com/3032719/ui-ux-who-does-what-a-designers-guide-to-the-tech-industry

    0 points
  • Vincent G., over 7 years ago

    Brad Ellis gave a talk at Çingleton 2 which included a nice round-up of the various roles in the design process of interactive projects. It covers Product, Experience, Interface, Visual, Production, etc.

    It' s here: http://vimeo.com/60224584

    0 points
  • diego fernandezdiego fernandez, over 7 years ago (edited over 7 years ago )

    In the past my business cards read UI Designer. The reason behind such fancy title was the focus I had at that moment on UIs. I would even say that UIs was the only thing I was doing.

    After a while when I got the chance such cards I decided to add a UX to the title. The reason behind it was my previous experience, and how it felt so natural to have it. Also all my friends and acquaintances had it and I didn't care if I wasn't qualified enough, I wanted it , and I wanted it right that moment.

    Then I started working for ChatID, and with the job I got a shiny new title. My contract added the word Leader thing in front of Designer, and I was okay with that. I mean, the word Leader by itself sounds inspiring and so full of responsibility.

    From my perspective a good title will never be the newest-trendiest-title-ever-forever, or just an objective description of what your responsibilities are as a designer. A good title, is the combination of both plus the personal aspirations when focusing on certain aspects of design.

    And yes, at this moment in my professional career I'd consider myself a Product Designer.

    I currently make products.

    TL;DR: Your title should be a description of your responsibilities, and personal focus on certain aspects of design.

    0 points