If you work in digital, you’ll probably have heard of product design. But we’ve found that a lot of people have different opinions on what a digital product designer does. So, we wanted to outline what we mean when we talk about product designers.
It is worth noting that not everyone means the same thing when they use the term ‘product design’, but as we spend our days reading job descriptions, working with technology companies and studios, we think we a have a good sense of what a product designer typically involves, and where it can get a bit more contentious.
What is digital product design?
At its heart, product design is the design of something to ensure it meets human needs.
In the grand scheme of things, digital products are fairly new. Even just a few years ago, most product design university courses focused solely on physical products, with limited options to explore digital products.
But big companies are now seeing the value of digital product design, and the UK market for people with these skills has grown sharply over the last few years.
What does a product designer do?
From my experience working with global tech firms, consultancies and start-ups, a true ‘end-to-end product designer’ has responsibility for the design from research to delivery, either managing the product or working with a product owner/manager.
They need to have a naturally entrepreneurial mindset; seeing the product from initially identifying the opportunity, through the design process, working with developers/engineers until the final finished product is delivered meeting customer needs. Depending on the business and their practice, they will have support along the way dependent on the size of the product* and time frames they’re working to.
The key elements of the product design role include:
- Identifying the opportunity for a new product
- Researching market & customer needs, etc.
- Experience Design: user research, UX Flows, wireframes, prototyping, testing, etc.
- Visual Interface Design: colour palette, branding, general visual aesthetics
- Interaction Design: hi-fidelity prototyping, menus, general functionality
- Quality assurance of build, further testing, etc.
A product designer is an integral part of every stage of the process. Leading the UI and UX design throughout, they will also be involved in the product strategy, and help get it to market. This might be working as a sole designer with complete ownership of the product, or as part of a larger team working in unison with other designers in a wider team.
Where it can get more complex
There are those out there who call themselves a digital product designer who don’t quite cover the end-to-end process, but this is unique to the individual – and gets quite confusing! This is why our team spend a lot of time delving deep into what our clients and candidates are looking for before we introduce them, to make sure it’s the right fit.
It is also worth mentioning that the work-flows and mindset towards Digital Product Design within businesses can vary hugely, which complicates things further.
Although this has shifted a little over the past few years, within agencies there tends to be a start and end (delivery), at which point a product is handed over to the client and never touched again by the agency. Within in-house teams, however, they are responsible for regular iterations; developing and incrementally improving products based on long-term product roadmaps and user research.
In summary, we personally see a Digital Product Designer as someone who combines the hard skills listed in section 3 with the iterative, feature-driven process above. Someone who has strong UI skills and some UX (or vice versa) skills we would typically consider as more of a UX/UI Designer, but we know that this isn’t a universal opinion.
We would love to hear different viewpoints on this, so do get in touch to share your thoughts.
* Different companies define their product differently. Some would consider their whole service/offering as their ‘Digital Product’ in which case it might be unfeasible for one person to be responsible for all of this work. Others split out their offerings into smaller products, for example, a section within an app (e.g. ‘sign-up’)
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