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Career Path: How to Become a Product Designer

The Product Designer solves problems by creating new products. If you are interested in this career, you should be innovative, a critical thinker, strong communicator and team player. Using your creativity and analytical ability, you will design fresh products that build the corporate brand. You might also improve on the design of a product making it more user-friendly, attractive, safe and efficient.

There is no set path to becoming a Product Designer. However, most employers look for someone with a formal education in product design or a technical field like engineering,...more

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Career Path: How to Become a Product Designer

The Product Designer solves problems by creating new products. If you are interested in this career, you should be innovative, a critical thinker, strong communicator and team player. Using your creativity and analytical ability, you will design fresh products that build the corporate brand. You might also improve on the design of a product making it more user-friendly, attractive, safe and efficient.

There is no set path to becoming a Product Designer. However, most employers look for someone with a formal education in product design or a technical field like engineering, human-computer interaction, computer science or industrial design. Some classes you should take include material science, art, communications, mathematics and computer-aided design. Along with product design talent, you will need to be familiar with engineering analysis, prototypes, models, sketching, static/dynamic analysis and manufacturing processes. You must also be well-versed in information technology and product design software such as AutoCAD, Adobe Illustrator, Autodesk Alias and 123D Design.

Communication skills are imperative to your success in this job as you will have to draft proposals, make formal presentations, prepare product specifications and communicate ideas to a wide range of people. Other skills you will need to include time management, planning, accuracy and visual/spatial awareness.

If you decide to work in this field you will do lots of brainstorming and roundtable discussions. You and a team will work together to find a solution to a problem that satisfies the customer while also meets business needs such as corporate goals, budget, brand and time deadlines. You will take your product idea from concept to completion.

Pretty much every industry hires Product Designers. Therefore, you might find yourself working with automobiles, appliances, home furniture, smartphones, cosmetics and even shoes. Large cities, states and other government agencies might also contract with Product Designers to improve life and make the community more comfortable, safe and healthy for residents.

The steps for product design include:

  • Identify the problem.
  • Research and investigate by talking with customers and checking analytics data.
  • Brainstorm solutions with the team.
  • Create a prototype (from sketch to model).
  • Test the solution.
  • Correct deficiencies.
  • Final design.
  • Deliver the product.

Other job titles for Product Designers include Information Architect, Process Designer, Product Manager, Design Engineer or Industrial Designer.

Landing Your First Product Designer Job

With a two-year degree, you might be able to land your first job as a Design or Research Assistant in the area of product design/development. Because it is entry-level, your responsibilities will be limited to providing technical or administrative assistance. Some of your duties might include assisting with user tests, collecting data, organizing product specs, running errands and taking notes at project meetings. However, you might have more opportunities available to you if you pursue a four-year degree. Still, you’ll want to get some related job experience while completing your degree in order to build your portfolio. Consider doing an internship or adding to your portfolio with the voluntary redesign of a few selected products.

Along with your resume, the portfolio will be the first thing an employer sees about you. It should be creative and artistic but should be precise and focused. What should your portfolio include?

  • Start with a list of your skills and a clear, concise project overview.
  • Feature your best design projects with developmental highlights including studies, sketches, meeting notes and prototypes.
  • Feature the final project with clear photos and descriptions.
  • Don’t forget to include projects you are currently working on.

With Design Assistant experience and/or advanced coursework in design or engineering, you could land a job as a Junior Product Designer. In this job, you will help the team to develop competitive new products, build models or prototypes and manage the next step of handing it off to developers. You might also assist more senior level designers in conducting needs assessments, putting together documents for presentations and participating in design reviews.

Advance Your Career: How to Become a Senior Product Designer

The Product Designer changes positions often in order to advance in the field and learn more about the profession. To grow and get more responsibility, you’ll need to become an expert in a particular type of product. Find a specialty area that you most enjoy and become an expert in that discipline. For example, you can focus your career on designing products related to a definite industry such as electronics, medical devices, cosmetics, textiles or automotive. Become well-known and respected by joining professional organizations, attending seminars and reading professional journals and other publications. Along with work experience, consider advancing your education at the graduate level to learn more about design thinking, methodologies, product development, business strategies and documentation. You can major in product design or study in another discipline related to your specialty such as automotive engineering, construction management, software design or manufacturing/production.

Designers at the senior level will lead design projects, manage documentation and participate in product launches. Therefore, you must have at least 3 years of experience in the field. You’ll also need to be familiar with product marketing, branding, packaging practices and industry standards.

Product Designer Job Description

As a Product Designer, you will contribute to the comforts of life. You will collaborate with others to develop product ideas or concepts. Working to make that vision a reality, you will further put your thoughts into a sketch or model. You’ll also have to do tons of research, conduct study groups and a series of tests before releasing the product. After all, you must ensure that the product is safe for consumers and does what it claims it will do to protect your reputation and that of your company. Your design team will also factor in aesthetics such as shape, size, color and even portability (if necessary).

Typical Duties:

  • Data analysis.
  • Product design.
  • Evaluate/assess products.
  • Reporting or project status.
  • Make presentations to the leadership team.
  • Generate sketches, blueprints, prototypes or 3-D models.
  • Conduct user tests.
  • Take an idea and put it into production.
  • Devise solutions for product improvement.
  • Prepare specifications and bills of materials.
  • Project tracking costs.

Job Requirements/Skills:

  • Formal education and/or work experience in product design, engineering or human interaction design.
  • An eye for detail.
  • Strong mechanical aptitude.
  • Ability to work under tight deadlines.
  • Proficient with design software.
  • Self-driven.
  • Quick learner.
  • Must be a team player and care about customer satisfaction.
  • Needs to be organized and able to share project developments with others.
  • Always looking to learn.
  • Managerial/leadership abilities.

Optional Attributes:

  • Packaging.
  • Cost estimating.
  • Storytelling skills.
  • Data table preparation.
  • Visual design skills including color board preparation.
  • Understanding of coding languages such as HTML and CSS.
  • Experience with eCommerce, web and mobile platforms.
  • Digital prototyping experience.
  • Familiarity with various materials.

The products that Product Designers work with are unlimited. This includes everything from foods to computers. You will work closely with engineers, product managers, outside suppliers, model makers, marketing and sales professionals. Reporting to the product manager or director of product design, you will work Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in an office, studio or workshop. Remote positions are possible with new start-ups and technology design firms.

Product Designer Career Paths: Where to Go From Here?

Working as a Senior Product Designer you will gain valuable managerial skills that will be useful throughout your career. The next step might be to secure a position as a Product Design Manager and potentially Vice President of Product & Design. In this role, you will recruit, hire and oversee the efforts of a design team which includes an engineer, product manager, researchers and stakeholders. You must also be willing and passionate about mentoring and developing new product design talent. As the department head, you will develop strategies for meeting the goals and objectives of the corporation. To qualify for a managerial role, you must have 5 or more years of experience in the field and a successful track record in product design. Most executives, however, will have well over 10 years of experience along with a knowledge of budgeting, forecasts and internal analytics. Solid organizational leadership and familiarity with operations, marketing and business management are required.

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Top industries hiring Product Designers


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