When I was going through Nashville Software School’s Web Development Bootcamp, when it came down to the design of our projects, the directive was “just make it look pretty if you can!”. It made sense as the focus of the program was to learn how to code but my thought was “I can definitely do that!”. Making it look pretty was my favorite part of building out any project, I was able to apply my Graphic Design chops in the context of a whole new discipline since up to that point, my design work had been almost exclusively collateral (print) design. So when I accepted my first role as a Product Designer, I felt that even though I did not know exactly what that meant or what to expect, I felt at least I could hold my own in terms of designing UI. I wasn’t wrong but making things look good is only a small fraction of what Product Design is about. If you are an aspiring Product Designer and a boss Graphic Designer, this brief guide is for you!
So what exactly is Product Design?
Product Design is the process of creating products that attempt to solve problems for real users and coming up with solutions and validating them through testing and iteration. The main 2 disciplines that make up Product Design are User Interface (UI) + User Experience (UX). The skills used for graphic design fit well within the realm of UI.
What skills do Product Designers utilize?
From a UI perspective:
- Low to mid fidelity prototyping including drawing out sketches to wireframes
- High fidelity prototyping in programs like Figma, Sketch and Adobe XD
- Creating iconography, illustrations + animated gifs
- Creating Design Systems
- Interaction design
- Understanding HTML + CSS for giving feedback to developers
From a UX perspective:
- Creating user personas – creating fictional representation of your ideal customer
- Story / Journey Mapping – the process of creating basic flowcharts which visualize the complete path a user takes when using a product from start to finish
- User / Usability Testing – the practice of having participants go through a series of tasks within a UI to uncover problems and opportunities in designs
- Participating in user interviews – Usually a member of the Product team like a Product Manager will be the driver of the conversation, usually the purpose of these interviews is to gain insight from users to understand what problems they are needing to solve through software
- Determining the information architecture of a digital product – Information Architecture is the practice of organizing content in an effective way. Designers are tasked to design interfaces that deliver the right content at the right time.
How does Product Design differ from Graphic Design?
Specialized vs Multidisciplinary
Graphic Design is a specialized field where designers learn all about visual affordances and techniques such as typography, color theory and white space to create aesthetically-pleasing media whereas Product Design encompasses User Research and UI Design but also Content Strategy and Accessibility, making designers think beyond software.
Design feedback is totally different
The type of feedback a Graphic Designer would get for their work is purely about the aesthetics of a design whereas the feedback a Product Designer would get is much more about if that design makes sense to the user according to how the content is organized on the page and if they were to use the feature today, would they have all the information they need to perform the task at hand.
User-focused vs pixel-focused
Product Design is less about aesthetics for aesthetics sake and more about using aesthetics to drive specific user behavior.
Iterative vs finite
Graphic design projects usually have a finite life cycle and once the work has been completed, it’s done. In the product world, a design will be tested again and future improvements to the design will be made based on continuous user feedback, usually because new use cases have been learned and the design needs to be updated to solve them.
While it is not necessary to have a Graphic Design background to get into Product Design, I can definitely say that it was incredibly helpful to have those skills coming into the field. As graphic designers, we can use our skills to create user experiences that are not just aesthetically beautiful but that are also easy to use and drive user behavior.
Wanna keep learning?
Well don’t stop at my little article! Here are some suggestions to keep that knowledge flowing:
Read some books!
- Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
- Articulating Design Decisions by Tom Greever
Take some online courses!
Listen to podcasts!
Happy learning! 💡🧠✨
🐶 + 🪴 mom | highly creative and insightful Product Designer who combines originality and ability to create succinct, yet interesting, visual media.