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What does a Product Designer do?

It can be said that a product designer is someone who harnesses the power of the mind’s eye to shape and form matter into something that can be made and sold. Meaning the very nature of a designer’s work is to understand the needs and wants of others and provide solutions. By nature that sounds like noble effort but what do they really do?

Product design is an encompassing profession that spans industries with its roots in industrial design. Modern day manufacturing changed how products were made and birthed the assembly line introducing a new era. Designers were hired to be responsible for crafting products produced en masse. Form, function and aesthetic had to be flawlessly replicated time and again. Products were no longer crafted on by one instead hundreds and thousands at a time.

The art and science behind design 

Can it be assumed then that a product designer simply plans the making of products? No. Not always part of a business, sometimes standing alone, a product is something that generally solves a problem, fills a need or provides a service. Taking a look around your environment you can spot hundreds of products. From oatmeal to your favorite app. The things we spend our hard earned money on that drive entrepreneurs to test and create businesses are products. 

All industries of all shapes and sizes in some way or another have products. Products are the very nature of commerce and trade. If we understand this we can see that a product designer’s role can vary significantly based on industry. Someone who works in software is going to have a different stack of responsibilities versus someone who creates consumer goods. 

The variance in industry and role establishes a lot of what it is that they actually have to do on a daily basis but what a product designer really does remains at its core. Quoting the late Massimo Vignelli, “If you can design one thing, you can design everything,”  shines light on the idea that design is an overarching activity. 

Overarching in the sense that it reaches across mediums and the emotional and logical aspects of the brain. It is an activity requiring the designer to spend careful time and attention in uncovering necessary information in order to make decisions aligning concepts with solutions as a product designer’s main responsibility is to speak the language of business. While also understanding and advocating for it’s users. 

Therefore a product designer bridges the gap between value offered and consumed.

What a product designer really does is carefully understand who it is their designing for, what it is that they are designing, how it is to be designed, what will need to go into the entirety of the design, how it will function, perform, look and be perceived.

Overall what a product designer does is plan how a product and its experience will take form.

In order to bridge the gap between the business and it’s customer a product designer must master their domain. Part of understanding business and speaking it’s language is understanding how a business operates, the industry it operates in, the overall market, direct and indirect competition, baseline examples of competing products (if they exist) as well as any other aspect required for someone to confidently navigate their space.

A main aspect in understanding business is knowing how a designer’s decision will impact the organization and how well they will best align with the goals of the organization. In order for a business to remain operational it needs to meet a certain standard and generate revenue. That revenue comes from the products a product designer creates but that revenue doesn’t come without this keen understanding of industry coupled with uncovering of the personas being affected.

At the base of all products are consumers. 

They’re the ones purchasing and using the product. They’re the ones experiencing the experience and the ones with the problem or need that has to be met or solved. Therefore they are the one key aspect to the entire project that cannot and should not go ignored. Sadly sometimes it does. Getting to know the customer is not only essential towards bridging the gap. It’s how products are shaped.

Much like the designer has to fully understand the industry they’ve chosen to take part in they must understand the people they are designing for. They need to know the overall type of person that will interact with the product, where, when or how they will interact. They need to know the overall needs associated with this action and the goals driving the behavior. 

It’s through this research and gathering of knowledge that a designer can go back to the business reporting on what they found and how to best connect the dots.

A product designer understands

Working meticulously to truly understand all of the aspects required to successfully design a product for their customers in a chosen industry is what a product designer does. They lift every rock and turn over every stone in order to dig up any and all information that will help ensure what they make is something people will actually want.

Product designers need to have a full understanding of the processes and materials used in the creation. They need to pay attention to the entire experience associated with the project. How a user might feel or what state of being they might be in. What it is they need to do at that given moment as well as what they might do after.

A product designer digs through a haystack looking for needles of information to build a narrative and tell a story. A story that shows how problems will be solved, the type of impact that will be made, who will be impacted and how. They then take that story and translate it into artifacts which later take shape to form many of the products we know and love today.