When you hear the term product what comes to mind? I’m sure you’re bombarded with a ton of thoughts. Product could mean the cereal in the grocery store, the device you’re holding in your hand, a macaroni and cheese maker or even a luxury watch. Then what is a product designer?
Since there is a litany of potential definitions for a product designer as it’s contextual on how and where they work it’s not an easy question to answer. If we look at each word individually we are left with product, something made for sale and designer, someone who plans something before it’s made. Allowing one to conclude that a product designer shapes items for sale.
Really though, that’s it? They just make items for sale?
In its simplest form yes. A product designer is someone who works with a business to create products or services that are sold to their customers. They either take direction from specifications and requirements or work with others to help establish that vision. In all honesty the role goes far beyond that.
In order to answer the question of what a product designer is, we’ll need to look at things from a different angle. Going back to the earlier separation of the two it’s important we have a general understanding of what a product is as well as designers. From there we can understand what they are and how integral a product designer is to the success of physical and digital goods.
What is a product?
We’ve understood that a product is an item manufactured at scale for sale. We’re all familiar with them as we encounter products on a daily basis minute by minute. From the time we get out of bed in the morning to the time we retire in the evening our lives are surrounded by products. The phone that woke us up with it’s alarm is a product and so is the application that runs the alarm.
The bed I was laying in that I bought off of Instagram because I believed in the company mission and thought the “Japanese joinery” was cool was a result of an amalgamation of products that created a slew of product experiences.
Yep, Instagram is a digital product that in itself has built in features that allow users to perform a series of interactions. From a software perspective when interactions are coupled and create a workflow they’re typically a product or a part of a product feature. These products and features allow other businesses to leverage the platform’s reach and market their own products.
Creating yet another bit of products . . . kind of wild right?
Regardless of the medium, companies follow product design processes to construct goods. When they set forth on this mission they strive to offer customers something that fills a gap, solves a problem or meets a need. They’ve either done significant market research to understand this or have hired an outside source. Either way they use this to shape products.
What is a designer?
Taking things further we can expand our knowledge to understand what’s a designer. Looking at the dictionary we can construct that a designer is someone who executes plans for projects or structures as well as creates a new style or design. Simply put, a designer plans and or makes decisions about something being made.
Designers are individuals that naturally possess the skills or have learned them through repetition and application to think of, visualize and conceive a plan in their mind’s eye. Meaning they are those that can envision the future and help shape it. Through intention and deliberation designers take their thoughts and visions through a series of activities to mold matter into anything in which they or others think of.
What is a product designer?
Leaving us to assume that a product designer is someone who helps bring to life an item that can be offered for sale. Meaning our original understanding wasn’t far off. But you can see things can get tricky and that a designer is far greater than someone helping with part of the process to create products.
In the previous example outlining a shopping experience through a mobile application we see nuances associated with product design. There are many types of design involved. Designs that create the app. Ones that might have worked on the shopping experience. Several that might have worked on the actual bed. Even ones that helped shape the unboxing. All of those designs belong to a bigger experience. Whether it be isolated to Instagram alone, the bedding company or the combination of the two and then some run entire gamut of things had to be thought of.
In either scenario the businesses had their sets of goals while the users had their needs. Both parties needed a way to meet in the middle. A product designer is someone responsible for bridging that gap but they’re also someone who helps to facilitate the conversation, craft the interactions and experiences, mold the vision and bring the intangible to tangible. They are as much a visionary as they are a strategist and builder.
So what is a product designer?
Someone who inherently possesses the ability or has learned the ability to use the power of the mind’s eye and an understanding of the world around them through experience that can shape and form matter into an item, service or combination thereof that can be made or grown and used or sold. A product designer is an integral aspect to the execution of a vision.