What others think product designers do vs what we actually do

March 6, 2024
Product Design
Fun stuff

“I couldn't work as a product/UX designer because I am not that creative.” Rings a bell, doesn’t it?

I recently asked a former client why he hired me for the job. One of the main reasons was that I had an artistic background (played instruments, painted, and so forth). After hearing that, the opening quote resurfaced as I remembered developers and managers saying the same thing repeatedly. It got me thinking about how non-designers perceive our métier.

This article aims to give non-designers a more wholesome view of who we are and what we actually do.

So what is the problem?

After spending many years educating myself on being an effective product designer, it bugs me whenever creativity wins over work experience, knowledge or design skills when landing a job. (I don't expect everyone to feel the same).

Think of it this way. You work out five days a week and people say that you are in good shape because you have good genes. How does that make you feel? Call me crazy, but I think working out has something to do with being fit as well.

So, all I am saying is that even though having a creative background is helpful, the years that I have spent practising and sharpening my skills is what brings value to the table.

What I actually do

The misunderstanding probably comes from not seeing the whole story of what a product designer does and how he works. Let's have a closer look.

As a product designer, I protect the interest of users AND businesses alike (i.e. what I do). It is not an easy task to accomplish as the objectives of both parties usually have different end goals. To make both parties happy, I soak up all the information I can get (research) to generate and test ideas and measure them against a business and user goals (i.e. how I do it).

The success heavily depends on the ability to communicate with the rest of the product team and involve stakeholders at the right time.

What I actually (detailed version)

I generate, collect and analyse a lot of different data sources as part of project discovery, like:

  • usability testing;
  • heuristic evaluation;
  • marketing reports;
  • competitive research;
  • demographics;
  • business roadmap;
  • market trends;
  • technical requirements;
  • future growth plans etc.;

Analysis of such data helps to understand where the product stands in the market and how it performs against existing business and user goals. In turn, it helps to set the product development objectives going forward. I then complete the missing parts like user personas, competitive research and user journeys.

Once I know where the product stands in the market (only applicable for existing products), together with the team, we start creating ideas to improve the product by developing new features or improving existing ones.

I then put thoughts on paper through writing, sketching and high-fidelity design, testing all of them as early as possible.

Once the team implements new designs, we do real-world testing that restarts the cycle and takes me back to analysing new data.

The summary of what I (product designer) actually do
I use many methods and proven practices to review data, create tests and strategic plans, examine technical requirements and business agendas to design better, more effective products.

The actual design is just one part of many in the product (re)designing process. It is easy to fixate on the visual that everyone sees. It’s similar to spotting a code that a developer writes or an ad that a marketer creates—what people see is just the tip of the iceberg.

The essence of product design

In short, designers are problem solvers. While there is a significant amount of overlap with fine arts, the main difference is that our task is to create functional and useful first, good looking second.

Don't get me wrong. Good looks can perform a function, but it is often not an essential part of a designer’s work. It has to bring some measurable results and not just look pretty; otherwise, you can hang it on the wall.

The bottom line

We follow certain processes and possess a lot of knowledge about what we do, which is complemented by years of work experience. While the creative background helps to have an open mind, it should not be the sole deciding factor when picking a product designer for your next project.

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