Product designer is one hell of a title to have.
The product could be iPhone or Skittles, the title product designer will always sound cool. And at least half of us don’t even know exactly what product designers do.
So what does a product designer do? How much do they get paid? Does the title live up to the hype? What is a typical career path?
Let’s find out.
What is product design?
Let’s first take a look at what product design is.
Product design is known as the process of designing, developing, and iterating products that solve consumers’ issues or meet unique needs in a market. Understanding the customer, namely the person who your product is being aimed at, is essential to effective product design. By combining the empathy and understanding of their potential consumers’ habits, attitudes, frustrations, needs, and desires, product designers aim to solve real problems for real people.
Who is a Product Designer?
Product designers are people who create and refine products to make sure they provide a great user experience. They work with teams of engineers, marketers, product managers, business analysts, and other specialists in an effort to develop innovative new features or upgrade existing ones that will delight customers.
Depending on the type of organization, the size and diversity of the design department, and the individual’s area of expertise, a product designer can also be referred to as or take on the roles of a User Experience Designer, Customer Experience Architect, User Interface Designer, Interaction Designer, or Information Architect.
The truth is that a Product Designer may be in charge of any or all of the above.
But at its core, a Product Designer is a problem-solver.
A product designer is someone who uses various aspects and methods of design to create and implement a plan that resolves user experience problems.
In addition to being considered a big contributor to a company, product designers are particularly important during the crucial stages of product development.
They will translate the product’s goal into a practical user experience and provide relevant feedback on what needs to be in place for the users to meet their goals during the initial design and proof-of-concept phases.
As the product matures and gains more features and functionality, it can make the user experience become more intuitive and frictionless. They can also help, among other things, to optimize the user experience and make the product more efficient to increase page load speeds, once the product has matured.
Of course, not all take a designer for granted.
Some businesses consider product designers to be a luxury and they may wait until later in their lifecycle to employ one, while others may hire a Product Designer before hiring a Product Manager.
Especially these companies and many more rely on third-party services for their product design needs.
Can Product Design be Outsourced?
In 2023, you can outsource anything, including product design.
If you’re a startup founder or a product owner, a design for a new product or a new design for an existing product might be what you’re looking for. You don’t necessarily have to hire a full-time product designer for that.
Instead, you can hire a freelancer, or better, a product design agency to get things done.
SHERPA is a London & Istanbul-based digital design studio that covers every UX and product design need for businesses.
So, if you’re looking for a way to solve your product and UX design needs, you might want to consult with SHERPA before hiring an in-house designer.
What does the career path of a product designer look like?
Becoming a Product Designer is not an easy career choice. It takes patience, perseverance and most importantly, it takes time to hone your skills. (start now with some cool product design podcasts 😏)
In order to become a Product Designer, you must understand that this is a career that requires consistent learning and improvement. The design industry changes fast and you need to be flexible enough to learn new skills on the go if you want to advance in your field.
So, what does a typical Product Designer career path look like? Let’s see.
Associate Product Designer
Associate Product Designer is the first step of the career ladder.
In this role, the responsibilities of a Product Designer are not entirely theirs and they need to rely on more experienced Product Designers or Product Managers.
Typically, their position involves sketching ideas and creating wireframes and simple mockups.
They work closely with Product Managers, Engineers, Researchers, and Data Scientists to identify and analyze user needs and pain points, develop innovative solutions that address these needs while meeting business goals, and employ their design skills to define, build, and validate outstanding user experiences.
An Associate Product Designer has a lot of room for personal growth and development. They can develop their own sense of design, learn more about user psychology and various aspects of the product design process before it is developed and released.
Depending on how an organization works, they also get to see and contribute to different stages of the product development process.
Top 10 skills of an associate product designer
- Wireframing and mockups
- Proficiency in UI Design tools
- Familiarity with design basics (color theory, typography, graphic design)
- Ability to build basic user journeys
- Familiarity with design systems
- Effective communication
- Having a “growth mindset“
- Passion for solving problems
- Ability to work in a team as well as independently
Associate Product Designer Salary
The average Associate Product Designer salary is between $58,297 and $88,381 annually.
The next step on the career ladder is to become a Product Designer.
Product Designers are involved in all aspects of the product from beginning to end.
They are responsible for:
- running user tests and gathering feedback,
- collaborating with different teams on product specs and feature definition,
- wireframing new features,
- prototyping interactions for these features,
- creating visual designs of these features, and
- finally communicating these designs to the rest of the team.
It is a Product Designer’s responsibility to ensure that the product meets both business goals and customer needs. They’ll need to speak with customers, test their designs, try them out with users and build prototypes.
A Product Designer is a person who bridges the gap between business and technology.
Top 10 skills of a product designer
- Thorough knowledge in the tools and principles of design, typography, color theory, and motion principles
- Ability to understand the basics of the technology their product is built with
- Ability to work within and extending design systems
- Ability to communicate with engineers about implementation details
- Ability to write detailed documentation of user journeys
- Ability to use data to shape their work proactively
- Ability to drive team consistency & process
- Ability to identify and replicate design trends
- Ability to understand the user experience, customers, and business needs
- Ability to evolve a product or feature based on feedback, customers, and business needs
Product Designer Salary
The average salary for a Product Designer is between $92,241 and $130,000 annually.
Senior Product Designer
The next step on the career path is to become a Senior Product Designer.
A Senior Product Designer’s job is to work with customers to determine their desires, needs, and interests in order to produce new products and services that adhere to the company’s policies and procedures.
Senior Product Designers collaborate with a project management team to discover revenue-generating possibilities by evaluating public demand and industry trends. They are in charge of material distribution and must be able to generate content for brand awareness on media platforms
A Senior Product Designer examines customer feedback in order to make any necessary changes to the product’s features. They also work with engineers to create high-quality prototypes for testing purposes.
A Senior Product Designer is a person who works with business stakeholders to ensure the product vision is maintained.
Top 10 skills of a senior product designer
- Ability to understand the metrics that drive the business and use design to affect them
- Ability to understand technical implementation details
- Ability to guide and evolve the company aesthetic and experience direction
- Ability to build and document complicated design components and user journeys
- Ability to design a project from beginning to end, taking into account all inputs along the way
- Ability to review project goals and assumptions with Product Managers
- Initiating product ideas and working with PMs and developers to build them
- Ability to analyze and evaluate complex trends and UX patterns
- Ability to provide most accurate execution timelines to meet stakeholders’ expectations
- Ability to prioritize work and determine what will be most efficient to build at any given time
Senior Product Designer Salary
The average salary for a Senior Product Designer is between $109,693 and $150,000 annually.
Principal Product Designer
The next step on the career path is to become a Principal Product Designer.
In addition to their specialization, Principal Product Designers have a lengthy history of delivering high-quality products. They also regularly improve the work of their peers via critique and discussion and regularly demonstrate strategic product and business thinking.
Leading the product design team by example, they’ll be trusted by the Head of Design to carry out the design vision.
The principal product designer’s job involves creating product roadmaps, managing budgets across projects, and ensuring that the team has everything it needs to be successful.
They must live up to all stakeholders’ expectations and ensure that the team is executing projects correctly.
Top 10 skills of a principal product designer
- Ability to mentor and coach other designers on the team
- Exceptional written, verbal, and interpersonal communication skills
- Ability to demonstrate a high level of expertise in one or more product design specializations
- Ability to easily adapt and scale their communication for developers, designers, stakeholders, and executives
- Ability to carry out the design vision by leading the design team by example
- Assisting the team in selecting new tools and processes
- Ability to assume a Product Manager role for specific projects
- Ability to take part in strategic meetings with upper management to help shape product development
- A strong grasp of business metrics and a track record of delivering results for the company
- Experience in adapting to product design and development trends and best practices
Principal Product Designer Salary
The average salary for a Principal Product Designer is between $129,838 and $176,500 annually.
Staff Product Designer
The final step (for now) on the career path is to become a Senior Staff Product Designer.
At this level, you’re expected to
- lead design teams,
- mentor junior staff designers, and
- work more closely with the company’s executive team.
In addition to their specialization in a specific area, Senior Staff Product Designers have a significant amount of experience with the design process. They’re also well-versed in their field’s history, current trends, and overarching principles.
Senior Staff Product Designers are closely involved with the company’s overall strategy, which means they need to be exceptional communicators and listeners who can quickly and clearly absorb information and ideas.
They must also be able to make decisions in a fast-paced environment while working closely with their team to deliver high-quality products that meet or exceed business goals.
Top 10 skills of a principal staff product designer
- Regularly collaborate with design leadership
- Years of significant revenue and KPI contributions
- Years of experience cultivating and maintaining relationships with employees at all levels and teams
- Years of impact and value to the company’s various levels and teams
- Years of experience measuring and improving work processes
- Proven ability to handle a variety of projects simultaneously while meeting deadlines
- Ability to prioritize tasks and deliver high-quality work under strict time constraints
- Ability to determine the right approach for a specific project based on its goals, team, and capabilities
- Have an in-depth understanding of user needs
- Have a historical perspective of industry shifts and market demands
Principal Staff Product Designer Salary
The average salary for a Principal Staff Product Design is between $157,500 and $206,500 annually.
A Product Designer’s career path is an ever-changing and evolving process.
But what never changes in a product designer’s career path is the need to keep learning and putting the new knowledge to use non-stop.
I hope that this guide has helped you get a better idea of what you can expect along the way, what it takes to be successful, and why Product Designers are so valuable to their companies.
Good luck in your career path!