How to Become a Product Designer

Your Complete Guide

Product Designer, UI Designer, UX Designer, Unicorn UI/UX Designer, UX Rockstar, Information Architect. The titles are many, but the goal remains the same: designing a user journey that is so seamless, it ceases to be noticed at all.

As the world around us goes digital, product designing has quickly surpassed other design priorities to be at the very top of the list for startups and big businesses alike. This is particularly true when entering a consumer-facing market. With this comes an exciting opportunity for any creative individual: becoming a product designer.

Not only is this field growing, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to venture into as well. So, to get you going, we’ve made this short and easy to follow guide as you get started on your journey to become a product designer.

Table of Contents

What is Product Design?
What does it take to become a Product Designer?
What qualifications or courses do I need?
What’s the right tool to start?
What do I make once I’ve learned my software?
What makes a Portfolio great?
How do I make sure that I'm making the right choices in my work and career?
What books should I be reading during this time?

Before we get going, let’s clarify the basics…


What Even Is Product Design?

If you’re a beginner, chances are that the graphic design term “product design” being used to describe websites, apps and digital creations is new for you. Until very recently, it was only used to describe the packaging found on products you could buy in your nearest stores. But nowadays, it's far more encompassing  than just that.

But the basic principle remains. In a market that is constantly flooded with new products and ideas, design becomes paramount in setting yourself apart from the clutter.

So, in that sense, product designing can largely mean the process of identifying a user demand in the market, pinpointing clearly the primary problem to tackle, creating a solution for this problem and finally, testing it out on your core audience to measure and improve your results.

What does it take to become a product designer?

Well, first and foremost, there is no fixed journey to becoming a successful product designer.

Some product designers evolve from basic interface designing at small firms, some grow with the steady mentorship of industry professionals, and some simply spot a gap between a user and a need and set off to design a solution for it.

What you must understand is that it isn’t just the technical know-how you have that makes you a good product designer, it is more the process you form to help any user achieve a desired outcome in the most intuitive path possible. In this way, a person with an open mind, who readily analyses existing user journeys and looks to improve them is the ideal candidate. The practical skills you learn to apply into this philosophy certainly help in making successful designs, and here are some that will help you in that.

What qualifications or courses do I need?

This is an age old question. What certification should I have to be taken seriously? Does this specific/time invested/expensive piece of paper distinguish me from the others? What institution’s name on a certificate do I need to get my foot in the door?

To be frank, there are great product designers out there who have never set foot in a design college, or even joined in on any online courses. But, that also isn’t to deny many other designers who have done these things and come out with valuable insights.In the end, it all comes down to you and your learning process.

Udemy App Redesign by Diar Kutllovci

Currently there are an endless number of online academy’s offering design courses you can enroll in. Udemy and Coursera come to mind right away, if you are in the beginning stages of your learning and looking to build a solid core knowledge foundation to build on. But, there is also plenty of free resources available on Youtube with Designers like Will Paterson leading the way. Additionally, there are also easy to follow classes on SkillShare if you check out Sandra Bowers classes. Other more focused courses can be found on Hackerdesign.org and Google’s Udacity. If you’re pressed for time, bootcamps (online & offline) are also a good place to start, providing learning at a quicker pace.

Alright, if I can make it without any qualifications, then surely there must be some other catch?

You’re right! While you can enroll yourself into every cheap course available online, it won’t necessarily translate to a good skill set practically. That’s why many product designers choose to go the practical route and jump right into work on a design app. In any profession, you will be required to perfect working with certain tools of your trade to make it. In this case, your tools are your design apps.

Whether it is our trusty vector graphics software, Vectornator, or another, the tools of your choosing are an extension of you. Learning their in’s and out’s are what will allow your designs to improve and deliver individually catered solutions for specific problems.

Got it, so now I just need to pick the right tool to start…

There are a plethora of tools available. Some now can even be run right through your browser, letting you prototype your ideas and tweak interfaces as you’d like them to be. If you’d rather work offline and away from all the distractions, then look to the plenty of free apps available for your design needs.

If the thought of learning these tools alone is giving you anxiety, then worry not. Chances are, there are infinite tutorials up on Youtube or even on your design software’s website/blog that will guide you through the basics along with more complex processes as well.

Along with getting comfortable with the software of your choosing, how efficiently and neatly you organize your work also becomes important. A good workflow is what sets apart regular designers from professional ones. Everything from file organization, file naming, being aware of file compatibilities and even how you organize your layers in a project.

Because if there is one thing that is every designer’s pet peeve, it’s people who create a mess of a work with more layers than actual colors in their work. This skill set is what will lend you to perform well within team structures, where shared work is how a project is achieved.

Working with many unnamed layers can be challenging, but, is a common practice among designers.

Okay, so, once I’ve learned my software, what do I make?

For starters, you want to understand the basic premise of product designing, like we mentioned above. It’s all about the user and what they desire, being delivered to them in the most intuitive way possible.

If you’re fresh out of bootcamp with no projects to pursue, then why not design something that you feel is valuable? Working with a self-driven motivation for solving a problem is great fuel for inspiring creative work. Take up ideas and work you’ve had passing thoughts about but never really closely looked at.

All this will lead to your own professional portfolio. And that is what you need most after your resume to land work. If your only qualification is that you’ve done a bunch of courses on Udemy, but you’ve got a portfolio that boasts of passionate, creative work then guess what? Chances are you’ll be better at explaining your designs and creative process in an interview than the person who just copied their bootcamp trainer’s tutorials and made similar designs.

To make a portfolio that checks all the right marks, focus on the following:

▸ Design for the work which you see yourself to do

Just like you tailor your resume for various opportunities, you absolutely need to tailor your portfolio for the jobs you pursue. If you want to design for the growing business of mobile e-payment wallets, then showcasing works of icon designs for art studios. One major pitfall of many bootcamps and design crash courses are that people start replicating the work taught everywhere. Always take the knowledge you gained before to apply it into a completely new setting. That’s where the real creativity blossoms.


▸ 3 is the magic number

Don’t worry about making a portfolio lengthy enough to be printed as a graphic design book. All you need are at least 3 solid projects that you know from inside out, which you can freely explain the workings behind and rationale for to make your impression in an interview. Each project has got its own problem-solution story, so focus on that and build up from it when creating works for your portfolio.

▸ It’s always a work in progress

You might be thinking that your portfolio needs to be made of works that are so perfect, they couldn’t possibly be made any better. This is yet another common mistake to make. Thinking that your works cannot be improved upon is just not true, especially in design.

Take a closer look at your designs and see where they lack, if aesthetically or functionally, and take time to improve them. In this process, you’ll be forced to dive into different methods of product design with newer tools and options previously not explored in your trusted design app.

Look at visual references and apps you really enjoy, and really closely focus on what you like about them. Don’t worry about making completely unique work, such a thing just doesn’t happen that often when everyone is trying to break the mold. Worry about making a design that really works well for the problem that needs to be solved.


Your portfolio will also make you focus on your end user A LOT.

Ultimately, it is them and how they use your design that spells its success or its rage-filled rant tweets. Get to really know your core demographic well. Talk to User Researchers and other friends/coworkers. Explore surveys, user interviews and questionnaires to see what it is they wish to get out of their experience and where the existing gaps are. A lot of the problems will already be identified for you by your users, it’s simply a matter of tackling them with patience.


Dealing with these problems means thinking like a user, not a designer. Focus on great UX/UI design from the start as this is a hygienic factor. What does that mean? It’s something that is instantly noticed when not present, causing great dissatisfaction, but something that is completely overlooked when done right. This can be frustrating to come to terms with, but as a designer it’s everyday’s work so better get used to it! Your users don’t care how they reach the dropdown menu in the app, they care that it is done with the least amount of taps.

How do I make sure that I'm making the right choices in my work and career?

Seek out people of your trade. Where there is passion, there is a community. If you’re keen to share your work and bounce of ideas with other professionals in your field, then look for meetups, conferences and social gatherings occurring around you. The design community is very creative and they love to talk about it! Even a simple discussion at a pub crawl with these guys will inspire you towards new works you’d never even thought about.

And if getting to a physical meetup isn’t possible, join online communities. Places like Reddit, Prototypr, DesignerNews, Dribbble, Medium’s UX Collective, Creative Bloq and countless others are bursting with creative individuals all showcasing their works and many even guiding you through their process step-by-step. These sources offer weekly mailers, regular blog updates and valuable insights into the minds of other designers and their problem-solution based approaches.

For any designer, this is a treasure trove of information that is as good as attending any online course. Build relationships with these people by engaging with them online or offline. From there, it is easy to identify someone as a possible mentor, if need be, to bounce of thoughts and worries from. Slowly you’ll be able to develop a nice back-and-forth with them, getting constructive feedback on your questions and precious inputs from an industry professional. It really can be just that easy!

What books should I be reading during this time?

If what you need is to build your base, you should definitely check out our other blog post on the graphic design books you must have on your shelf.

For literature more focused on this specific field, you can give some of these books a try.

The Design of Everyday Things

by Don Norman

This U.S. bestseller is thumped as the bible of cognitive design, and rightfully so. With examples of all kinds of designs, and simple rationales that guide you through their mistakes and highlights, this is another easy read to get you going.




Don’t Make Me Think

by Steve Krug

With an apt title, this book is the first one you should start with. It offers the main fundamentals that every product designer should be considering in their works. It's easy to read and quick to the point, much like the designs you’ll hopefully be making!


Start With Why

by Simon Sinek

Famous for his Facebook share worthy musings, Sinek’s book zeroes in on the patterns of thinking that let leaders inspire those around them; tackling the “Why”. Thinking about the “why” becomes key in understanding what you’re facing, and solving it with an unfettered passion that will no doubt reflect in the final product.



The Best Interface Is No Interface

by Golden Krishna

Yet another apt title for your work, this amazingly funny look at the designs around us, and going beyond your computer screens to analyse the designs that surround you via three principles. Like we said before, 3 is the magic number!

While we’ve aimed to provide you with a definitive guide to follow in becoming a product designer, we all know by now that this is never a fixed journey. What really matters is identifying from the above the methods that speak to you and work for you the most. In adopting new methods of designing and working, it is important not to overburden yourself with the pressure of change.

Once you feel comfortable to click into a design software, give Vectornator a go. We hate to toot our own horn, but it’s designed to let all levels of designers easily get to work and start forming their ideas into beautiful creative works. Oh, and also it’s a great example of product design in itself. #HumbleBrag

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Images by Unsplash.com, edited in Vectornator.

WRITTEN BY:

Vikas Sharma

Content & Social Media Manager