In the following series of posts, I will lay out my personal experience and suggestions for transitioning careers into digital Product Design. The intended audience are designers in any other discipline.
Before we begin let me tell you why I’m writing this: there is a shortage of designers in technology. The ability to think like a designer is highly valued and currently underrepresented in the tech industry.
It’s important for designers with different backgrounds enter the digital Product Design discipline. There’s a tendency for tech industry design to become an echo chamber that reinforce current trends. If more diverse design backgrounds transition into software, our digital products will become even more interesting and culturally relevant. This is why I want to lower your learning curve and lay out a plan to transition into Product Design.
It took me about 5 months from start to finish to learn and build a body of work to get my first full-time job as a designer in tech.
With that out of the way, let’s begin learning efficiently. This post will go over four main things you should find to start off:
Everyone learns differently and at their own pace, but I suggest that you learn with a sense of urgency. I decided to immerse myself, quitting my job and working my ass off as efficiently as possible. The goal is to learn efficiently, not fail quickly. So do whatever you need to do in order to retain knowledge. For me it was to:
“Create as much as possible; as fast as possible; everyday.”
Here are the steps that I followed and should help you learn efficiently:
Find a network of people that will help you learn and accelerate your transition. Here are a few types of networks that you should explore:
MOOCs (massive online open courses)
MOOCs are a great way to get an introduction to specific skill-sets within product design. You’ll get a grasp on what people find important and pick up broad concepts.
In-person bootcamps (San Francisco)
I joined a startup school & agency called Tradecraft. Any other “bootcamp” is worth considering as well. This obviously isn’t a requirement, but it allowed me to learn faster than learning solely on my own. Research your own city and see if something shows up.
2. Focus on a role
Let’s list a few of the current design roles within a startup or tech company:
UX Designer, UI Designer, UX+UI Designer, Visual Designer, UX Engineer, User Researcher, Motion Designer, Interaction Designer, Information Architect, Product Designer.
What the hell is the difference between all of these?
This is a somewhat contentious topic since there is significant overlap among all of these roles. Also, depending on the size, age, and type of company, they will have different definitions and responsibilities. The three roles that are most ubiquitous are:
UX Designer (First half)
Focuses on task flows and high level design decisions. concept, interaction flow, technology, interface, user research.
Visual Designer (Second half)
Focuses on the finished aesthetic. graphic design, grid system, typography, style guides, dribbble, brand.
Product Designer (Whole)
You can’t be a product designer without being a UX and Visual Designer first. The product designer focuses on high level and detail of the design (More of a generalist.) Here’s a good definition of Product Design. Hybrid of all the roles, development, PM, innovator, prototype and execute, sometimes required to script. I’m focusing on this since it’s where the industry is going.
3. Find a mentor.
Finding a mentor will allow you to:
Make sure your mentor has the role that you want to be in next. Your mentor shouldn’t have 10 years experience (namely because you want someone who has relevant experience to help you in the near term).
There are so many ways to find a mentor:
Reaching out There’s an art to reaching out to someone you don’t know and asking for their help. Contact multiples, have an ask, follow up, etc.
Follow up and keep them informed. Don’t let it go by the wayside.
Visual design is probably the most difficult skill to build if you don’t already have it. That said, it’s totally doable — but requires understanding graphic design fundamentals and new trends. These are some good starting points:
Daily news & inspirational sources
It’s important to stay up-to-date with news and trends regarding your new discipline!
Other reading lists:
Follow me and check back in next week! I’ll be posting Part 2: Designing a product.