November 9, 2021

8 Things You Need to Know to Be a Successful Product Designer

Adam Shipp

Senior Product Designer

Article 33

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Being a good product designer is as much about attitude as it is about aptitude. Here, our Senior Product Designer, Adam Shipp, delves into some of the lessons he’s discovered so far in his career.

The job description for a Product Designer only tells part of the story. Of course, it takes both creativity and technical expertise to translate design concepts into powerful digital products. But there’s more to it than skill alone, it’s also about how you approach your work. A successful product designer needs to be confident in their ideas while at the same time being humble. They need to constantly aim to learn and improve. Need to think bigger while also focusing on the details. Most importantly? They need to support those around them.

Below, I’ll share the 8 most important lessons I’ve learnt in my career so far.

  1. It’s good to fail

Nobody enjoys experiencing ‘failure’ but as a designer, negative feedback is inevitable – but remember, it’s never personal. In fact, failing is a huge part of being a successful product designer. Why? Because we learn more from our failures than we do our successes. The process of trying and failing teaches mental resilience and perseverance, allowing us to create more ideas.

  1. You’re not an island

You can’t carry product design alone. And you can’t work in isolation. Every product is only as good as the team behind it, and you need your team as much as they need you. So it’s hugely important to create an environment that supports your team’s processes, happiness, and success. A place where they can learn, progress, and come up with really cool ideas. Your most important work is making the team happy. It’s something clients can’t see, but it shines through in the end products.

  1. You’ve got to remove the rose-tinted glasses

You can’t look at your work through rose-tinted glasses. You need to evaluate it objectively and ensure you’re hearing everyone’s opinions, not just your own. A good product designer doesn’t assume their designs are great just because they came up with them. They gather evidence, test it, and then present with confidence knowing they’ve done the due diligence needed to back up decisions. Your opinion is important, but don’t let it overrule the process; don’t develop a bias.

  1. There’s no finish line

You can’t complete product design, it’s impossible, there is no finish line. The landscape is always changing. A successful product designer always has the desire to improve. You’ve got to keep that creative brain ticking over. Be proactive in finding gaps in your knowledge – and then learning how you can bridge those gaps.

  1. Design isn’t everything

Something I’ve learned during my career is this job isn’t just about design. Yes, I design digital products. But the role of a product designer goes far beyond that. You’ve got a creative brain, so to be successful, you’ve got to use creative thinking to your advantage. Can you think of ways to bring better ideas to the organisation?

  1. You need to think laterally as well as systematically

Product designers usually think pretty systematically. They have to. Systematic thinking means you can work to define processes. Ultimately, it allows you to deliver the best possible product. But I think lateral thinking is equally important, especially during the early stages of the project. When you think laterally, you’re not limiting yourself. You’re giving yourself the freedom to get creative. The key is to learn the balance and when to switch between the two.

  1. Take pride in the details

As product designers, our performance is generally judged by our output. But for ourselves, we need to take pride in more than just the end product. We need to be proud of the processes we’ve established and the foundations we’ve built that have been instrumental in the design. In particular, it’s important to take pride in your design files. They’re like the foundations of a house. If you have poor foundations, it will fall down. If you have good foundations, it’ll last forever.

  1. Remember why you’re here

This might sound strange, but you need to know why you’re doing what you do. Why have you chosen to spend your time doing this? In product design, you’re going to have moments when you feel lost and question if you’ve made the right choice. We’ve all done it. And what gets us out of this mindset is when we’re able to confidently say, “I’m here because I love what I do”. When times get tough, falling back on your mantra is what keeps us all on track.

So… what’s the most important thing to know?

All of it. Sure, everyone has their own view of what makes a successful designer, but I think if you’ve got these 8 things nailed, then you’re well on your way to being an excellent one!

Our industry is constantly moving; it’s very fast-paced, which is why I love it. Being part of a team is also another big reason. I think, in a lot of ways, it’s more important than design. Design is the output, but the reward is in the process and working with people who support you and help you achieve your goals.

Learn more about how Tangent can help you with digital product design here.