Insights for Aspiring Product Designers

AIGASF Event Recap: How to Get Into Product Design

By Julia Cox

AIGA, a professional membership organization for design, brought together four senior product designers for a panel talk on how to get into product design. Deny Khoung, Whitespace founder—alongside Hillary Lindeman from Google, Faith Bolliger from SoFi, and Loredana Crisan from Facebook—discussed what it takes to break into the field.

Here is a summary of what the panelists’ shared:

Get your name out there: If people can’t find you, they can’t hire you

Network, even cold call

Some people would rather walk across hot coals than network, but making connections in the industry is essential to your career. Hillary shared

“You can find someone online that you admire and reach out to them.”

When she first started out, she used Linkedin to reach out to a designer whose work she admired and ended up having a coffee meeting to review her portfolio. Designers are usually open to helping when you show an interest and eagerness to learn. Start by looking up design events in your area and joining Slack, Linkedin, and Facebook design groups.

Pro tip: Asking questions is a great way to show interest and develop a deeper understanding of a topic.

Showcase your work

Sites like Behance and Dribbble are platforms you can utilize to showcase design work and get noticed. You’ll get feedback on your work from other designers, and find lots of inspiration to spark new ideas.

Pro tip: Don’t overshare by saturating platforms with your content. Be choosy and showcase your best work.

Focus on the moment: Think big and work small

Execute, execute, execute

It’s easy to get carried away by big ideas, but daydreaming about your great product idea won’t get you closer to creating it. The key is to boil down the vision to concrete deliverables to create the end product. For example, if you’re coming from a graphic design background, and wanting to design an app used by millions of people, your first step maybe to read up on Apple iOS or Android Human Interface Guidelines (HIG).

Pro tip: Map out the steps you need to take to reach your goals and create a realistic timeline for completing each step.

Be passionate, but fail gracefully

Bosses and clients won’t always be as enthusiastic about your ideas as you are, and that’s okay. If your idea isn’t picked for a project don’t despair; get on board with the idea they did pick, and knock it out of the park.

Pro tip: If you’re going to pitch an idea for a project make sure the design is informed by an insight into the target audience.

Portfolio and Resources

Construct a killer portfolio

Your portfolio is more than a collection of work you’ve completed, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that you understand how to utilize the design process. Deny noted that

“distilling the insights gathered from research is more important than showing a collection of sticky notes or a picture of you conducting a user interview. I don’t want to see you doing the research, I want to see how the research informed your design decisions.”

For example, if you conduct a card sorting session explain how the participants’ interactions influenced the organization of your platform’s navigation.

Pro tip: Sometimes the finished product doesn’t align with what you think the final product should look like. Take the opportunity to design it the way you think it should be, lay the two versions side by side in your portfolio, and provide the rationale for your version.

Develop your soft skills

Product design is not a solo endeavor so it’s important to communicate well with cross-functional teams, and to effectively sell your idea to others. Also, demonstrating intentionality and self-awareness in your work sets you apart from designers that fall back on the cookie cutter process.

Pro tip: Check in early and often with your project team members to make sure everyone’s individual progress is moving the project down the same path.

Favorite UX Resources from the panelists:

Books

“10 Principles of Good Design” by Dieter Rams
“Getting More” by Stuart Diamond
“Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A. Norman
“13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations” by Mike Monteiro

Podcasts

Design Details
High Resolution
99% Invisible
Masters of Scale

Designers & Teams on Medium

Dan Mall
Yael Levey
Mike Monteiro
Facebook
Airbnb
Atlassian

Pro tip: Use social media to join design groups and to follow designers and design teams that are doing great work.


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