Mistakes to Avoid When Switching from Graphic Design to Product Design

Justy Carlin
Jan 6 · 4 min read
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Making the career switch from a graphic designer to a product designer can be daunting, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

The best place to start is by understanding the difference between the two. While graphic design focuses on visual communication, product design focuses on user experience. Designing the marketing ad for the Spotify app is graphic design. Designing the Spotify app itself is product design.

Like many designers, my background started in graphic design. When I made the leap over to product design, I was admittedly feeling around in the dark for a while. Here are some of the mistakes I made, along with the antidotes I learned.

Prioritizing form over function

The number one thing a user wants to accomplish is a task. Product design should serve as a facilitation to success.

Spending too much time on Pinterest or Dribbble and not enough time with real products

While there’s value in visual inspiration, a majority of the designs on sites like Pinterest and Dribbble were done in a vacuum outside the context of a real, working product.

Think about the designs on these sites like concept cars. Car companies love to toute their capabilities by designing extravagant cars that will never, in any capacity, go to market. Many of the designs on these sites don’t reflect realistic patterns and should not be used as a guide for successful product design.

Ignoring the competitive landscape

It’s also important to remember that true competitive analysis goes beyond your direct competitors. In some instances, your product might not have any direct competitors. Taking the temperature of your broader product space by delving into experiential competitors will help provide a more holistic view of a successful path forward. Some early questions to ask should be what is a user expecting from a digital experience? What are the current digital standards set by leading technology companies?

Be careful not to get stuck in the research phase for too long, because the most value will come from building, shipping and iterating as much as possible.

Using personas instead of real people

Utilize any existing information about your user base, and if possible, perform preliminary interviews and user testing to gain better understanding of the problems at hand. This often times can be as easy as starting by talking to family and friends.

Not taking the time to understand platform differences

Each platform has its own set of unique patterns and specifics. It’s important to recognize and learn this in order to navigate successfully designing for the digital landscape.

Forgetting about accessibility

What might have been a really stellar color palette for a past packaging project you did a couple years back might not cut it from an accessibility standpoint for the new app you’re working on today.

Design for your audience. For example, if the healthcare app you’re working on will be targeted to primarily seniors, using small text everywhere might not be the best decision.

Treating a product like a project

Products are essentially living, breathing things that require endless care and attention to succeed in the increasingly competitive digital space. Releasing a product is not the end of the process. Learning, iterating and releasing should be looked at as an infinite cycle.

Not being able to articulate your approach to solving problems

This means that part of your job as a product designer is being a salesperson. Ultimately, you are selling your solutions. Look at your work from every angle, through every lens. The better you understand a problem, the better you can solve it, and ultimately, the better you can speak to it.

Shine with your process and your mindset. Being able to think about both the stakeholder and the user is crucial to creating digital products people love.

Justy drinks tea and creates beautiful user experiences at Livefront.

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Livefront

Thoughts from the Livefront team

Thanks to Andrew Haisting, Sam Kirchmeier, Collin Flynn, Brian Yencho, and Mike Bollinger

Justy Carlin

Written by

Product designer based in Minneapolis. When I’m not hugging trees or making cocktails, I’m creating beautiful user experiences at Livefront.

Livefront

Livefront

Thoughts from the Livefront team

Justy Carlin

Written by

Product designer based in Minneapolis. When I’m not hugging trees or making cocktails, I’m creating beautiful user experiences at Livefront.

Livefront

Livefront

Thoughts from the Livefront team

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