Mistakes to Avoid When Switching from Graphic Design to Product Design
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
Thoughtful patterns and beautiful visuals are important to a product’s success, but they aren’t the only things that matter. In the same way that bad design can distract from a good user experience, you cannot hide a bad user experience with good design.
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
The best way to learn and understand native patterns and digital trends is by using real apps.
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
A wealth of information exists in the competitive analysis process. Not leveraging the pain points from your competitors’ existing user base is an often missed opportunity. It’s important to move your mindset from “We can’t do that because [Company Name] is doing that” to “How can we do that better than [Company Name]?”
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
Many design schools and programs still push for the creation and use of personas when in reality, they provide quite limited benefits. You will never gain more insight with a made up individual than you will a real one. While it’s important to understand the full scope of your audience, assumptions aren’t always accurate.
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
This can mean many things. Not understanding the differences between iOS and Android. Treating web design and app design as the same thing. Treating desktop web design and mobile web design as the same thing, or even treating mobile web design and app design as the same thing. The list of incorrect interchangeability goes on.
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
WCAG is your friend.
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
Unlike a print ad, for example, that has a set publish date and a set end date, product design work is never truly done.
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 skill admittedly takes the longest to develop, but it’s arguably even more important than the visual work you will do.
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.