From graphic design to product design, quite a journey

Photo credit: Dorothy Lei

Around a year ago I moved from Hong Kong to Berlin and changed my career from editorial design to product design. A question I frequently get is,

“How did you change your career to product design?”

WHY did I change my career?

I still like print and graphic design a lot. I still can’t forget the texture of the paper, the printing effects and different binding methods. All these print designs are beautiful, tangible and irresistible, but at some point I was thinking about how to help people solve problems with my design skill, and I wanted to work on products that people find useful and joyful. So I decided to explore something new. I did a lot of research and read a few articles about how to become a product designer.

That’s how I got hooked with product and I started exploring more. Back in Hong Kong I took short course from General Assembly. It was a good start, but if you ask me whether it is necessary to attend a course for entering this field, I wouldn’t say it is a must.

Before getting into “How”, let’s talk about what Product Design is and what the difference is compared to Graphic Design.

Graphic Design VS Product Design

A photo showing the difference between UX design and graphic design. (Monbijou Park, Berlin. Photo credit: Dorothy Lei)

Graphic design is the art of transferring messages. Graphic designers have to decide how things should look, fonts, colors, arrangement of different elements etc. The execution needs to be wonderfully creative and visually beautiful. Employers hire you because they expect that you know what they want and that you know how to do it.

Product design is about ensuring the optimal balance between the users’ expectations and business goals. The closer they are to each other the more successful your design is.

Product Design is a sum-up term used to describe the creation of the look and feel of a product, and how it should work and how it will be connected.

A product designer is someone who gives insights to the product when it comes to how a certain interface should look, what new features could be added and how they should integrate into the existing platform. So the job of a product designer consists of doing research, brainstorming new ideas and coming up with unique solutions that are tailored to the industry and not forgetting about solving the problems.

Employers hire you because they think that you have the ability to find out what the problem is, analyse it, come up with a good solution and express it in a beautiful way.

If you are a graphic designer, you may find the interface a bit easier to handle, as you already have the visual talent, aesthetic sense and your work is beautiful to look at. To be a product designer you have to focus more on research, data analysis and the rationale behind the work.

So the difference between a graphic designer and a product designer, is that the latter thinks a lot harder about the visual decisions he makes, and those decisions were made by research, investigation, user testing and prototyping.

If you feel comfortable with figuring out people’s reactions to your designs, looking at the data, finding out what problems the product has and pushing yourself to provide a better path for the users, you are ready to become a product designer.


HOW did I start?

After learning about the difference between graphic design and product design and if a career change still interests you, you may find the following tips useful.

1. Learn how to draw and sketch

My sketchbooks (Photo credit: Dorothy Lei)

Always have a sketchbook with you, start with pen and paper. Jot down everything, the questions, design principles, scenarios or use cases you can think of and the discussions with the team in that book. Maybe you will not have time to go through it all afterwards, but the process of writing and drawing will help you to learn things better.

I already have one finished sketch book standing on my desk and have nearly finished the second one. Trust me, this personal bible will walk with you along the way. (Some employers would even ask you to show your sketchbook to them during a job interview).

2. Join a course if possible, but it is not a must

I joined a 3-month course from General Assembly. From there I learned the basic concepts about research, persona, information architecture, user testing, wireframing, prototyping and design process. I was lucky that my classmates came from different professional areas like marketing, business strategy, product management and design. That’s how I gained a lot of insights from different perspectives.

If joining an offline course is not a choice for you there is a bunch of online (free) courses for beginners. For more details please see the end of the article.

3. Learn wireframing and prototyping

Origami Studio prototyping workshop (Photo credit: foodora design team)

This is a part you cannot skip as a UX or product designer. Normally I start with my sketchbook and pens, think of the flows and possible cases, draw rough wireframes and start working on a screen, turning the drafts into clickable prototypes. Be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to make your design pixel perfect at this stage (I know it’s hard as we want everything well presented). Just make sure the content works and show your audience the user flow.

Starting with InVision is what I recommend as it is easy to sync the screens from Sketch, link the jpegs to become a click dummy which I find very convenient.

There are a lot of online wireframing and prototyping tools which are easy to learn. I also include a link written by Nicole Saidy and Joe Salowitz at the end of the article.

4. The first UX book I read

UX books that I read: Hooked by Nir Eyal and Don’t make me think by Steve Krung (Photo credit: Dorothy Lei)

Reading is also another key to grow. Hooked by Nir Eyal is amazing, which was my first book about product and user experience. Nir Eyal gives you practical insights how to create user habits that stick. He also shares some actionable steps for building products people love with fascinating examples from the iPhone to Twitter, Pinterest to the Bible App.

At the end of each section in the book, you’ll find a few bullet points to remind you of the most important parts of the content. Also you can practise your thinking with applying the “Do This Now” section to the product you are working on and see how you can adapt what you read from the chapter.

After that I finished Lean UX, Sprint and I have Don’t make me think on hand.

5. Try to redesign a small product and put it into your portfolio

Find a product that the experience or the interface doesn’t satisfy you, something that you find difficult to reach the result you are expecting. It can be an existing app, a ticket machine system or a kiosk interface etc. You can also think of a service that you want to provide to your intended users. Ask yourself “what would I do to change it?” “How will I approach the product and find a better solution?” Research, ask around, draw, ask again, draw again until there is a better result. Don’t be scared to try, put the project in your portfolio, showcase it to people and see what feedback people give to your work.

6. Apply for an internship

Photo credit: Andrew Neel on Unsplash

An internship is a good way to get into the industry when you have the basic knowledge about UX and product design plus a substantial portfolio. Being an intern is a great way to learn and adapt your knowledge with real environment and situation. I am lucky I worked as an intern in a startup company which has a full-skilled tech team and a fast-paced agile environment, which let me figure out that working in a real environment is different from a student level assignment. You will see and learn a lot. You will sometimes make mistakes, but it will go over along the way.

7. Go to meetups, events and conferences, meet people and do network

From left to right, Robbie Manson, Product Designer from facebook; Kerning Conference 2017 (Photo credit: Dorothy Lei, foodora design team)

There are many UX, product design and tech related events posted on meetup.com or eventbrite. Join them and you will meet a lot of design peers who can share their work and stories with you.

A big reason for going to conferences is to meet new people and it is also a good way for people to meet you. Meetups and conferences bring together professionals from different areas who share a common discipline or field. Within a few minutes, you can make a connection with someone that you might not even have met if you hadn’t attended the conference. This is especially important when you are looking for opportunities or trying to build your professional network. Grab the chance to share your work, you may get feedback on your work from people, which may provide you with new insights.

Going to meetups and conferences keeps you up to date with the industry. You can find out about upcoming design trends, new inventions and new prototyping tools.

8. Don’t be afraid of failures

Photo credit: Erik Dungan on Unsplash

When I was new to this industry, I remembered that I was upset when the users’ opinions were not what I expected, or they didn’t understand my proposed design solutions. After a while I just got used to it and learned that this is what product designers have to deal with every day. This is how we keep improving our products. Remember to not be scared of failing. Our job is to discover difficulties before our users experience them. There is no right or wrong in UX, and I think this the most interesting part about it.

Conclusion

Joining the foodora design team makes me grow up a lot. What I can tell is there is no shortcut from the bottom to the top. Start with your strengths and the area that you are confident with. Keep reading, asking, learning and sharing then you will find your way to grow.

If you like what you just read please clap for me — as a writer it means a lot. Thanks :)