What is product design?

Design today leads the way through business, branding and experience. We’re not talking about “making things pretty”. The product or experience we create has to bring real value for the user – That can only be achieved when we integrate a lot of different fields. Let’s see what product designers have to say about product design and how it came to be what it is today.

A bit of history

Back in 1931, Neil McElroy (before helping to found NASA) started talking about “the brand man and brand management was born on P&G. It was a different function from the others, focusing on the product, doing market and process research, guiding the brand to success. They put interviewers knocking on doors and talking with consumers, without any writing materials to seem casual, but extracting specific data. Scott Look and Microsoft brought this concept to software development in 1981 and it was then called “program manager”, people thinking how to make things easier for the user.

Blend all those with what design is today and then we have it: Product design. A good definition of a product designer’s functions:

“Identifying the opportunity for a new product in a customer’s life and bringing that product into existence.” tweet

Scott Hurff

Product design is a bit of everything, really

So, yes, product designers do have a lot in their plate. Being cross-functional brings innovation. They may not have all the answers, but they will learn about different areas, experiment and evolve.

What is product design

There’s a lot to build with

You can talk about product design calling it by other words, other job titles, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s about filling the gap between customers and developers. Understanding people’s needs, figuring out not only how to solve their problems, but also how to bring a superior experience and creating value. Researching, testing, designing solutions together, collaborating with a team across different skills.

Not only the product designer has to be this bridge, this “customer’s champion” that fills the gap. Everyone has. Maybe we can call everybody on the team Product people?

“You don’t need to be a font savant, or be a Creative Cloud wizard, or even have a degree in design in order to be a highly effective product designer.” tweet

Stephanie Engle

It’s a soup filled with user experience, interface design, roadmap planning, business strategy, innovation, marketing, process, data analysis, psychology, management and probably more — and there’s nothing wrong with that. We actually don’t need a limited definition for product design. We can have “flavors” of product designers. Now, I’m not saying they should know everything about every one of these subjects. But the more knowledge about them, the better.

“Think in terms of ‘What can I do that will most help my team be successful?’” tweet

Julie Zhuo

The responsibilities of a product designer may vary, but all those fields must be considered. You may not need to be a chef, but you’ll need to know the cooking basics. There’s also a discussion going on about if designers need to know how to code or should focus on learning business.

“Product design happens when decisions are made, and everyone should be decision-makers, including engineers.” tweet


We see that product design is a broad definition, it’s about integrating many areas. It’s everyone’s mission to build a superior experience for people that will use your product. Do you have different thoughts about it? Share with us!

TL;DR: Product design is a lot. And more.