With its highly competitive salary, in-demand skills, and engaging work, becoming a product designer in 2024 is a solid choice.
But where to begin? While you don’t need a degree or experience to become a product designer, what you do need is a plan—and the commitment to see it through.
In this post, we’ll break down how to become a product designer into manageable, actionable steps, giving you a clear-cut framework to follow.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What is a product designer?
- Is it hard to get into product design?
- What skills and qualifications do you need to become a product designer?
- How to become a product designer
- Wrap-up and next steps
- How to become a product designer: FAQ
Of course, if you want to dive right in, try our free product design short course.
1. What is a product designer?
Before jumping into how to become a product designer, first let’s take a look at what exactly they do.
Product designers conceive and create products that solve specific end-user problems.
This might involve developing brand-new products or improving existing ones—and it can relate to digital products, physical goods, or even intangible processes and experiences.
A product designer considers the product from all different angles, considering:
- What market will it compete in, and what similar products will it be against?
- Who is the product for, and what problem will it solve?
- How will the product look and function?
- Is the product feasible—do we have the necessary time and resources to build it?
- Is it viable—will it generate revenue or help us to achieve other important business goals?
Product designers are researchers and problem-solvers. They’re hands-on designers and creative thinkers. They’re relentless user advocates who also understand the importance of meeting business objectives. And, because product design is such a collaborative role, they’re also excellent communicators, multi-taskers, and project managers.
If you’d like to learn more about the day-to-day tasks of a product designer, refer to our dedicated guide: What Does a Product Designer Do?
Where do product designers come from?
Product design is a broad and varied field, spanning multiple disciplines and requiring a diverse mix of skills. As such, there is no single pathway that all product designers follow.
Some professions and fields of study have direct links to product design—such as industrial design (product design’s “parent” field), user experience (UX) design, user interface UI) design, graphic design, and architecture.
Many other fields are less obviously related to product design but actually require and hone important product design skills.
Product designers might come from marketing, engineering, business, or customer service roles, bringing valuable skills such as research, critical thinking, empathy, problem-solving, and project management with them.
Ultimately, product designers come from all different educational and professional backgrounds. There isn’t a specific degree or former profession that all product designers have in common; most have trodden their own unique path into the field.
That’s not to say anybody can start working in a product design role. Whatever background you’re coming from, you’ll need to build strong proficiency in essential product design skills, tools, and processes—which we’ll show you how to do later in this guide.
Are product designers in high demand?
Yes—the demand for product designers is high and growing.
According to Zippia, product designer jobs are projected to grow at a rate of 3% from 2018-2028. And, with the way the market is evolving and expanding, we wouldn’t be surprised if actual job growth turns out to be higher than predicted.
Several factors are driving the demand for product designers.
Firstly, the product design and development services market is growing at speed. By 2030, it’s estimated that the market will be worth $24.1 billion—compared to a valuation of $9.4 billion in 2022. It’s only logical that this will translate into more job opportunities for product designers.
Secondly, emerging technologies are creating a notable skills gap. In their Technology Trends Outlook report for 2023, McKinsey identifies fifteen major tech trends, which they divide into five main categories: the AI revolution, building the digital future, compute and connectivity frontiers, cutting-edge engineering, and a sustainable world.
Interestingly, the report notes that job postings in fields related to these emerging tech trends grew at a “very healthy” 15% between 2021 and 2022—despite a 13% decrease in global job postings overall.
They also note that “there’s a wide gap between the demand for people with the skills needed to capture value from the tech trends and available talent.”
In simple terms, we need good product designers to make all this cutting-edge technology useful and usable for humans. How will we benefit from it otherwise?!
Even if you discount emerging technology, there will always be a need for skilled professionals who can create and design the products we use every day—like websites, apps, coffee machines, smartphones, toothbrushes, board games, backpacks…the list goes on and on!
Product designers are evidently in high demand. But just how accessible is the field for newcomers? Let’s take a look.
2. Is it hard to get into product design?
Product design is an accessible field because it doesn’t favor one specific professional or educational background. But that doesn’t mean that becoming a product designer is easy. If you want to get into product design, you’ll need to be really committed to acquiring the necessary skills and landing your first role.
If you’re a newcomer to the field, the biggest challenges will likely be:
- Learning everything you need to know (and there’s a lot!) in a logical and structured way
- Gaining some practical experience or finding hands-on projects to add to your portfolio (which you’ll absolutely need if you want to get hired)
- Crafting a convincing narrative around your career-change, showing employers that you’re job-ready and drawing links between product design and your previous role(s)
Challenging, yes, but certainly not impossible. If you’re passionate about the topic and motivated to put in the work, those challenges will also turn out to be fascinating, eye-opening, and incredibly satisfying.
And it’s important to note that you don’t need to do it all by yourself. There are many programs and courses out there that will help you train as a product designer—and the best ones will offer personal support and guidance at every step.
3. What skills and qualifications do you need to become a product designer?
If you want to become a product designer, you must be able to demonstrate the following:
- Extensive knowledge of design concepts and principles, including design thinking, user-centered design, and UX and UI design.
- Practical design skills and the ability to execute the product design process from end to end—from research and ideation to wireframing, prototyping, and user testing.
- Proficiency in industry-standard tools such as Figma and Sketch (to name just a few—discover more in our guide to the most important product design tools).
- Excellent communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.
Employers won’t necessarily be looking for a particular qualification or degree, but they will look for strong proof of these fundamental skills—primarily demonstrated through your product design portfolio.
A product design certification from a credible institution can provide you with additional proof of your training. And, most importantly, it will actually equip you with the skills that employers are looking for,
4. How to become a product designer: step-by-step guide
If you’re serious about becoming a product designer, you’ll need a methodical and consistent approach. Here’s a practical plan you can follow to set the wheels in motion:
- Explore product design fundamentals
- Get a practical product design education
- Build your portfolio
- Hone your networking skills
- Be proactive in your job search
Let’s put our plan into action.
Step 1: Explore product design fundamentals
Product design is a practical field, but it’s underpinned by many different concepts and principles. Before you embark on any formal or structured training, start building familiarity with key topics and terminology.
Here are some questions to prompt your research:
- What is the history of product design? Where does it come from?
- What is design thinking?
- What is user-centered design?
- What is user experience (UX) design?
- What is user interface (UI) design?
- What is user research and what are some popular user research methods?
- What are user personas?
- What’s the difference between wireframing and prototyping?
- What is usability testing?
You don’t need to delve too deep. The goal at this stage is to get acquainted with fundamental concepts, not to become an expert. Read blogs, watch YouTube videos, and take some free courses for a high-level introduction.
Step 2: Get a practical product design education
You don’t need a degree to become a product designer—but the self-taught route will only get you so far. If you’re completely new to the field, you’ll need practical product design training.
Product design courses, bootcamps, and certification programs offer a structured learning pathway, but they vary significantly in terms of price and quality. If you’re looking for the full career-change package, opt for a course that provides:
- A practical, skills-focused curriculum with exercises and projects
- Human support and mentorship
- A focus on building your product design portfolio
Your chosen course should equip you with job skills—not just reading materials. Research your options thoroughly and make sure you’re getting good value for money.
For help finding a course, compare our best product design courses.
Step 3: Build your product design portfolio
Your portfolio provides concrete, tangible proof of your product design skills—and it’s absolutely critical for your career transition. Hiring managers need to see your skills in action, as applied to projects that mimic real-world job scenarios.
The best product design courses will feature portfolio-building as part of the curriculum, but don’t stop there. It’s important to go beyond cookie-cutter projects and find opportunities to apply your skills outside of the course.
If you’re struggling to find projects, be creative. Come up with a passion project—a real design problem you’d love to solve for a particular user group—and apply your process from start to finish. This will not only give you a unique portfolio case study; it also shows employers that you’re creative, proactive, and a savvy problem-solver. Even more proof that you’re a great product designer!
Step 4: Hone your networking skills
Networking is an incredibly powerful tool—not just for career-changers but for anyone who wants to learn, grow, and make connections within the industry.
And it’s not just about adding to your contact list. The very act of networking also develops valuable product design skills such as communication, empathy, and rapport-building.
Alongside your product design education, make a conscious effort to hone your networking skills and make valuable industry connections. Try:
- Attending industry events and meetups.
- Reaching out to product designers on LinkedIn and asking to set up an informational interview—an informal chat to learn more about their career path and experience.
- Connecting with fellow learners and aspiring product designers—this is a great way to exchange both knowledge and support.
If networking doesn’t come naturally to you, build it into your study schedule. For example, you might set yourself a weekly networking goal such as “send five personalized connection requests on LinkedIn” or “set up a chat with another product design student”.
Step 5: Be proactive in your job search
After learning essential product design skills, building out your portfolio, and actively growing your network, it’s time to tackle the job market.
Rule number one of any job search: be proactive. Don’t wait for opportunities to come knocking, and don’t limit yourself to the usual platforms like LinkedIn and Indeed. Research products and brands you’re interested in and reach out directly. They may not be hiring right now, but there’s no harm in making the connection and getting on their radar.
Rule number two: personalize! Generic applications are very easy to spot—and they don’t put forward a very compelling case as to why you should get an interview. Aim for quality over quantity; instead of sending out fifty generic applications, apply for just ten roles you’re truly interested in and write a custom cover letter for each.
Rule number three: be consistent. Carve out time in your weekly calendar to focus solely on job applications. No matter how tedious or frustrating the job search might get, you need to stick with it. You’ve got this!
4. Wrap-up and next steps
In this post, we’ve provided a framework for how to become a product designer. The exact journey you take will depend on your existing skills and experience—but ultimately, anyone wanting to break into the field will need to:
- Master practical product design skills
- Demonstrate those skills with a professional portfolio
- Proactively apply for product design roles
With a consistent and methodical approach, you can build your product design career step by step. If you’re ready to get going with professional training, check out the CareerFoundry Product Design Program. If you’d like to learn more about the field, continue with these guides:
- What is the Typical Product Designer Salary?
- 10 of the Best Product Design Courses out There (Free and Paid)
- What Does a Product Designer Do?
5. How to become a product designer: FAQ
1. Do you need a degree to get into product design?
You do not need a degree to become a product designer. Employers want to see that you’ve acquired the necessary knowledge and practical skills to work in the field, as demonstrated through your product design portfolio. Product design courses and bootcamps can provide adequate training—you don’t need a degree.
2. How long does it take to become a product designer?
There’s no one-size-fits-all timeline for becoming a product designer. It can take months or years depending on your approach and your situation. The CareerFoundry Product Design Program takes 5-10 months to complete and aims to get you a job within 6 months of graduating. In that case, you could become a product designer within 6 to 18 months.
3. Is product design the same as UX design?
No, but there can be lots of overlap. UX focuses on the usability of the product, while product design takes a 360 view—considering the usability of the product but also its position on the market and how it aligns with business goals. Learn more: UX Design vs. Product Design.
4. Is product design a stable career?
Yes. With emerging technology and the growing importance of user-centered design, product designers are in increasing demand. Product designer jobs are projected to grow at a rate of 3% from 2018-2028 (Zippia), and the product design and development services market is also growing at a CAGR of 12.5% from 2023-2030.