What skills do employers look for when hiring a product designer? Here are the top 12 skills you’ll need to land a product design role.
Product designers are tasked with creating products that solve a specific end-user problem. They consider the product’s look and functionality, designing with user needs, market trends, business objectives, and technical constraints in mind.
It’s a broad and varied role that requires an equally broad skill set. The best product designers possess a mix of technical design skills, business know-how, and excellent interpersonal skills.
So what are the most important skills to master if you want a career in product design?
We’ve rounded them up in this guide. Take a look to see what skills you’ve already got and what ones you’ll need to add to your repertoire.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What are product designer skills?
- The 12 skills to become a product designer
- How to improve your product design skills
- Next steps
What are product designer skills?
The role of a product designer is extremely varied. It spans research, strategy, and technical design work—and it’s cross-functional and collaborative. As such, it calls for a broad and diverse skill set.
Product designer skills enable you to work as a product designer and successfully implement the product design process. They comprise soft interpersonal skills, technical expertise, knowledge of product and UX design principles and techniques, and proficiency in industry tools.
Many product design skills are transferable and can be acquired through unrelated career paths and life experience. Others are highly specific and require dedicated training. Either way, all product design skills can be learned and improved—and we’ll show you how towards the end of this guide.
The 12 skills to become a product designer
The exact skills required of a product designer will vary depending on the nature of the product (think digital vs. physical products) and the industry they’re working in, but there are certain core skills that all product designers must demonstrate.
We’ve scoured real job postings on sites like Indeed and LinkedIn to identify the top skills employers look for when hiring a product designer. Here they are, in no particular order.
1. UX design skills
UX design and product design are not the same thing, but there is plenty of overlap between the two—and product designers must be well-versed in UX design principles and methodologies.
Why? Well, the goal of product design is to solve a specific end-user problem and provide a solution that’s accessible, user-friendly, and generally enjoyable to use. And that requires deep knowledge of UX!
Some of the most important UX design skills for product designers include:
- Knowledge of user-centered design
- Designing for inclusivity and accessibility
- Information architecture
- Design thinking—both a mindset and a methodology used to solve complex problems in a highly user-centric way
2. UI design skills
If you’re designing a digital product, you need to think about how the product interface will look and function. This requires fundamental UI design skills.
The interface is the user-facing layer of the product—think mobile app screens or website pages. User interface (UI) design considers the visual and interactive properties of the interface, from color, typography, layout, and spacing, through to how the system responds when a user clicks on or interacts with different elements.
For product designers working in the digital space, knowledge of the following UI design concepts is essential:
- Interaction design principles
- Color, typography, and icon design
- Layout and visual hierarchy
- Responsive design (designing for different devices and screen sizes)
3. Wireframing and prototyping
The product design process is highly iterative. The most successful products go through many different versions and rounds of testing before they’re developed and launched.
In the early design stages, the product designer will create basic product wireframes. A wireframe is a bare-bones blueprint that maps out the structure and layout of the product. It shows where different elements will sit on the screen or page without actually showing what those elements will look like in terms of style, shape, and color.
Later on, the product will evolve into high-fidelity prototypes. Prototypes provide a life-like model or replica of how the finished product will look and function. This allows for user and usability testing to identify any issues before the product is developed.
Product designers must be able to create wireframes and prototypes of varying fidelity and be proficient in the relevant tools (more on those later!).
In this video, design professional Dee Scarano introduces the basics of creating a wireframe:
4. HTML basics
One of the most frequently asked questions among aspiring product designers is: Do product designers need to code?
The short answer is no—product designers aren’t typically involved in the actual development of the product. Once the product is ready to be built, the product designer will hand over all the necessary designs, documentation, and technical specs to an expert developer.
However, some product design roles may require at least foundational knowledge of HTML. HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language, and it’s a basic programming language used for creating websites.
Fundamental HTML skills may come in useful when creating product prototypes—and they’ll certainly make it easier to collaborate with developers. And, while it’s not strictly necessary for your day-to-day work as a product designer, most product design courses will include HTML basics as part of the curriculum.
It’s impossible to create effective products without extensive research. Product designers conduct research to understand their end users, the target market, and the business goals the product should serve.
As such, you’ll find that research skills are high on every hiring manager’s list when looking for a product designer.
The most important research skills for product designers are:
- User research skills, including knowledge of different research methods such as user interviews, user surveys, and usability testing
- The ability to analyze market trends, run competitor analyses, and identify gaps and opportunities
- Internal research, such as conducting stakeholder interviews and organizing design reviews
- Data analysis and interpretation: turning research findings into actionable insights
The product designer role is highly collaborative, requiring exceptional communication at every turn. Whether it’s recruiting participants for a user research study, presenting your findings and ideas to internal stakeholders, or handing over your designs to developers—clear and effective communication is necessary.
Essential communication skills include:
- The ability to clearly articulate and explain your ideas
- Excellent presentation skills
- Active listening—the ability to understand different perspectives and ask open-ended questions
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Cross-functional collaboration—the ability to build a rapport and collaborate with stakeholders from different departments
Product design is ultimately a problem-solving endeavor. The most successful products address a specific challenge or problem for a particular target group.
Airbnb, for example, provides a solution to the challenge of finding unique and affordable alternatives to hotels. Online dating app Hinge seeks to address some of the issues inherent to modern-day dating, such as swiping fatigue, superficial matches, ghosting, and safety concerns.
Unsurprisingly, the best product designers are excellent problem-solvers. If you want to excel in the field, you’ll need to demonstrate key problem-solving skills such as:
- Critical thinking: the ability to analyze a problem from different angles
- Empathy: stepping into your end users’ proverbial shoes and understanding their experience of the problem or challenge you’re designing to solve
- Decision-making: the ability to weigh up different options and decide on the most suitable approach or course of action
When researching product designer job ads, we repeatedly encountered phrases like: “You can pivot on the fly. Crypto is constantly evolving, so our priorities do, too. What you worked on last month may not be what you worked on today, and that excites you.”
Or: “You must be flexible and comfortable with ambiguity and change during a project,” and “The ideal candidate has the ability to work in a fast-paced, dynamic environment and adapt to changing priorities.”
Adaptability is a must-have skill for product designers—and for good reason. Working in product design can be incredibly dynamic, and the pathway to a successful product is rarely smooth. You’ll face constraints, unforeseen hurdles, and ever-evolving priorities. If you’re able to be flexible, adaptable, and think fast, you’ll thrive as a product designer.
9. Attention to detail
The tiniest of details can make all the difference when it comes to designing a great product. As such, product designers must exercise meticulous attention to detail throughout their work.
Strong attention to detail is crucial for the following:
- Accurately grasping the requirements of the product
- Providing a consistent, seamless, and error-free user experience
- Ensuring that every aspect of the product is accessible and inclusive
- Ensuring that the product aligns with the brand identity
- Maintaining clear and accurate product documentation
Approaching your work with focus, precision, and thoroughness will help you hone your attention to detail and ensure you’re delivering excellent quality.
10. Business acumen
A product designer’s primary goal is to create usable, user-friendly products that serve a particular target audience. While user-centricity takes center stage, product designers must also be aware of the strategic and business context surrounding the product.
Working in product design, therefore, requires strong business acumen. Product designers must understand the goals that the company is trying to achieve—for example, driving more revenue or gaining more life-long customers—and how the product plays into those objectives.
At the same time, they must be aware of what resources are available to build the product—such as budget and in-house expertise—in order to plan accordingly. It’s also essential that they’re able to communicate with stakeholders from different departments, have a strong understanding of the market they’re competing in, and that they’re proficient in key product metrics and performance indicators.
For all their technical expertise and business smarts, product designers also need to be creative.
Creativity is especially useful during the ideation phase of the product design process. This is where designers try to come up with as many different ideas as possible, with an emphasis on thinking outside the box and finding innovative solutions.
Creativity also helps with problem-solving—another key aspect of the product designer’s role. If you can think beyond the obvious and find creative ways to tackle complex challenges, you’ll be well-equipped to handle almost any design hurdle.
Want to enhance your creativity? Approach new tasks and challenges with an open mind, be curious and ask questions, continuously seek fresh sources of inspiration, and get into the habit of capturing your ideas—either visually or in note form—as and when they arise.
12. Proficiency in industry tools and software
Last but not least, product designers must be proficient in various industry-standard tools and software. Depending on the role, hiring managers will look for knowledge of the following product design tools:
- Research tools such as SurveyMonkey, Optimal Workshop, and Lookback
- Ideation tools such as Mural, Miro, and InVision Freehand
- Wireframing, prototyping, and design tools such as InVision, Sketch, and Figma
- Product testing and analytics tools such as Maze and Hotjar
- Project management and collaboration tools such as Asana, Notion, and Zeplin
- CAD tools and 3D modeling software (if you’re working on physical products)
Check out our full guide on the best product design tools.
How to improve your product design skills
There are several steps you can take to develop and improve your product design skills:
1. Hone your soft skills in daily life and work
Product designers rely on a broad range of soft skills such as communication, adaptability, and problem-solving.
And the great thing about soft skills? They’re highly transferable—you can learn and practice them anywhere.
Seek opportunities in your current role or in general daily life to hone your soft skills. Offer to give a presentation or lead a cross-team meeting. Practice giving feedback, and pay attention to how you receive feedback from others. Next time you’re faced with a complex challenge, see it as an opportunity to develop your problem-solving skills.
Once you start looking, you’ll find countless contexts and scenarios that call for excellent soft skills. Be proactive and intentional in your approach. You’ll find that both your soft skills and your confidence quickly improve.
2. Pursue professional training
In addition to soft skills, product designers also require job-specific expertise and design know-how. If you’re learning these skills from scratch, consider professional courses and training.
If you want to learn the whole gamut of product design skills and tools, consider a dedicated product design course. We’ve compared the best product design courses in this post—check them out to see what options are available to suit your schedule, budget, and learning goals.
For a free short course, dive right in with our free product design short course.
3. Apply your burgeoning skills to product design projects
As your product design skill set grows, apply your newfound skills to practical projects. This will help you bring everything together and see first-hand where different skills come into play throughout the product design process.
Not only that. Applying your skills in a practical context will ensure that they stick—and provide additional learning opportunities as you encounter unforeseen challenges. Of course, working on practical projects is also crucial for developing your product design portfolio, which you’ll need if you want to demonstrate your skills to hiring managers.
Speaking of which, check out these awesome product design portfolios for inspiration.
You’re now familiar with the most important product designer skills. First, there are the technical skills—like UX and UI design, wireframing and prototyping, HTML basics, and proficiency in industry tools. Then there are the essential soft skills—research, communication, problem-solving, creativity, attention to detail, adaptability, and a good dose of business acumen.
So what next?
Start by identifying your skills gaps. Go back through our list of product designer skills, and browse product designer job ads to identify any additional requirements. Sites like Indeed and LinkedIn are a great place to start. Note down all the key skills you’re missing, dividing them into soft and hard skills.
These are your skills gaps—and that’s where you’ll need to focus your attention if you want to get hired as a product designer.
Next, come up with a plan of action. How will you close your skills gaps? Can you find opportunities to develop soft skills in your current role? What courses can you take to learn the necessary technical skills?
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