An old joke among designers is that we've had to keep changing our titles to accommodate industry trends as a means to better articulate what we do and the value we add: Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Visual Designer, UI Designer, UX Designer, UX/UI Designer, etc.
Now, the term Product Designer is being adopted within the digital software services sphere and I for one am embracing it. Product Design is an appropriate label for the work I do, however I'm not sure their is alignment across its meaning industry-wide.
Is Product Design just another re-name?
No. Broad digital transformation led to a change in how design and designers were adopted by organisations, requiring different definitions for roles as industries matured. However, "Product Design" is not just the next re-label for a "Graphic User Interface Designer" as it requires a paradigm shift in the way design is considered in a broader product context.
Product Design is not just about use
However you want to phrase interface design, it fundamentally comes down to creating experiences around product "use", that is, for those people who have already adopted a product either by choice (or because it's the one their company forces them to use).
Therefore, their journey starts at, "a user visits" or "a user logs on" for example. The design work from this point on is an extremely important part of Product Design. It's the stage in the customer journey where a product or service is used; it can entice, delight and lead to retention or advocacy if effective. However, it can do none of those things if the product or service doesn't address a need in the first place.
Product Design is therefore by definition a broader concept than user experience. Enabling design processes for successful products or services requires that Product Designers can (and want to) engage in broader conversations than those of solution experience delivery. Even if it makes them or others uncomfortable. This includes understanding and inputting into;
- Strategic goals and opportunities.
- Drivers for business objectives and outcomes.
- Visualising the market through customer archetype(s).
- Rationale for the tactics being deployed and through what channels.
Once this is done we can get into solution definition and validation, with an adequate understanding of the signals, re-assurances and features required to properly consider a prospects journey to becoming a customer and how to facilitate their needs along the way and beyond, through product use and advocacy.
Whether we like it or not, designers must consider the business objectives as much as the needs of the "user" if they are to be effective Product Designers.
Why does the label matter?
The label (and its definition) matters because it's easy to fall into a state of output over outcome. That is to focus on adding things to address use-cases rather than problems. This is especially true in mature markets or organisations, where product or service improvements become isolated from strategy. Designers must be empowered to, and confident enough to ask,
"What problem are we solving, really? And are software features actually the solution?"
In essence, a Product Designer should not lean exclusively on how a product might be used, but why it should even exist. That is the difference between the user experience design of a product, and the design of a Product.