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What is digital product design?

If you’re looking for a tech career with plenty of flexibility and creativity, digital product design could be a good fit for you.

Digital product designers are in hot demand these days. In fact, SEEK is projecting over 19% growth in the role over the next few years. But there’s still a lot of confusion in the industry about what a product designer actually does. Is it the same thing as UX design? (Sort of. Not really.) What are the day-to-day responsibilities? What industries do digital product designers work in? And how can I break into the field? If you’re looking for a tech career with plenty of flexibility, creativity and upside, digital product design could be a good fit.


So what is digital product design? Let’s dive in and find out.


What is digital product design?


Digital product designers are often known simply as product designers these days. They’re not the same thing as industrial designers, who engineer and design physical products, or UX designers, who specialise in usability and information architecture. Digital product design is a much broader, transdisciplinary field. It’s basically someone who’s involved in every stage of the creation of a digital product. Product designers spot gaps in the market, define problems, and then work across business, UX, UI, sound design and coding to bring a digital product to life. It might be an app, or a game, or a new browser function. Anything that solves user problems through digital design.


What’s an average day like for a product designer?


This is one of the perks of digital product design. There is no ‘ordinary’ day. Because the position spans several disciplines, each day will look slightly different. You might be researching features for a new product, looking at competitors, doing SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), sketching out designs or wireframes, coding a user interface, chatting with business teams to gather insights, or running analytics to prove your theories. You can think of product designers as the conductors of the digital orchestra. It’s their job to pull lots of different roles together, and deliver products on time, and under budget.


Here are just a few of the responsibilities of a product designer:


  • Identify design opportunities within their market
  • Analyse competitor designs
  • Ideate new and innovative digital products
  • Conduct market research to test ideas
  • Manage personnel to develop and build a product
  • Conduct quality assurance testing


Is product design the same thing as UX?


Sort of, but not really. UX is technically part of digital product design. It’s one arrow in your quiver – one of the skills you’ll need to be a good product designer. Good products require good user experience, but product design is a much broader field than just useability, accessibility, information architecture and wireframing. It’s the end-to-end design, from prototyping and user research, through production and rollout, all the way to analytics, iteration and strategy. It involves business, strategy, UX, UI, IxD (Interaction Design), copywriting, marketing, sound design and analytics.


Do I need to learn ‘design thinking’?


It definitely couldn’t hurt! But it’s also not a perquisite for being a product designer. Most product design courses these days will incorporate design thinking principles, so you’ll probably have a good foundational understanding anyway (and there are always more in-depth courses available). Design thinking is useful for product design, because it’s a methodology that uses human-centered design to drive innovation. In other words, good product design always rests with the end user, the end experience, and the end result. Not just the process of development. Product designers are always asking: What problem am I solving? Who has this problem? What do we want to achieve here?


Job prospects for digital product designers


Product design is a boom industry. Thanks to its multi-disciplinary skillset, it’s arguably one of the most in-demand tech skills in the market right now. According to SEEK, salaries for product designers in Australia benchmark around $115,000, with the potential to earn more as you move up the ranks. Jobs are accelerating too, with 19.4% growth expected over the next five years. To start your career in product design, you should complete either a Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma. Skills like design thinking, UX and UI design, and Python coding will also hold you in good stead (but they’re by no means mandatory requirements).


Which industries need product designers?


To be frank, nearly all of them. Travel companies who want to improve their booking experience, app developers working on smart watch fitness programs, game design companies, finance organisations, or music streaming services looking to innovate and push their interface. Everyone can use skilled product designers. Most of the jobs you’ll find are obviously in the tech industry, working for app developers, game developers and software companies, but a lot of big organisations are looking to recruit product designers in-house these days, so there’s plenty of room to move around.


If you’d like to kick-start your product design career, check out RMIT’s two online qualifications: the Graduate Certificate in Digital Product Design and Graduate Diploma in Digital Product Design