How do you become a product designer in South Africa?

I recently did a podcast on “How to become a Product Designer in South Africa”. This has been something I have been meaning to talk about on the podcast and the blog for a while now. With all the UX/UI job descriptions I see on a daily basis and how they are just glorified graphic design jobs, the question is how do you make out the difference between UX/UI and Product design roles.

I started positioning myself as a product designer and digital strategist about 2 years ago, when the UX/UI role could just not justify the work that I do and the value I brought to my clients through prototyping and doing user validation.

Today I help my clients solve problems, understand their users and design solutions that resonate with their customers and improve business value and revenue. As much as the end product is an online interface with the business or an app or some sort of digital product, I still feel that UX/UI is not the right term to explain the role I play within the teams I work with.

I see UX design roles that require the designer to have experience in responsive design and mobile apps and I think to myself 🤔??? what does that have to do with UX design or what UX designers are supposed to do 🤦‍♀️. Yes UX/UI designers have expected churn out screens and user flows to archive a business requirement and does not necessarily focus on what the user is trying to archive.

So what is a Product designer? If you prefer, you can listen to the podcast I recently did below, and if you enjoy it please subscribe so that you can get updates on my weekly episodes.

So how do you become a Product designer in South Africa? There are a few things I think every UX designer needs to have to make the transition to product design and be a successful digital product designer in South Africa and any part of the world.

I wanted to focus on the South African context because we are usually behind in adopting design trends, technology and ways of working like design thinking and agile. However, I think the information in this post can be applied anywhere in the world and with anyone who wants to become a product designer.

What is a product designer?

I recently did a post on “How to become a UX designer in South Africa” , I suggest that you read that too if you are a UI designer looking to get into UX design. If you are already a UX designer or a UX/UI designer then this post will explore a bit on my perspective around getting into a product designer role.

So what is a digital product? The difference between a digital product and a website is that a product has functions people use as a service or to interact with the business. A website is simply information on what a business does and a bit of a sales pitch and a call to action. A product on the other end is a service a business provides such as Netflix, Uber or Gmail.

These digital products can be based on any technology, web, app, desktop app, progressive web app e.t.c but they all seek to answer business and customer needs. As a product designer or service designer, you need to be able to understand the users on every part of the journey and not only the customer but the people who work in the business, servicing the customer behind the digital product like the people who work at Netflix that deal with clients and add content to the platform.

Product designers help to define and meet business objectives by understanding how the business works, what their goals are and how to translate that into a product that is simple enough that people would actually want to use.

Skills you have to learn.

While it is hard to get a formal education in UX design already especially in South Africa. You will find that most product designers come from a design background and do not really have any formal education in product design. I have done a lot of product design work, working as a UX designer and even earlier on in my life when I thought I was doing web design but something far more complex.

Understanding business terms, how to communicate with stakeholders and teams will help you understand the objectives of the business and how to execute what is needed. There are plenty of skills-building based courses around UX, Service Design and CX that can help you understand the methodologies used by product designers but communication and facilitating conversations and getting decisions made are some of the hardest things to do and hard to get training on. This is something that I have learned to do overtime and is starting to be a focus growth area that I think every product designer should be focusing on to help teams build more meaningful products.

Think beyond the user, think about the product.

UX is very customer or user-focused. product design is about understanding what makes the product works, who updates it and how they maintain it, what are all the touchpoints and humans that are part of the process and not just the user. who are the suppliers and how does that affect the delivery of an online shopping product.

A product designer needs to have a deep understanding of how things work, all the people that make it work and how to optimize the process and each touchpoint to improve the user experience and meet business goals.

Play in the right space this is not just UX.

Instead of focussing on creating a portfolio on dribble with beautiful meaningless UI’s, focus on creating a case study portfolio that shows how you came from idea to the product that you are presenting. it is important for people looking at your work to understand how you solve problems more than how the final product looks. It is more important for product designers to show the journey and not just the destination they are going to. Show how you think and no just how good you are at creating pretty pictures.

Connect with the right people in your industry.

The product design community in South Africa is very small, connect with other product designers online and learn how they do what they do. Attend meet-ups that focus on design thinking and problem-solving.