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A Product Designer's Path: Career Lessons I Wish I Knew Soonerby@paveltahil
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A Product Designer's Path: Career Lessons I Wish I Knew Sooner

by Pavel TahilJune 22nd, 2023
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To advance in your career, it's crucial to have a clear understanding of your role. Each title comes with specific responsibilities and compensation packages. Be prepared to iterate and understand that it is an integral part of the design process. When criticized, treat it as constructive feedback rather than a personal attack.

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Understand Your Worth

As a product designer, it is essential to understand your professional worth, including your skills and abilities and how they translate into economic value in the job market. To determine a reasonable salary range for your position, research compensation data using tools such as Payscale or Glassdoor, which can show you what other product designers with similar experience are earning in your area. This information can be helpful in salary negotiations, allowing you to demonstrate that your expectations are reasonable based on market averages. It may not be the best fit if a company cannot meet your salary expectations. Recognizing your worth also means knowing when to leave opportunities that undervalue your skills and experience.

Define Your Role Clearly

To advance in your career, it's crucial to have a clear understanding of your role. Whether you're a UX Designer, Product Designer, or Senior Product Designer, each title comes with specific responsibilities and compensation packages. Ensuring that your job title accurately reflects the work you'll be doing is essential to avoid issues such as being asked to do tasks outside your scope of work or being passed over for promotions due to mismatched job responsibilities.


It's important to carefully review your job title and associated responsibilities as outlined in your contract. If you notice any discrepancies between what was discussed during interviews and what's written in your contract, don't hesitate to ask for clarification or renegotiation. Being clear about your role will prevent misunderstandings, ensure fair compensation, and keep your career on track.

Prioritize Career Development

As a product designer, keeping up with the ever-changing field by continuously updating your skills is crucial. Regardless of how much experience you have, there's always something new to learn that can help advance your career. To achieve professional growth, it's essential to have a mindset of continuous learning and development. You can expand your knowledge and skills by attending workshops, taking online courses, or even pursuing further formal education. Keep an eye out for opportunities that can help you improve and grow.


However, avoid falling into the trap of thinking that you need to learn everything. Instead, prioritize learning new skills most relevant to your career goals or that address a specific gap in your current skill set. Additionally, update your portfolio as you gain new skills and complete new projects. This will ensure that your portfolio remains up-to-date and accurately showcases your abilities.

Learn to Communicate Effectively

As a product designer, communication plays a significant role in your success. You have to act as a bridge between different groups of people, including engineers, marketers, clients, and end-users. To do this effectively, you must listen attentively to each group and comprehend their requirements, preferences, and limitations. By doing so, you can create products that fulfil user demands and can be built within the specified constraints.


Furthermore, it's crucial to master the art of presenting your ideas. You'll frequently have to explain your design choices to your team or stakeholders. Therefore, it's essential to express your thought process clearly and persuasively to help others recognize the value of your work.

Lastly, written communication is also essential. Whether it's a design brief, email to a colleague, or project update to a client, being able to articulate your ideas professionally and coherently is a vital skill for every product designer.

Cultivate Resilience

The journey of designing a product can be challenging and filled with obstacles. It is common to face criticism, rejection, and even failure after investing significant time in a project. However, building resilience is crucial to succeed in such an environment. Rather than viewing these challenges as roadblocks, taking them as stepping stones towards improvement and innovation is essential.


Be prepared to iterate and understand that it is an integral part of the design process. When criticized, treat it as constructive feedback rather than a personal attack. It is an opportunity to learn and refine your work. Do not be discouraged by failure; embrace it as a chance to learn and grow.


It is equally important to prioritize your mental health throughout the process. Take care of yourself, set aside time for relaxation, and engage in activities you enjoy outside of work. Remember, it is okay to ask for help when needed. Building resilience is not about going it alone but rather knowing when to push forward and when to seek support.

Always Advocate for the User

As a product designer, your primary role is to advocate for the user. It's easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of product design or in meeting business goals and forget that, ultimately, your work should be aimed at providing value to the user. Always keep the user's needs, preferences, and behaviours at the forefront of your design process.


It's crucial to establish a solid user-centred design process. This involves researching and understanding the user, designing with the user's needs in mind, and testing your designs with actual users. Empathy plays a vital role in this process. Putting yourself in the user's shoes can help you design solutions that solve their problems and provide a pleasant and intuitive experience.


However, advocating for the user means paying attention to business goals. In fact, by aligning user needs with business objectives, you can design products that provide value to both the user and the business.

Embrace Collaboration

Product design is not a solitary endeavour; it involves working closely with different teams, including engineers, marketers, business analysts, and other designers. Working effectively within these cross-functional teams is critical to being a successful product designer.


Build strong relationships with your colleagues, learn about their roles and responsibilities, and understand their perspectives. This collaborative approach enriches your understanding of the product and leads to more comprehensive and well-rounded design solutions.

Furthermore, collaboration extends beyond your organization. Engage with the broader design community. Attend meetups, participate in forums, share your work and seek feedback. By learning from and contributing to the community, you can stay abreast of the latest trends, improve your skills, and enhance your professional network.

Document Your Work

As a product designer, keeping a comprehensive work record is essential. This includes initial sketches, user research findings, iterations, and the final design. Documentation is a reference for future projects and helps you explain your design process and decisions to stakeholders.


Detailed documentation can also be instrumental during performance reviews. It is tangible proof of your contributions and can help demonstrate your growth over time. Additionally, keeping a record of your work can help you create a compelling portfolio, which is critical when seeking new job opportunities.

Be Proactive About Your Growth

Regular self-reflection is an integral part of proactive growth. Take the time to review your work, identify areas of improvement, and find ways to enhance your skills. Ask for feedback from peers and superiors, and use it constructively to drive your development. Don't be shy to showcase your accomplishments and make your aspirations known to your superiors – remember, if you don't advocate for your career progression, it's likely no one else will.


Furthermore, explore leadership opportunities, even if you're not in a managerial role. Mentorship, for example, can be an excellent way to develop leadership skills. Whether you're mentoring a junior designer or leading a small project, these experiences can showcase your ability to lead and add significant value to your professional growth.

Invest in Long-term Financial Planning

As a product designer, you might be more inclined to focus on your creative work than your financial future. However, it's essential to consider the financial aspect of your career early on. Start thinking about your long-term financial goals and how you can achieve them. This could include retirement savings, investing in stocks or real estate, or generating a passive income stream.

Make financial literacy a priority. Learn about different investment options, understand taxes, and educate yourself about retirement plans. Remember, the earlier you start planning, the more time your money has to grow. Even if you start with small investments, these can compound over time, leading to significant returns in the future.

Lastly, consider seeking advice from a financial advisor. They can guide your situation and help you make informed financial decisions. Remember, your financial health is just as important as your career progression.

Wrapping Up

Each of these points contributes to building a successful and satisfying career in product design. They involve understanding your worth, defining your role, investing in continuous learning, honing your communication skills, cultivating resilience, advocating for the user, embracing collaboration, documenting your work, being proactive about your growth, and investing in long-term financial planning. Navigating your career path as a product designer involves balancing all these aspects. While it may seem challenging, embracing these lessons can pave the way for a rewarding career in product design.


Disclaimer: AI was used to write portions of this article.