What Is a Product Designer? Everything You Need to Know 📐

  • Design & Creative
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Product designers help streamline the creation of products. But what is a product designer, and how do they benefit a business?

Every product begins as a design. Design is how we begin to envision the world we want to create, making product designers integral to everyday life.

So, what is a product designer, and how can their skill set impact a business's product development and bottom line? If you’re a client seeking a designer, here’s what you need to know.

What is a product designer? 🏗️

Not to be confused with user experience designers (UX), who focus on designing for a frictionless user experience, a product manager’s work includes the work of a UX designer and, additionally, encompasses all parts of the product related to business and user goals. 

A product designer's job is to create an intuitive experience for users of an app or website. Because their work covers a broader range of responsibilities on top of UX, they are the decision-makers in a team of designers.

Some of a product designer’s primary responsibilities include the following:

  • Development. A product designer works on a project from the ground up, taking it from initial ideas and design elements to the final campaign or product launch. The product designer manages the design process and ensures timely, high-quality deliverables.
  • Research. A significant aspect of product development and project management is market research. Product designers are responsible for knowing what similar products or services already exist in the marketplace. With this information, they can carve out a niche for their unique offering.
  • Prototyping and production. Careful development and research lead to a finished product. Product designers oversee the creation of a prototype product or service, ensure it meets client and stakeholder requirements, and then begin production.

Why should I hire a product designer? 🤝

Product designers, in short, have the skills to empathize with the behavior of their users by analyzing their wants, needs, and habits. With this design thinking approach to user research and interaction design, product designers can define the core problem and ideate an experience that's visually stunning and frictionless.

Product designers are beneficial in pushing your startup, regardless of what stage it's in. Fueled by business goals, visual design, and interface design, they can determine the trajectory of an app or website by ideating, gathering insights, and solving a user's pain points iteratively and efficiently.

A product designer can also help your business:

  • Build prototypes. These simulate a user’s experience and refine it if needed. Prototyping allows a designer to ensure that any significant glitches or gaps are addressed before the final roll-out.
  • Create a design system library. An updated library of branded content keeps your product looking consistent. As a brand or business evolves, so does its product's look and feel. Designers keep products looking fresh and contemporary.
  • Audit UX or UI design information architecture. Audits ensure the user’s experience is as functional and valuable as possible. If some code becomes incompatible with another feature of a site or app, the product designer ensures it is re-coded and cleaned up.

Are freelance product designers worth it? ⚖️

Compared to hiring a product designer for a full-time role, you’ll have a better chance of hiring a freelance product designer in a shorter time frame. With an Independent, you’re hiring them based on their wide range of knowledge and skills. Here’s what they have to offer:

  1. Flexibility. Hiring an independent product designer will allow you to test the waters to see what works. If all works out, you can both decide if you want this partnership for a longer term.
  2. Strategy. Freelance product designers may have worked with numerous clients, potentially even in your field. They bring marketing and product design knowledge that ensures your unique offering finds its audience.
  3. Expert’s perspective. When hiring an independent product designer, you’re hiring an expert who has previously gathered insights by working on similar projects and problems and understands the importance of product functionality and usability.
  4. Active listening. A product designer's real challenge is taking an initial concept provided by a client and turning it into a marketable, reliable product or service. To do this, designers must be expert listeners to understand how you want your product to stand out from its competitors.
  5. Lighter workload for your existing design team. Designers notoriously have a lot on their plates. Freelancers are problem solvers who help ease the workload for your team to focus on other projects.
  6. Project management. Product designers have excellent time management skills and understand the importance of meeting deadlines and ensuring deliverables are rolled out when clients expect them. The designer keeps the whole team focused on what is necessary for timely completion.

Even if you already have an existing product and team, if given the right tools, independent product designers can speed up your product development and work as efficiently as a full-time hire.

What’s the difference between UX and product design? 🆚

It’s a common misconception that product designers are UX designers since they have similar skills under the umbrella of product design. They both conduct and base new features with the user’s needs in mind and have similar processes for using wireframing design tools.

But the most significant difference between UX and product design is their end goals and responsibilities. While UX designers create experiences that are most beneficial to the user, the experiences that product designers create are meant to align with long-term business goals while utilizing both UX and user interface design (UI).

How do I start working with a freelance product designer? 🔍

Product designers showcase their work in different ways — whether through a case study or a linked website, like Contra’s Portfolios. Here’s how you can start working with an Independent:

  1. Surf the web. One thing we know for sure is that product designers are constantly referencing other products and taking note of what makes a usable, delightful experience. Make it a habit to browse the web, mobile apps, or Independents to note what you like and what you dislike to use in your project brief to help provide direction for your next freelance partner.
  2. Share your opportunity. You never know where you’ll meet your next collaborator. Share your opportunity with your community, or post your opportunity at contra.com/hire.
  3. Set clear expectations and deadlines. Defining your expectations from the very start gives an independent product designer a better chance to flourish in their role. Fill them in on what you’re looking for, and give them all the resources to help them get there on time (ex., design systems, design files/flows, user research, and any relevant analytics).
  4. Pair them with the rest of your team. Product designers work best collaboratively with their cross-functional partners. Pair them with design, engineering, and growth marketing leads so they can make the connection between your business, technical, and user goals.
  5. Pay them what they’re worth. The Independent will propose a rate (either hourly or per project). If you can’t honor their rate, prioritize the proposed deliverables so they can get paid what they’re worth.
  6. Keep your line open and refer. Just because the project is over doesn’t mean all ties are cut! Keep your DMs open and the Independent in mind, and refer them for future projects. Independents often work with a series of collaborators, so don’t be afraid to ask them for recommendations if they’re unavailable to collaborate. You never know who they might refer you to.

Start your journey with Contra 🛤️

Contra’s 100% commission-free platform is the perfect place for independent product designers to find their next client. Contra puts Independents first, ensuring they are paid what they're worth and provided with all the tools and support necessary for an independent career.

Contra also helps clients approach Independents, providing tools to make the process of hiring and working with a new freelancer effortless and profitable. Check out our top Independents to find a perfect match.

Five Tools for Product Designers by The Contrarian

In need of some new Design tools? Contra’s Product Designers came together to curate five of our non-negotiable tools.
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