I recently found that I was getting Google Hits trying to find out how to become a product designer (Typ-Os Can be great in SEO). After looking online, I saw that there isn’t really much advice out there for Students for what you have to do to become a Product Designer. I will try to summarize what I know in this post.

Step 1: Are you sure you want to design products?

I currently find that most BA Product Design students drop out of the first year of the degree because of the assumption that design is ‘an easy’ degree. I am not sure where this idea comes from, but I think it because you are a “jack of all trades, master of none” that you can get away with being bad at lots of things. This isn’t really true, in reality, you have to know about business, marketing, sales, engineering, material science, Art Design, Mechatronics, Electronics, Human factors, manufacturing, user experience, and a whole load of other stuff.

The definition of Product Designer is always changing, but basically, we are “consumer bonder, we connect with engineers and consumers to create usefully and well thought out products and services.”

Step 2: Go to School

There are many arguments about which school is best for Product Design (in the UK). Most people will save Brunel, Loughborough, Bournemouth, Newcastle (Alumni included Jonathon Ive ) and Middlesex. These are all excellent schools, and in the future, I will hopefully plan to break down what each one has to offer. But at the end of the day, you need to visit, meet the lectures, and make sure that the syllabus is being updated continuously.

Step 3: Read, Visit, Geekout, Sketch, Absorb

The common is conception is that its all about doing stuff, practical stuff, as the literate would say. The truth is that as product design covers such a broad range of subjects you have to read about design, design history, new design movements, design blogs and always stay up to date in this rapidly changing field.

You’ll have to become accustomed with the tools these are some software programs that I know very well.

After Effects
Premier Pro
Alias StudioTools
Excel (Maths and Calculations are very important)
Web Skills (Dreamweaver, HTML, CSS, ASP, PHP, Flash)

You have to remember these are ONLY TOOLS, the first and most powerful tool is your pencil/pen, It is rare that I ever fire up and computer tool, without firing up my pencil/pen first. I would recommend saying that if you can’t think of an idea on paper, you won’t be able to put it into CAD. There is nothing wrong with just being a CAD monkey and tackling problems in 3D space, you can even do 3D product design, that is all about CAD work. But keep in mind, you will be the CAD monkey, and not necessarily working on your own ideas, which may suit you down to the ground.

Step 4: Get experience
Try to get a degree that offers a year’s work experience. I’m currently working at a lighting design firm in Seattle, it is not only a great chance to work and actually get to make real stuff you get an excellent chance to develop your skills for your last year design project. It has given me the opportunity to build my portfolio further, improve my reading and general design thinking.

If you can’t get a placement, try to do as many design competitions as you can, just keep cranking them out. Even if you enter half-finished bits of work, the experience will be great as this sort of rushed product is the bread and butter of most design consultancies.

While you’re a student, I would recommend giving up your part-time job, and just geeking out and learning the above programs. If and when you do need beer money try to get a job that will help with your career or at least give you more skills to expand your design business thinking. Its surprising how much you can learn about consumers working on the blunt end of sales, or about luxury products by working as a silver service waiter.

Step 5: Get connected.
Keep on networking, start small and just merge well with your classmates. You will learn the What?, Why?, When? From your lectures but you will find that the peer group will teach you the ‘how.’

Look at everyone as an opportunity, everyone is a specialist in something. Reflect on your own family, you might think you have a boring network of family & friends. The truth is, this is what the most of the population are like. These are “the consumers,” observe, ask and design for these people. These are the people who ultimately buy your products. Design for the people, the annoying people.

Get a Coroflot profile, and a CarbonMade. These drive a lot of traffic to my site.

Step 6: Get a Job
So know you have finished University, you need to get a job now. I don’t really know what to recommend as I’m still a student. Just remember the best jobs are never advertised, use your network, publish online, do spec work, and only shamelessly self-promote. Good work will always show its self, the job will follow your work.

Step 7: Do your Own Job. Freelance or you own Business
Still no Job, Perhaps you need to work more at the base design skills to becomae a product designer. If so, go back, read, experience, observe and connect with manufacturers to start creating real products, for example, do you ever notice how few “real stuff” is on Coroflot. The is currently a huge problem between being able to design and manufacture.

If all fails and you can’t get a job, I would say just go at it alone. Start working with materials, designs, and companies. Sell yourself and your unique design thinking. Remember your thinking process is unique in the world, and many companies just design bad products because no one has ever challenged them.

Go forth wannabe designer, challenge the giants