Why the increase in demand for product designers?

product designer on tablet

In recent years, highly sophisticated product design is becoming even more essential for both consumer and enterprise tech start-ups alike. As such, the demand for great product designers has never been higher. But why is this? We spoke with Anna Meyer, Senior Recruiter of Design & Data at Robert Walters California, and Ben Domanico, Design Director at Prosperworks, to identify some of the key challenges companies face when recruiting product designers, as well as some key takeaways to help overcome those obstacles.

We are creating a logical demand for more brains that focus on taking amazing technology and purposing it for the needs of the people who use it.

The role

Primarily the role of 'product designer' described someone who quite literally designed the look and feel of a product. Now however, a product designer has evolved into a digital jack of all trades who focuses on how the user interprets the product, and how seamless their experience with it will be.

“The term product design varies between companies and tends to be overgeneralized,” says Anna. “Most companies, however, refer to this role as a “full-stack designer”, meaning they will touch both UX (user experience) and UI (user interface). They will also be able to design the product from wireframes and mockups all the way through to adding the all important finishing visual touches.”

The expansion into enterprise

Traditionally, the role of product designer focused more on consumer driven products and services. However in recent years, enterprise technology companies have started to demand the same level of efficient and fluid design experience as the consumer tech world.

Generally it was not considered important for enterprise companies to have a seamless user interface. However, as companies like Box emerged, it became clear that strong design was impacting the success of enterprise companies as well.

“A good user experience has become a basic expectation today, even for business software. The development of well designed consumer experiences such as the iPhone, Facebook, and Netflix has set a precedent for people through everyday use. It used to be expectanced that the software used at work would suck, but now we understand that it doesn’t actually have to be that way,” says Ben Domanico, Design Director at Prosperworks.

Because of this new trend, B2B products and services have started placing more emphasis on their user interface and experience in order to meet those demands. This has resulted in aesthetically pleasing and intuitive applications and websites for both businesses and consumers.

“Generally it was not considered important for enterprise companies to have a seamless user interface," adds Anna. "However, as companies like Box emerged, it became clear that strong design was impacting the success of enterprise companies as well.”

“Very simply put, whether the user it is a marketing specialist using an automation platform or a teenager using a mobile app, they still have to interact with the product and will evaluate the ease of that experience,” Anna continues.

The competition

76% of consumers say the most important factor in a website’s design is the ease of website navigation.

As one would expect, the fact that enterprise companies are placing more importance on product design has meant that the demand for talented product designers has never been higher.

Another factor for the high demand of product designers is the upsurge in competition for outstanding quality design. Someone with only graphic design or digital marketing experience can no longer get by in this role. “We are creating a logical demand for more brains that focus on taking amazing technology and purposing it for the needs of the people who use it,” says Ben.

In order for both consumer and enterprise products to stand out amongst the competition, the user experience and interface needs to be consistently excellent. In a recent study by HubSpot, “76% of consumers say the most important factor in a website’s design is the ease of website navigation.” To satisfy this increased demand for product designers, there are now more college degrees and boot camps specializing in design than ever before. However, whether these graduates will have the design-eye and product sensibilities necessary to design products and services that please their audience, remains debatable.

The platforms

The final aspect driving the demand for product designers is the prevalence of mobile applications. This means that many start-ups now not only have a product designer for their web product, but also someone specializing solely in mobile product design. So whereas companies previously might have got by with one product designer, now they need two - thus effectively increasing the demand.

“Web-based technology has greatly advanced and matured over the past decade. What we can now do though a browser of mobile device is complex, sometimes both technically and conceptually. Designers build systems, interactions, and visual languages out of complexity," said Ben. "So as software advances, the need to translate that into a tool many people can use grows.”

Anna continues by simply stating that: “With the increase of applications on the market, the higher the demand becomes for designers to design them.”

The search

So how do you find these product design unicorns? First, we encourage hiring managers to look beyond portfolios. Here’s why: “Most hiring managers rely almost exclusively on portfolios as their main resource to identify talent. However, its rare for top designers to be actively looking for work. That is not to say that they will not consider new opportunities, but it does mean that they will often neglect to keep their portfolios up-to-date,” says Anna.

So how can you uncover hidden design talent? “Certainly take a look at portfolios, as well as resumes or LinkedIn profiles. But beyond that, we’d always recommend that you focus on trying to find candidates who have work experience at companies which are known for having strong design culture. Once you have a clear idea of which companies’ design you like and respect, we can work to find out who their top designers are. Once we have, don’t expect them to have up-to-date portfolios. You will need to be flexible and creative in order to get a sense of the work they have done. Ask for PDFs of work samples, or even just download the product they helped create,” suggests Anna. 

Want to learn more about the expansion of the product design role? Find out why product designers are moving from consumer to enterprise.