Product Design vs. Product Design
Updated: Sep 30, 2021
Women & Design // WID Insights
Product design, as a term has changed, evolved, and shifted over the years. Job postings refer to product designers as people who design and develop digital products, rather than traditional physical products. While interviewers may put the two on opposite ends, I chose to put them together instead.
A bespoke bamboo key holder with magnets to hang keys.
A lamp designed to play with shadow and light, using only recyclable materials.
A grand chair that converts to a chaise lounge with ample storage.
A bespoke room divider, leveraging asymmetry to create an 'undivided' divider that acts as a statement piece in your home. Which then went on to sell for $800.
A hand blender that provides ergonomic support for your wrist while blending, a flat-pack side table desk that lights up to be a lightbox as well as a bed tray, a speculative Cadillac presidential car that morphs to align with purpose.
A stationary line minimizing clutter in geometry boxes, a bespoke lighting solution bringing a little bit of nature indoors, an unconventional fan reimagined for the modern home, cutlery for the blind, a smart home remote that makes your home feel a little bit cozier, with spectacular features reimagining the smart home space.
A retail redesign for an everyday luxury goods brand, an app for students, faculty, and parents, a thela that makes the lives of vendors easier, happier and helps them run their business, their way, and a speculative mobile phone which caters to your needs.
A website for an upcoming food blogger, branding for an online gaming platform, lot's of confidential projects, a French-themed patisserie café's brand visualization, one more website for an upcoming platform leveraging the world wide web for better human connectivity, another website for a platform amplifying women's voices in design (this!), more confidential projects.
In a way, my journey into 'product' design was cliché. The 13-year-old me knew this was it. However, over the years product design as I, or we, knew it changed. From building and manufacturing in the workshop to experimenting with pixels within the 1080x1920 constraints - product design somehow evolved to widely refer to digital products rather than physical ones. Recently I came across an article identifying 'product' designer's to someone who is 'is responsible for the user experience of a product, usually taking direction on the business goals and objectives from product management. Scrolling further through the article it mentioned the three key responsibilities of a product designer;
User Journey Maps.
This made me wonder, when asked what I did as a designer, I would always say 'I'm a product designer'. But who is a product designer in the 21st century? When I say I'm a product designer, will they think I design products (physical), or... products (digital)? This makes me wonder, what caused this shift in definition - was it the fast-tracked evolution of the world wide web or simply our growing inter-dependence (or obsession) of technology intertwined with our daily lives?
"I'm an independent designer, as well as a Ui/Ux designer working for social good."
This is how I now position myself, I've realized that while the term product design evolved, so did I. My passions lay at the delicate intersection of physical and digital products; the small grey area that we, as a society, have overlooked. During multiple interviews, I'm always asked "How does being an Independent designer help you as an Ui/Ux designer? To me, the answer's quite simple in reality -
A broader outlook.
The more you learn, the more you know, and the wider your lens' are through which you view the world. Industrial design taught me a lot of things, while the processes and techniques remain similar - the way I look at things changed. I'm always looking to see how it can be designed differently, not just to change the digital interaction, but the general experience - from start to finish. It's given me a holistic outlook that starts from the physical product and ends with the interactions carried out digitally. My canvas, while limited to - is not restricted by the 1080x1920 ratio. That's the intersection of physical and digital products.
While the term product design has evolved over the years, so have I - I transitioned from designing just physical products to designing both physical and digital products and experiences. Though my 12 years studying, adapting, and practicing design may not all be mainstream 'industry standard', the products and experiences I've designed, developed, and manufactured since 2009 have taught me a lot. They've taught me perseverance and discipline, they've taught me tips and tricks and to look beyond the conventional. They've even taught me humility and effort. Above all, they've taught me what it means to be a product designer. To me, it's not about the title, or the definition it's been given by society. Rather, it's the solution created; it's the way I've managed to make something better for someone.
So, while 'product' design as a term may change, evolve, and be re-assessed over the years that came, and the many more to come - one thing will remain constant; A designer's passion to create, solve and invent/re-invent.
Dhruti Soni (a.k.a. @minimalcacti)
We're always open to other perspectives, opinions, and a good chat over some coffee or tea. We'd love to host a conversation with you, head on over to our Discord and get in touch!
With 🧡 Team WID.