For those of you looking to transition from graphic design to product design, I’d like to start out by saying that there is no precise formula or recipe. However, as I myself made that transition, it really helped me to read other people's stories. So, I have decided to share mine via this article.
I strongly believe that any graphic designer that wants to make the transition to product design can do it as long as they have the proper focus, guidance, and tools. My hope and the aim of this article is to help you get on your way.
To do this, I am going to share with you what I believe to be the 4 key steps that a graphic designer must take if they wish to successfully transition into product design.
I will also provide you with plenty of useful resources, articles, and learning materials. If you would like to skip to this part, check out our handy table a little further down.
OK, let's get you up to speed quickly.
How to transition from Graphic to Product Design
It might sound simple, but first you need to learn about stuff you don’t know. If you are a graphic designer you probably have spent a lot of time on visual design but not so much on research and data-driven decisions.
If you currently focus mainly on printed design, start by doing some investigation on digital design. You don’t have to start by making an app or a website but you should at least become familiar with digital colors, units, and interactions.
Or, you may be a graphic designer with a lot of research and digital experience. In that case, you need to learn more about UX (user experience) and UI (user interface), in particular their differences and purposes.
You also need to understand the product design role and how to work within the context of software development. You can learn this in a lot of different ways, and I’ll divide them in 6 categories:
Articles can being easily consumed and while one article won’t make you an expert, if you make it part of your weekly routine you can get a lot of specialized insights by going through some blogs and checking out articles that peak your interest.
Here are some sites to get started:
Books are a great way to learn as they don’t give just give specialized concepts, they can also share a lot of the little details that go into being a product designer.
An absolute must for transitioning to product design, I’d recommend starting with The Design Of Everyday Things, which will give you a good understanding of human-centered design.
Through platforms you can get the type of exercises that will help you get better with practice. Uxcel is a good place to start but you can also check out the following sites:
Courses are super useful if you have the time for them. I live in Argentina and I used a local option that was remote and that had a project as a main outcome. But there are lots of courses out there, you just need to find whatever suits your needs.
I’d prioritize choosing a course with a project as it will probably be your best tool for your interviews. Here are some courses I recommend:
There are also free resources you can check out before looking at other options:
This probably isn’t new to you, but looking at digital products will really help you to incorporate the visuals and this will also help you with design decisions.
I’d suggest adding a couple of UI Instagram accounts to your feed if you use Instagram regularly.
Another great option is having a mentor. In my case, I had a friend guide me in my early steps who I could talk with about a lot of my questions and doubts. She guided me through the basics and helped me understand how to improve my skills. A mentor is an invaluable asset in your learning path.
If you don’t know any product designer you can use sites like ADPList to find someone. On this platform, you can check out two people that helped me a lot with this transition: Belen Iglesias (Product Design Manager), and Maximo Gomez (Design Leader). Both of whom are excellent choices to start you on your path.
I’ll leave this table here for those of you who don't love reading paragraphs (like myself).
Product Design Learning Resources:
Nielsen Norman Group
Invision's Design Better
The Design Of Everyday Things
Don't Make Me Think
Career Foundry’s Become a UX designer
Invision’s Design Talk
Interaction Design Foundation.
Product Design Learning resources
I can tell you something that worked very well for me. When starting out, I searched for a course with a general overview that also had a full project as an outcome goal.
If your visuals are good, these courses will guide you through the process of new stuff you need to incorporate.
It will be a wild drive and you will only get a good project out of it if you put the time in. You’ll learn a lot and the outcome will be something you can use for your interview.
Secondly, you have to do stuff i.e. create. A full project gives you a great opportunity to showcase your whole process. This is something that interviewers will probably be interested in. But you can also just do small exercises to improve your skills.
These exercises can be as simple as redesigning two screens of a known app. What I would recommend here is not just focusing on UI.
If you do a small exercise, try to make it about improving a small feature. Conduct some research, interview some friends to see what they don’t like about something, and then take a jab at it in a small project.
Dribble flair will get attention and good visuals are a strong component to have in your skillset. However, if you can have both strong visuals and demonstrate your product and usability understanding in your portfolio, that will get you even further.
You’ll also need to learn new tools. I’d recommend using Figma for your main design tool. It's free to use.
If you like illustrator you won’t have a hard time making the transition, and you’ll love autolayout. Trust me.
If you go with the full project approach, make sure to at least show these aspects of it:
- Overview: Crucial Context
- Problem Statement: Why was the project needed?
- Users And audience: Who was the user? (Personas)
- Roles and Responsibilities: What did you do?
- Scope and constraints: Limiting factors (if applicable)
- Process and what you did: Step by step on research and design decisions.
- Outcomes & Results:
- What happened
- Goals achieved?
- Lessons learned (this will probably be the best your highlights in a non-real project context)
I’d put as much effort as possible in your project’s presentation. Look for examples in product design portfolios and see how they are structured, and what kind of research and insights they share.
Then share your content and try to have at least one full project. You can also use your previous graphic design work but try to look for things in your projects that show your potential as a product designer (impact, data driven decision, digital visuals and collaboration).
This step is super important. You have your knowledge and you have your projects. Now you need the opportunity. In my experience, LinkedIn is the main tool for this.
Product designers, UX designers, and UI designers are currently in high demand. So, if you engage with the platform well enough you will get some opportunities.
Read a little about how LinkedIn works and make sure you have a complete profile. I’d recommend adding some links to your projects here and your portfolio. These are super important for your search. Recruiters will probably not check them out but design managers surely will.
Connect with other product designers, connect with recruiters within the IT world, connect with developers. Then engage. This means commenting on some posts from time to time.
Sharing something like a small project or your latest certification. Get into the habit of engaging here and you will start to get job opportunities in your feed.
Junior positions are less common but here is where you can use your experience as a graphic designer (if you have one) to position yourself for semi-senior positions. You won’t have the knowledge of the discipline for a semi-senior position but you will have the skillset.
What I mean by this is, if in your graphic design career you have been dealing with presentations, collaboration, high pressure, defending your decisions, making compromises, and working in an impact driven approach, you have a lot to offer as a product designer.
All of this combined with your visual experience make you a valuable asset and you should absolutely use that in your favor.
Share your experience as a graphic designer because your previous background is what will make you a different product designer. Here at Rootstrap many of us made this transition successfully.
One Rootstrap designer worked mostly in animation, so his prototypes have a huge emphasis on motion design. Others on the team were illustrators and they used that to embed life into empty states and onboarding tutorials.
Some of our design team have a background in marketing departments and their copy work shows impact. Whatever you were doing previously will influence your personality as a product designer and that is something super valuable.
If you would like help preparing for an interview, Roostrap's Design Manager has a very useful guide on her best tips to help you ace your product design interview. Definitely worth bookmarking that one for when the time comes.
I hope you find all this information useful and you take advantage of these resources to help you kick-start your journey transitioning from graphic design to product design.
It really is a beautiful experience and one I'm sure you will enjoy every step of the way. And when you land your first job, which you will, make sure to get ahead by checking out our tips about being the best junior product designer you can be.
From the Rootstrap design team, we with you the best of luck on your new journey and we are always here if you need us!