Article


5 Ways to Stand Out as a New Product Designer

By Liz Eggleston
Last Updated July 28, 2022

So, you’re a new product designer. What does it take to stand out in a crowded field and land your first job? Ashley Kays, Product Design instructor at Flatiron School, shares her insights on who thrives in their Product Design Immersive bootcamp, who should pursue product design, and the five ways to stand out and gain experience as a new product designer. Turns out, it’s not all about technical skills! 

Meet Our Expert: Ashley Kays

  • As an Instructor of Product Design at Flatiron School, Ashley guides, teaches, coaches, and connects students so they can become successful professional Product Designers that confidently lead the pack.
  • Ashley relates to Flatiron School students who are taking a less traditional path in a bootcamp – she started in tech as a graphic designer at age 15, when the Internet was still shell commands in black and white. She learned development and leadership skills and then started her own agency, moving through product design at esteemed companies like Disney World and NCR. 

Five ways to stand out as a new product designer:

#1 Create projects that relate to the industry you want to work in. 

Recreate examples of products you love and add improvements or your own twist. 

If you know you're really passionate about a certain industry or even a certain company, build projects for your portfolio that relate to what they are probably looking for or what they're going to expect you to be doing on a day-to-day basis. 

If you want to work in the financial industry or FinTech, make sure that your portfolio has examples of FinTech projects. Even if you haven't had an actual client, you can still represent applicable improvements. Think about what you want to do and make sure that your portfolio tells that story for you. 

Perform a take on a fintech brand and show a couple of representations in your portfolio of how you might make an experience better.

#2 Show what you know! 

Give yourself credibility early and demonstrate that you don't need a certain number of years of experience.

  • Create articles on LinkedIn, create blog posts, or Facebook videos. If you discover a way to do a task easier in Figma, create a YouTube video about that and share it! Whether it’s LinkedIn or Medium, make sure you get out there in front of people!
  • Put resources on your portfolio. If they have a great way to explain what a component is called, in iOS versus Android, create a resource sheet that's downloadable. It demonstrates your skill. 
  • If you know you want to work somewhere specific, write an article about it! I've used this myself – I wanted to work as an instructional designer, so I wrote an article about how to create a tech course. That article ended up being one of the things that helped me get the interview and ultimately the job, so I know it works!

Flatiron School graduates leave ready to share a personal website with hiring managers immediately. Every single student that left the program that I worked with left with something they could be proud of. We worked hard to make sure they're ready for the real world.

#3 Create community resources. 

Create a design challenge. Submit resources to Figma, Behance, or Dribbble. Create a template on Figma. Anything that can build credibility for you, find that gap and fill it.

#4 Volunteer to speak at conferences, tech meetups and local events.

It’s much easier than you realize! Almost every event has a link that says “Apply to Speak” or “Apply to Volunteer.” They need help, and it's a great way to add to your resume, network with industry pros, and speak on a topic you care about! 

I just saw a huge conference in Toronto that needed speakers for 15 minutes each. Who doesn't have 15 minutes? If you’re nervous, start with a meet-up and then apply for a conference. It's not nearly as scary as it sounds. 

Many websites like UX Collective need content, so you can apply to publish an article through them as a guest post, and that could even turn into a conference talk. 

#5 Volunteer your time and skills for charity. 

Sites like Catchafire or Taproot make it so easy to contribute your design skills! They'll show you exactly what they need. You can apply to help audit their website or help them think through usability. There are so many different areas where charities need help, so you get to feel great about what you're doing and also build experience at the same time.

Bonus Tip: Learn some HTML/CSS and JavaScript

At Flatiron School, the Product Design Immersive teaches front-end programming – HTML and CSS. We don't go too deep into JavaScript but we explain the principles and point students in the direction so they can dive deper if they're interested.

To an employer, programming skills are impressive. Is it always necessary? No, because it depends on the type of role they’re hiring you for. Flatiron School students often get roles in: 

  • User Research
  • User Experience
  • Visual Design
  • Product Design
  • Product Management
  • Creative Direction
  • Front End Engineering

If you're going to be a User Researcher, your hiring manager may not care if you understand HTML. Instead, they care if you can observe and interview people. But if you're going to work at a small start-up, then HTML/CSS/JavaScript could bring tremendous value; they may really need someone that can hand off the front-end to the back-end developers. 

Understanding how to code gives you freedom and the ability to bring a lot of value to an agency. Even if you just understand what developers need and their constraints, that can make your a more effective designer and able to collaborate between design and development.

So, should I become a Product Designer?

Who are your Product Design students at Flatiron School? What does it take to become a Product Designer? 

Students come to Flatiron School from almost every industry - career changers from education, accounting, hospitality, restaurants, high school or college grads, and moms! Anyone who wants to level up into something more creative has a place here at Flatiron School. 

I have been so fortunate to teach such bright minds! Any skill can be taught. When looking for work, focus on the things that you absolutely have control over: your attitude, willingness to learn, collaboration skills, these things will help bring you on the team. The skills you learn at bootcamp will help you bring value to the team.

What are the backgrounds that lend themselves to product design?

Anything that relates to psychology or human behavior – customer service, design of any kind, artists, writers, creative problem solvers, and teachers. It really boils down to understanding humans and being able to convert this understanding into actionable strategies.

More than having a specific background, successful product designers have the right attitude. Product design takes empathy, the ability to analyze and synthesize data, creative problem solving, and a willingness to learn for the rest of your life. 

I'm not a teacher that ever tries to weed out students. There's a role in design for everyone, as long as you're willing to learn and try. You may not be made for visual design, but you may be a great UX researcher!

What do your students learn in the Product Design Immersive curriculum? 

Flatiron School revamped the curriculum for Product Design from the ground up and continues to improve it. There's always something new or relative to what's going on in the industry injected into the curriculum. 

By the end of the program, students are able to completely operate effectively within a team to bring a product to life and hand it off to developers. Students in the Product Design Immersive program learn:

  • Product Design, which encompasses: User Experience Research, User Experience and Visual Design

  • All of the ins and outs of User Experience: Digital Ethics, Accessibility, Inclusive Design, IA, design thinking and so much more. Tools like – Figma, InVision, WebFlow, Lottie for microinteractions

I always tell students, “This is the tool of choice now, but don’t stop here. There are so many other great tools and so much more to know. Become a lifelong learner and be part of helping things evolve.” 

What is your advice for students embarking on a Product Design Bootcamp? Any tips for getting the most out of it especially if they are career changers?

  1. Have an open mind
  2. Understand that we all face imposter syndrome at times
  3. Have a growth mindset
  4. Be ready to learn and ready to give your all!

Find out more and read Flatiron School reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Flatiron School.

About The Author

Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!

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