Career Transitions: How to Go from Graphic Design to Product Design

It’s a fairly common scenario: you establish yourself in one design career only to find that you’d like to switch to something else in a few years. And that’s perfectly okay. After all, if you want to pursue a different career choice, you’re entitled to that decision. So let’s say you’re currently a graphic designer. The world of other types of design might seem wide open to you. And in some cases they are. But you will need to pursue additional training and get familiar with different tools to succeed. For instance, graphic and product design may seem similar on the surface, but they involve vastly different skill sets and responsibilities. For graphic designers looking to transition to product design, it’s essential to understand the differences between the two fields and the qualifications needed for a successful career in product design.

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With this in mind, we’ll explore how to make the transition from graphic design to product design, including covering the various ways you’ll need to prepare yourself.

Understanding the Differences between Graphic Design and Product Design


So, what’s the difference between graphic design and product design?

Graphic design is primarily focused on creating visual content for various mediums, such as print, digital, and advertising. Graphic designers work on a wide range of projects, including branding, packaging, web design, and marketing materials. And the primary focus is on visual communication and aesthetics.

Graphic designers leverage typography, text, and color theory to enhance the message in their creative works. Not only that but they often make visuals intended for immediate consumption such as billboards, posters or social media graphics.

In contrast, product design focuses on the crafting and assembling of tangible items such as consumer electronics, domestic products, and medical gadgets. This involves consideration not just of a product’s aesthetic appeal but its efficacy in use, practicality to manufacture, and user experience too.

Crafting a product necessitates an integrated method, which may include engineering, ergonomics, and user research. Product designers strive to create attractive products yet serve their intended function too. They must consider the entirety of the customer experience – from form and ergonomic design to its packaging and directions for use.

So, while both graphic design and product design involve creating visual content, the end goal and the process of achieving them are quite different. Graphic design is about communicating a message or brand through visual elements, while product design is about solving problems and creating useful and desirable products.

Skills and Qualifications Needed for Product Design

So now you know the differences between graphic design and product design. But how does this contrast in skills? To be successful in product design, there are certain skills and qualifications that are essential. These skills can be broadly classified into two categories: technical skills and soft skills. Let’s review these now.

Technical Skills

To be a successful product designer, you need to understand:

  • 3D modeling: This skill is essential for creating digital product prototypes and visualizing them from different angles. This can be done using software like Solidworks, Rhino, Sketchup, and others.
  • Prototyping: Product designers need to create physical models or mock-ups of their designs. This can be done using various prototyping techniques like 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC machining, and others.
  • Engineering: Product design often requires knowledge of engineering principles including materials, manufacturing processes, and mechanics. This knowledge helps the designer to create products that are functional, manufacturable, and safe.
  • Proficiency in design software: Familiarity with software like AutoCAD, Sketch, Figma, and others to create detailed drawings, 3D models, and technical specifications is a necessity.

Soft Skills

You’ll also need the following soft skills:

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  • Strong problem-solving abilities: Product design is all about solving problems. A product designer needs to be able to identify the problem, research and analyze it, and then come up with a solution.
  • Critical thinking: You need to be able to evaluate different options and make decisions based on their analysis.
  • Communication skills: Product design is a collaborative process, and designers need to communicate effectively with team members and clients.
  • Empathy: An ability to understand and empathize with the users of their products is necessary. This helps product designers to create products that meet their needs and wants.
  • User-centered approach: Product designers need to be able to design products from the user’s perspective, taking into account their needs and limitations.

Formal education in product design can be beneficial, but it’s not always required. Many universities and colleges offer product design programs that can provide you with the technical and theoretical knowledge you’ll need to be successful. 

There are also many online resources and tutorials available for learning product design skills. However, it’s important to note that while education and training can provide a solid foundation, it’s the combination of technical skills and soft skills that sets successful product designers apart.

How to Make the Transition to Product Design

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Making the transition from graphic design to product design can be challenging, but it’s definitely achievable. Here are some steps to take to make the transition:

  1. Assess your skills and interests: Before making the leap, it’s critical to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what truly excites you. Assess your current aptitudes and interests to determine how they pair with product design.
  2. Learn about the field: Read up on the latest trends and developments in product design, and familiarize yourself with the tools and techniques used in the industry. This will give you a better idea of what’s expected of a product designer and what you need to learn.
  3. Network: Harnessing the power of networking is critical for building a successful career in product design. To start, attend industry events focusing on design and become part of online communities that revolve around this field. Additionally, you should connect with professionals within the domain on LinkedIn – as it gives you an opportunity to not just learn from experienced players but can also open up new pathways toward your desired goal.
  4. Gain relevant experience: Even if you don’t have a formal education in product design, you can gain experience by working on personal projects or volunteering to work on design projects for local organizations. This will give you a chance to apply what you’ve learned and develop your skills in a real-world, hands-on way.
  5. Build a portfolio: Aspiring product designers must possess a well-rounded portfolio to get the job of their dreams. It should include graphic and product design work, your thought processes, research efforts, and problem-solving skills. To make yourself stand out from competitors, emphasize how you’ve used user-centered designs in previous projects that demonstrate creativity and innovation.
  6. Find a mentor: A mentor can provide guidance, advice, and support as you make the transition. Look for a product designer with experience in the industry and reach out to them for advice and guidance. They can help you navigate the industry, provide feedback on your work, and connect you with potential employers.
  7. Keep learning and updating your skills: Product design is a constantly evolving field, and it’s essential to keep learning and updating your skills. Attend workshops, and seminars, and take online courses to keep up with the latest trends and developments in the industry.

Making a Career Transition from Graphic Design to Product Design May Be a Worthy Choice

Making the transition from graphic design to product design can seem daunting, but with the right approach, skills, and qualifications, it’s definitely achievable. By understanding the differences between the two fields, gaining relevant experience, and building your skills, you can do it.

Remember that transitioning to a new field takes time and effort, but with dedication and hard work, you can achieve your goals and build a successful career in product design.

Good luck!