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How to Become a Product Designer Without a Degree

I don’t know about you, but I have heard a lot of people saying what’s stopping them from becoming a product designer is a degree. Well, I have seen product designers without a degree, and they are doing quite great. Nobody will dispute the fact that a degree will make things easier for you, provide you relevant skills and theories, as well as give you a certificate to use in getting yourself a job as a product designer.

But the truth is, having a university degree is not a must in the design world even though it helps. At Plant, we have seen designers without a degree do exceptionally well. However, they have something in common — they struggled to learn all it takes to meet the job requirements. While each designer has their own unique path, we can reach a conclusion on things you need to learn and do to become a product designer even without a university degree. These will be discussed below.

Choose an Area of Specialization

If you do not own a university degree, you will do yourself some measure of good by not becoming a jack of all trades. Those with university degrees end up specializing. What you specialize in should be determined by your passion and not the amount professionals earn in those fields, because the design world is ruled by passion-driven individuals. There are many fields you can specialize in as a product designer.

Graphic design is a popular choice, and in fact, you can hit the ground running after learning it. Other fields in the profession include logo design, web design, mobile app design, and many others. Make sure you choose a specialty with lots of free tutorials available on the Internet if you know you do not have money to spend on paid courses. However, the best tutorials online are paid as they are usually current, constantly been reviewed, and written in such a way that learning is made easy.

Learn how to Use the Required Software

How good are you with the tools you need for your day to day job as a product designer? That will determine how far you will go. If you are a web designer then you need to be good with either Sketch, Plant, InVision, Photoshop or other popular design tools. The quality of work you do will be determined to a great extent by the tools you use for the job.

If you do not invest both your time and money in tools, you will end up wasting a lot of valuable time and energy. The best tools are the ones that will save you time, do a lot of heavy lifting for you — and get your designs to be in the best way possible in terms of appearance and usability.

Learn Relevant Theories

Self-taught designers or rather, designers without a degree have this notion that all those theories learned in school are a waste of one’s precious time. Well, if you have this in mind, it is time to have a rethink. The truth is, whether you like it or not, theories in all fields are very important, especially in a field like product design that’s user-centric. You have to know that what gave birth to the practical aspect you are tilting toward are theories, and as such, learning them will do you some good.

Interestingly, you can start learning them straight away. You do not have to wait semester by semester to be learning them in bits. Just do research on the necessary theoretical knowledge you require in your chosen field and then try as much to understand them. This will make you a better designer and also earn you respect and increase your confidence when speaking with others. You also require it during interviews.

Learn User Experience Designing

Yes, the goal of every product designer is to develop a product that its users will love and cherish. Now for users to love a product, the user experience must be great. You do not have to design a very complex User Interface for users to love. No, simple User Interface that is easy to understand and use even for first-time users is the best. You need to incorporate all of your theoretical knowledge to make sure usability is top-notch. I have seen products fail just because of issues in their usability.

Build an Impressive Portfolio

Let me tell you something — there’s no replacement for a great portfolio, not even a university degree will suffix. With a university degree, employers will assume you know what you are doing even before testing your abilities and inabilities. However, when you do not have a degree, then you have to make your portfolio stand out. You have to go the extra mile to prove to potential employers that you can get their job done, and the only way to do that is by building a portfolio with relevant projects.

There are many ideas for a portfolio. One very popular one is to look out for poorly designed work, redo it, and then state what’s bad about the work and showcase how you have transformed it. The world is going online, and a good number of the world’s population, especially in the developed world, are connected to the internet, and as such, your portfolio should be available online for all to see. Make sure only your best works are showcased in the portfolio and avoid including tutorial themed projects.

Make no mistake about it; a university degree is essential not only in the area of product design. However, unlike in the past where you need it to get employment, it is no longer a must-have. You can break into the field, do amazing things, and become successful without having a degree. However, you just have to learn all it takes and leave no stone unturned. The above highlights those things you need to do.

How to Become a Product Designer Without a Degree was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.