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How to Have a Successful Career in Product Design (S5E12)

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Design roles within the tech industry are an excellent option for people seeking a mix of art and science in their job. Product design (with its sub-fields of UX design and UI design) is a prime example.

Lenora PorterWithout a technical background, former math teacher Lenora Porter pivoted to product design by networking her way in and learning on the go, starting by attending meetups and making connections (one of which led to an interview and ultimately a first job).

She’s a great example of someone who didn’t have extensive training in the field she wanted, but seized available opportunities to pursue her goals. Currently, she holds the title of Senior Product Designer at Heroku/Salesforce, so her go-getter attitude certainly paid off!

Listen to more of Lenora’s story in the episode below.

Let’s look at some of Lenora’s insights about the field and advice for those considering product design, UX design, or UI design as a career path.

Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for some of the resources mentioned in this article. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!


What Is Product Design?

Lenora identifies three separate components to the idea of product design as a whole: user experience (UX), user interface (UI), and product design.

  • UX “basically explains the how and the why. So how would this work? Why is it working that way? What is the psychology behind this particular design?”
  • UI is “what does it look like? When I get to that screen, what visual design do I see? What colors do I see? What visual hierarchy do I see? What does it look like?”
  • Product design is “more of the business aspect. What does the business need and what does the user need, and how do I mesh all those things together? Now, product design can be very tricky, because it depends on the role that you're in. For instance, Heroku’s product designers all know how to code, so there's a layer of front-end development that you have to know how to do because we're working with developers with our platform. So we’re thinking about the speed of the website, the accessibility of the website, etc.”

product design
Here’s a quick glimpse at how Lenora describes her duties as senior product designer:

“Product design really is understanding the entire flow of an entire user experience—not just how it looks, but also how it’s functioning. We’re working on the HTML and CSS and using Ember and React components to create our Human Interface Guidelines (HIG). We’re designing components in Sketch and then going into visual code and coding those things, making sure its accessibility meets the web standards, and then passing it to the developers so they don't have to think about that stuff.”


Every company assigns its design and development roles in their own way, of course, or you may specialize in a different area—so a future product design role for you might look a lot different. Your ideal role may include development, or may be all about navigating the business side of things, or may be totally about visual design. The beauty of it is that there are plenty of different directions you can go in!


Important Product/UX Designer Skills

Here are four skills to learn if you’re thinking about a career related to product design.

1. Sketch/Other Design Tools

One of the biggest design tools today is Sketch. “In the beginning, it’s really about learning the tools,” Lenora says. “How do I make mockups? How do I make them functional? How do I make sure that it's visually attractive? How do I also make it user-friendly?” Here are some tips for using Sketch.

2. Psychology/Human Behavior

“[In college] I studied this thing called family, youth and community sciences. So it’s full of psychology, human behavior, and how to create services for communities. When I went over to the UX department, I thought, wow, this is almost the same exact thing that I was doing for communities, but I'm doing it for apps, I'm doing it for users, I'm doing it for technology.”

3. Principles of Visual Design

“Go more into the how, the why, the visual design.” (Here are seven basic visual principles to start with!)

4. Basic Web Development

“I think it’s really beneficial for all designers to learn how to think about design from a development standpoint.”


How to Become a UX Designer or Related

Thinking of pursuing a job in product design? “I would definitely say use online resources,” Lenora suggests. “Learn as much as you can.”

ux designer

Here are some specific resources she recommends:

  • Refactoring UI: “Probably one of my favorite places to go to get design inspiration.”
  • Twitter: “My main place that I go to is Twitter, honestly! Learning from industry leaders.”
  • YouTube: “I also use YouTube quite a bit. I would go on there and slow down tutorials, watch how they would build out different UI”, and practice building out the same UI to learn the tools, gradients, and colors.”
  • Udemy
  • Lynda
  • Designbetter.co podcast: “Probably my favorite one.”

Aside from learning the necessary skills and tools, Lenora highly recommends networking and building a personal brand. “I really think my personal brand and my portfolio has really set me apart,” she says.


Attend meetups and conferences (and follow up with connections). “I would definitely say, to get a job in this industry, go to networking events. Meetup, eventbrite… going to different conferences really works! There's a lot of networking events that are online too. I know it's kind of weird, but it's like on Hangouts where you can just go in there and say ‘Hi, I’m whoever and I'm just here to learn about design from you guys.’ You could go to San Francisco conferences right from your computer and then follow up with those people on LinkedIn. Making sure that you follow up on a lot of interactions with people can really help you land a job in the industry.”


Lastly, be active on social media in a way that provides value. “I started posting things about product design and what I'm doing and all the different illustrations I was creating, and how that can help the user.”

One of her connections from a tech conference saw her posts and got in touch to offer a job referral—to Heroku, where she loves her job today! Putting value into your industry will often come right back to you.

Links and mentions from the episode:

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Special thanks to this episode’s partner

Interview CakeInterview Cake: Interview Cake is a tool that helps you practice technical interview questions, so you can land your first—or next—job in tech. When you join Interview Cake, you get over 50 hours of technical interview practice questions. To find out more and get 20% off, go to learntocodewith.me/cake.

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