Metamorphosis – Project Engineer to Product Designer

9 Apr

“You need a very product-oriented culture… Lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …..there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.” – Steve Jobs

titleAs an engineer, you are mostly required to work in product development teams. Your team often consists of system architects, programmers, hardware designers and so on. Being a team member, you are assigned a certain part or area of development with timelines. You complete your part and are satisfied on accomplishing your mission.

This kind of “I have done my job” performance will of course help you develop your career and climb up the ladder of success. You would get your increments and incentives, well, in the right time. However, when you look back after a certain number of years, most of these assignments would appear incomplete. Overall product understanding would have been almost non-existent.

Would you really love to use your phone as a simple talking instrument or a fully functional social networked communication engine, for example? The latter, isn’t it? Then, what stops you from becoming a complete product designer rather than just being a project engineer?

Product Designer, in spite of being capable of executing only a part of the design process, would be involved in the overall system design and interacts with other team members to achieve intended product functionality. What happens if every team member has this kind of attitude? You guessed it right; your product comes out well. You may find below some simple tips to upgrade yourself from where you are to a complete product designer.

Get global

Talk to your peers and the boss. Get an idea of what would be the end product, its functionality, performance criteria,etc. Try to acquire an overall knowledge about the system as a whole. Of course, you would encounter some grey areas marked ‘confidential’ or ‘proprietary’ which may be way above your pay grade level to have access to. Leave them as black boxes and learn everything else. You can always fill in the blanks, later.

Make an assessment

Make a list of concepts/technologies involved. Identify those about which you do not have enough understanding. Categorize these based on your level of understanding.

My categorization would go like

Poor Understanding – ‘I am zero’

Low Average – ‘Hey wait a minute’

Medium Average – ‘I heard about it somewhere’

Average – ’Oh, Yes. May be a little’

Good – ‘Wow. This, I am aware of’

and so on…

It’s time to learn

  • Google extensively and read related articles, blogs and papers. You may also want to read general product design related blogs on how to go about overall product design.
  • You must read Mike Shipulski’s blogs. They deal with various subjects which include product design and innovation.
  • If you would like to read some tips on robust product design, you would find my blog useful.
  • Attend webinars. Most of these are free and easily accessible. All you need to do is register and login to the sites that host them.

Even if these give you a limited understanding, it is worth a try.

It is a long journey of continuous learning. But rest assured you will be finding out more along the way.

As Steve Jobs said, the final product would be the binding force. Make your approach product-centric


Image ref: By Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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