Courses in design and product teach you how to create software products that effectively solve user problems or otherwise provide them value. Product managers start by working with their teams to ideate a vision for a solution to meet these user needs. This requires market research, competitor analysis, and lots of brainstorming to identify one or more product ideas.
Next, product managers work with their design teams to build proof of concepts for these ideas, with a goal of quickly creating a prototype that can be tested and subsequently improved or pivoted away from. These design teams may include a number of distinct roles such as UX (user experience) designers, UI (user interface) designers, and graphic designers, or sometimes simply product designers responsible for a range of these tasks.
A successful product launch from a business perspective requires more than just a great app, of course. As the vision for the product is refined, product managers must also work with product marketing managers and other executives and decision-makers to build the business case, marketing and promotions strategy, and go to market strategy.
Once the business plan for the product is mapped out and agreed to within the organization, product managers work with the design team, software developers, and software engineers to make this vision a reality. That includes managing the product backlog, the daily scrum, sprint planning, and extensive product testing and quality assurance (QA) to ensure that the product design is ready for release.
Digital product design is an applied art, and professionals often have backgrounds in graphic design, drawing, photography, or other visual arts. It’s not about being able to blow away your team with your technical skills. It’s about having a strong, distinctive design voice, a sense of color and typography, and a skill for balancing competing visual elements with text. Above all, designers should have a passion for making software products that solve for user needs effectively and with a clean, intuitive interface.
Professionals who design software need additional skills that separates them from other graphic designers, of course. User experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design are core product design skills, and can include skills in conducting user research as well as design principles for UX/UI. Familiarity with programming languages like HTML and CSS can also be invaluable in working with the programmers on your team, even if you don’t have to do much coding yourself.
In addition to being familiar with these technical aspects of design and software development, product managers rely heavily on “soft skills.” They are the hub of product development, responsible for communications across the engineering team, the design team, and other stakeholders and executives within the organization. Making sure everyone is on the same page throughout the long and complex process of product development isn’t easy, so great interpersonal communication skills are essential for these roles.
The world of software apps has exploded over the past decade, with not only tech companies but companies in more traditional sectors relying on attractive and useful apps to add new product offerings, expand their market, and deliver value for customers. According to Glassdoor, the average base pay for a product designer is $98,266/year as of November 2019. Specialist roles like UX designer and UI designer pay slightly less on average according to Glassdoor, while higher up product managers make an average of $126,658/year.
You can take a wide range of individual product design courses and short Guided Projects online from top-ranked schools like University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, and Princeton through Coursera. These range from design-oriented courses in design thinking and design principles, web design, and UI/UX research and design to courses focused more on the software development process such as Agile development and product management.
Product design is ultimately also about learning to work with focus groups and design teams to meet the needs of real-life people, so the Coursera platform’s ability to connect you with live video classrooms, office hour sessions, and collaborative meetings with teammates means you don’t have to miss out on those vital parts of your education just because you’re learning online.