Shifting gears

The imminent changes in product design and why you should be excited

Ana Fernandes Rodrigues
5 min readJan 5, 2023
Agnés Martin (1965), Untitled. © Estate of Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This article contains hot takes and wild guesses. Please proceed with caution.

The state of the industry

Some time ago, when looking at the job market, I felt disappointed at the characterization of most (digital) product design roles. I read many job descriptions centered around concept execution, rather than collaborative discovery and definition of those concepts. The latter was often delegated to the product manager, who would — depending on the company culture and approach — consult with designers as needed.

This made me reconsider my career as a designer, eventually diving into product management. I don’t believe in a design practice strictly concerned with producing visual deliverables on Figma, or whatever the latest software everyone uses is. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Figma, but a tool is just a tool, please don’t overdo its importance — but I digress). Secondly, as I read through job offers, I felt rejected by an industry in high demand for generic IC profiles. This was at a time when companies were growing their workforce exponentially — or over-hiring, we may now claim — and had to make positions attractive to as many candidates as possible.

In fact, I believe the abuse of the term “product designer” by companies has led to puzzling confusion with the UI/UX designer profile, and the titles are now used interchangeably.

Since we’re here, let me elaborate: I see product design as the broader practice of crafting the customer experience with the product, which may include varying volumes of UI/UX design work, depending on the organisation. On the other hand, I see UI/UX design as a more specialized version of the practice, usually focused on crafting interface solutions. It’s worth mentioning that interface design is usually of graphical nature (GUI) but theoretically not limited to it. Happy to challenge these definitions, feel free to @ me.

The big shift

My wild guess is that the next stage of product design will bring big shifts, and even greater challenges. It won’t be as fixated on the graphical aspect of interfaces, but will be about design in the broader sense of the word. Generic, execution-focused roles will no longer be as favored by the industry in the years ahead, and designers will be expected to demonstrate expertise in specific verticals. Why?

1. Designers will continue to grow their skillset with wider access to education resources. They will often come from HCI studies or adjacent areas, rather than migrating from traditional graphic design, so their design expertise will be probably paired with a greater understanding of engineering, marketing, and/or business. As a result, designers will be less focused on creating artifacts and instead will be given more agency within organisations to lead the customer experience as a whole.

2. Technology and practices are moving remarkably fast. Design systems were the preliminary step. AI will likely be the next piece of this shift. As a result, the practice will become less focused on manual work — both in the research and deliverable production phases. We’ll be able to design, build and iterate faster than ever, in fully integrated workflows. Any task that entails repetition will probably be automated to some degree, letting designers focus on orchestrating the end-to-end customer experience.

3. Designing beyond pixels. The rise of ambient computing will be another factor largely impacting product design. As we enter “the post-smartphone era”, quoting Imran Chaudhri from Humane, developments in AI and machine-learning will prompt us to a paradigm in which technology will weave into our lives, eliminating all barriers. With invisibility, comes greater responsibility for technology to enhance human lives for good. The skillset required to design this next era of personal computing will go way beyond the domain of GUI design and Figma (I will even go as far as to claim that Sociology and Philosophy will be important disciplines in such a context).

The work of Hiroshi Ishii is very dear to me as it was the subject of my MA thesis.

4. Experience will be king. Throughout 2022 we witnessed how accessible it became to build with OpenAI, with thousands of experiments and products flooding the space every single day. Building products is increasingly accessible to everyone. Yet, the winners will be whoever nails the product-market fit and respects users’ privacy, while providing a superb customer experience. Great products will weave and become ubiquitous in our everyday routines. Product designers will become central to building this trust with users.

Beyond the “rise of the CDO”, as pointed out in a recent report by McKinsey & Company, I believe we’ll see product and design collaborating much closer or conflating altogether, depending on the nature of the product. We will also be seeing a lot more designer-founders and designer-makers, who can navigate a wider range of disciplines. The anti-disciplinary type.

On the other hand, if hiring does not recover the frenetic pace of previous years, companies will be much more demanding when selecting candidates. The influx of people who joined the profession years ago when demand was peaking and compensation packages were more attractive than ever will lose motivation as the market slows down.

What to do?

I was recently looking for a new job opportunity and found myself again at the crossroads between product management and product design. My initial instinct was to pursue another product management role, as I felt I should commit to that path. Yet, for all the reasons I mentioned so far, product design feels more exciting than ever.

Hot takes aside, we should be ready for this imminent shift and — most and foremost — enjoy this precipice of uncertainty to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. I may be wrong — very wrong, in fact. But when the paradigm changes, I want to make sure I bear witness. After all, excitement for the unknown is the best thing this industry can offer us once the novelty of the titles, compensation, and perks washes away.


Imran Chaudhri (from Humane), The Post-Smartphone Era & How AI will Change Everything | The Business of Fashion Talk,

Hiroshi Ishii (from the MIT Tangible Media Group), Radical Atoms: Beyond the “Pixel Empire” | TEDxTokyo,

McKinsey & Company (2022), Redesigning the Design Department, Report:

Bastani, A. (2020), Fully Automated Luxury Communism. Verso Books.