What is design worth? A lot, apparently, as it’s become a critical component to business success.
According to the Design Management Institute, design-led companies have “outperformed the S&P 500 by 219 percent” over 10 years. A sit-down interview in 2013 with Microsoft founder Bill Gates is further proof of the trend.
When asked what quality of Apple founder Steve Jobs—who had just passed at the time—Gates wished he had, the tech mogul said, “His sense of design. That everything had to fit a certain aesthetic.”
“The fact that he, with as little engineering background as he had….show[ed] that design could lead you in a good direction and so phenomenal products came out of it.”
The Value of Good Design
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“Good design is good business.” This was what then-IBM CEO Thomas Watson said in 1973. Decades later, the statement still rings true.
If in doubt, one needs to look no further than the successes of digital stalwarts like Apple, Pinterest, Airbnb, Google, and Nike. All five companies are known to have put design at the heart of how they engage and communicate with users and have received tremendous success since.
It’s because of this that other companies have been hurriedly recruiting product designers who can bridge the gap between idea and execution, between strategy and results, and reconcile the needs of the users with the goals of the company.
“Product design is holistic,” said Bani Phul-Anand, the central lecturer for coding bootcamp Flatiron School’s Product Design immersive. “It isn’t saying, ‘I’m just going to look at the user experience or the user interface.’ It’s also not saying, ‘I’m only going to look at it with a business lens.’ It’s kind of bringing all those together and looking at [the product design process] from every angle.”
Admittedly, because product design already touches many parts of a business, competency across the field can prove difficult to build.
“Oftentimes, what happens is you apply for a UX job, but then the company will expect UI design. So, there is a lot of handholding [that follows],” said Bani, “because what companies want to hire is one person. If the company has one headcount, they want that headcount to do anything and everything.”
Flatiron School comes into the picture by making sure that aspiring product designers have the range of knowledge and skills that they need to competently navigate the broad spectrum of design.
This year, Flatiron School rolled out its Product Design immersive, a 15-week bootcamp program that’s accessible online and in-person and provides students a path to in-demand jobs as full-stack product designers.
Flatiron School Product Design Immersive: Here’s What to Expect
Fifteen weeks may seem like a short time to learn the wide field of product design. Flatiron School would be the first to admit that. That said, this isn’t the school’s first rodeo offering a design-focused program.
Before there was a Product Design immersive, Flatiron School offered a UX/UI Design immersive. The school’s experience with the latter gave it a rich pool of insights to apply to the current program.
“There were some things [in the previous program] that are no longer relevant in the industry because the tech space moves so quickly. So, it made sense to start from the ground up and synthesize all those learnings into something more responsive to current market needs …We’re practicing what we preach: to iterate everything, including the curriculum.”
“For instance, in the previous program, we were like, ‘Decide. Do you want to do UX? Or do you want to do UI?’ Now we’ll have them do a little bit of everything under the umbrella [of product design] which makes them more desirable for the hiring manager looking for more.”
“We’ll highlight and understand what [the students’] strengths are and play to those as they go along the program instead of requiring them to pick one over the other,” said Bani.
Joshua Robinson, another instructor of Flatiron School’s Product Design immersive, added: “We’re giving you the set of skills that will offer more flexibility in the avenue or the route that you can take thereafter.”
Flatiron School Product Design Immersive Curriculum
The Flatiron School Product Design immersive curriculum breaks down the end-to-end design process, starting from the user experience (UX) process.
“You’ll start with learning about the audience and problem discovery,” said Joshua. “There are never-ending problems in the world, which means there are lots of opportunities to create solutions. So we’ll spend a good amount of time teaching you how to collaborate with users… really talking to people and understanding what their needs and wants are.”
“And then say, you have discovered the problem. Let’s say you discovered an opportunity area. Then, we’ll teach you a lot of creative brainstorming and ideation methods that will really draw out the creative part of your brain. But we won’t just leave it there.”
“You’ll have to actually test your assumptions and find out whether these are good ideas. If not, what do we need to shift to? How can we change things around?”
This is followed by a module on the user interface (UI) design process. This phase will focus on the visual aspect of product design and will build the foundational skills you’ll need to create impactful user interfaces.
“We’ll give you all these really great labs and opportunities to practice making color schemes, typography, and interaction design,” said Joshua. “We will dive deep into [the UI process] quite a bit because it impacts everything that you do as a designer when you have those visual skills to complement your UX and research strategy skills.”
The first half of the program offers four mini-projects and practical training in all aspects of product design. The second half tests your acquired skills by challenging you to complete three studio projects.
“The projects give students a chance to do the same type of design work encountered today in small, medium, and large companies. So that when they get hired or even when they’re still in the job interview level and someone says, ‘Your day-to-day will be x, y, z,’ they can say, ‘I know what you mean.’”
Finally, the program will wrap up with the portfolio phase where you’ll author a fully-fleshed case study and create a job-ready portfolio. This study will underscore how you approach a given problem.
“The idea,” said Bani, “is to come up with a hiring portfolio through which someone can see your thought process from start to finish on one given project.” The studio projects will meanwhile serve as supplemental projects that will highlight your skillset, individuality, and style as a product designer.
Flatiron School Product Design Immersive Classroom Experience
Delivering the curriculum are Flatiron School instructors Bani and Joshua, both of whom have over 10 years of experience in product design.
“There are two levels of instruction at play during the program,” said Bani. “One is the central lecturer, which will be my role. I would come in daily and deliver lectures as a supplement to [the students’] reading [material].”
Students will also work with a cohort instructor on a daily basis. “They are responsible for the day-to-day [training] of the student, running them through design labs, workshops, practice [exercises], and project work throughout the rest of the day in the studio.”
The program’s teaching structure marries theory with practice, thus serving multiple purposes.
One, it signals the relevance of the training. Immediately challenging students to create something out of what they learned lets them see why it had to be learned in the first place. Two, it leads to increased retention and engagement. Instead of being passive learners, students get to put their knowledge to the test and learn more actively.
“We want the students to understand by doing instead of having to connect the dots,” said Bani. “We were [also] very intentional about providing students with the skills of presentation, problem-seeking and solving, engaging in stakeholder conversations, and working with different teams.”
Why Choose Flatiron School Product Design?
“The program is career-focused,” said Bani, adding that this is a powerful differentiator among the product design programs that exist in the coding bootcamp space.
Because the Flatiron School Product Design immersive is a newer design program, it succeeds at identifying and eliminating the background noise and focusing on the essential parts of design.
“We are moving towards building projects [that] highlight [the] skills that hiring managers look for when filling a product design role,” said Bani.
“As a hiring manager, I want to know that someone can come in and take something like a checkout flow or perhaps a signup flow and make it work…or insert one feature into an existing product and know the process.”
The new program, she said, fulfills these criteria by walking you through the entire design process without glorifying or glamorizing the role of a product designer. “We made [the experience] very real so you can run a project and start seeing an impact in smaller increments rather than [simply] having a big idea.”
The practicality and relevance of the program are a result of a curriculum planning approach called backward design. The way it works is implicit in its name. Instead of working forward from high school, the curriculum works backward from the first job.
“We took a fresh look at the day-to-day experiences of junior and associate product designers,” said Joshua. “So the curriculum planning was not theoretical. Rather, we developed a curriculum that reflects the type of work expected from [junior and associate product designers] while teaching students to engage critically with the methods and processes.
“Then we asked ourselves, ‘What do the students need to get there?’”
This process allowed Flatiron School to craft a much more focused product design program that targets the skills that any product designer needs to function productively in the workplace.
“Our guiding light was making sure that the students feel confident enough to get a job and that the employers feel confident enough to hire them,” said Bani.
Tips for the Aspiring Product Designer
“Understand the role of the Product Design immersive in your larger career.”
“This is not a pivoting moment. It’s the beginning of a journey,” said Bani. “If you leave the program knowing that your journey has not ended and that this is not the end of your learning but the beginning of, then that would be great…This is a bootcamp so the expectation is that you’ll need to put in the work.”
“We will give you the tools. We will teach you. We’ll put you in real-world scenarios. We’ll give you feedback. We’ll allow you to grow and graduate in a place where you understand that your growth has not met the end; it’s the beginning.”
“Learning how to learn has to be part of your mindset.”
“It’s particularly important when you’re in a compressed educational context like a bootcamp,” said Joshua. “You need to be curious not just about what’s going on in the design world, but curious about yourself as a person. How do you learn best? How do you retain and remember things?”
“We’re trying to make sure that we’re challenging you to be self-reflective as a person, not just as a student. Because in order to really retain information in such a quick-paced, condensed manner, you have to take care of your mind and you have to be self-reflective about what you want out of this experience.”
“Learning how to learn has to be a part of this journey, too.”
“Apply yourself 100 percent.”
“If you find that you don’t enjoy a particular part of [product design], you’ll find space in another area. But if you hate all of it, don’t waste your time,” cautioned Bani. “You don’t want to spend your life doing something that you dislike.”
“Once it’s for you, apply yourself 100 percent. That’s the only thing that’s going to help you succeed.”
Design Your Professional Growth
So, are you ready to put the right side of your brain to work? Explore the Flatiron School Product Design immersive and, just as Bani said, apply yourself to the field 100 percent.
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