What We Do
We all get the question “what do you do” on a regular basis. If you are fortunate enough to have an occupation that is well recognized and understood, like acting or being a lawyer, you will simply say what you work with and that will be the end of it. Unfortunately for us product designers what our occupation entails is still a mystery to many. I find the confusion about what we do understandable as I myself have long struggled with defining that.
A couple of years ago, when I got this question in a setting where a short and easily understandable answer was necessary I used to say: “I make sure that products not only look good, but are also functional and user friendly”. That answer did the trick, but I always felt bad afterwards as I knew it was not the whole truth. The reason for it being a bad answer is that it diminishes what we actually do. It is similar to a dentist saying that his job is about finding and fixing caries. Sure, that is part of the work, but it is not all that a dentist does.
So what is being a product designer really about then? For me, it is about making sure that the technology and man-made objects in our environment adapt to us, and not the other way around. This is a fairly non-specific answer, but it is hard to get any more precise than that as the type of work product designers do varies a lot. One product designer could have the assignment of tweaking the colors of a screwdriver in order to make it sell better. Another could be creating a user friendly control-panel for a nuclear power plant to minimize the likelihood of errors. Same occupation, very different assignments.
Now, if you say that your work is about “making sure that the technology and man-made objects in our environment adapt to us, and not the other way around”, there is a big possibility that you will sound pretentious. I have yet to come up with a solution to that problem, but at least it is an honest answer in my opinion.