Product Developer Job Description
Product developers work in a number of industries to design and develop consumer and industrial products ranging from vehicles to home goods to healthcare devices. This aspect of the role requires extensive familiarity with engineering and industrial design principles, along with the ability to identify opportunities to introduce competitive products to the market and improve existing products.
Product developers work closely with sales and marketing departments, as well as engineers, to create products based on consumer demand and ensure that they operate safely and efficiently while maintaining profitability. Product designers use specialty software and equipment to design products and create prototypes through the development life cycle.
Product Developer Duties and Responsibilities
Based on job postings that we analyzed, most product developers share several core duties:
Create and Improve Products
The foremost responsibility of a product developer is creating and improving products that fill a niche in the market or allow their employers or clients to remain competitive. Product developers use specialty software to design and engineer products and components or make improvements to existing designs to enhance performance or cut down on manufacturing costs.
Product developers determine product specifications based on a number of different factors and use cases. In this aspect of the role, the product developer may work closely with clients to determine their goals and expected functionality for a specific product. They also develop guidelines for developers, designers, and engineers who work on bringing the product to life.
Many product developers support manufacturing and design activities by developing prototypes for products in development. Typically, product developers use a number of different tools and machines to develop prototypes, such as CNC machines and 3D printers. Product developers may also collaborate with manufacturing personnel to create prototypes.
Consult with Engineers and Supervisors
Throughout the design and development process, product developers work closely with engineers, product managers, and project supervisors. This aspect of the role can involve tracking changes to client specifications, identifying manufacturing issues that arise from design elements, and ensuring that electrical components are able to operate safely within a provided design.
Review Market Research
To ensure that products are viable and competitive, product developers may also consult market research materials and sales data. This part of the job generally includes analyzing research and sales data to identify trends and determine areas where a new product may provide competition or disrupt a market to provide a high return on investment. This tends to be a collaborative element of this role, as the product developer may provide sales and marketing teams with prototypes to gather customer feedback.
Product Developer Skills and Qualifications
Product developers design, engineer, and prototype products for a wide variety of industries. Workers in this role tend to have at least a bachelor’s degree and the following skills:
- Engineering and design knowledge – product developers should have strong design skills and should understand how product components and materials work together both functionally and aesthetically
- Creative skills – creativity is also central to this role, as product developers need to conceptualize new products and improvements and determine the look and feel of a product’s design
- Prototype development – product developers should also have extensive familiarity with prototyping processes and best practices using a variety of rapid prototyping tools and machinery
- Problem-solving skills – in this role, product developers frequently need to assess issues with products and develop solutions, so effective problem-solving skills are vital
- Team collaboration – product developers work with manufacturing, engineering, and sales teams, so they should be able to effectively coordinate activities between teams and personnel
- Communication skills – effective written and verbal communication is important in this role, since product developers need to provide instructions and reports to team members and supervisors
Tools of the Trade
Product developers generally work in office settings, so they should be comfortable using standard software and equipment in addition to the following:
- Design software (SOLIDWORKS, Autodesk)
- Prototyping equipment (3D printers, CNC machines)
Product Developer Education and Training
Product developers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a closely related field, such as industrial design or engineering. Additionally, job seekers looking for product developer positions should have strong portfolios that highlight their design and development skills. Academic programs in industrial design usually provide students with opportunities to build and improve their portfolios through internships and classroom projects.
Product Developer Salary and Outlook
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide salary estimates specifically for product developers, its data for industrial designers may provide a helpful starting point because of the significant overlap between these roles. According to the BLS, industrial designers earn a median annual salary of $65,970. The highest-paid 10 percent of workers in this role earn more than $106,950 per year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earn less than $36,430 per year.
The BLS expects employment of industrial designers to grow at a slower-than-average rate of 4 percent through 2026.
If you’re interested in starting a career as a product developer, we found many helpful resources on the web for further reading and information:
Product Development and Management Association – PDMA is a professional organization for product developers and other professionals, providing networking opportunities, publications, and educational resources
The Lean Product Playbook: How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback – read this book to learn about the principles of lean product development for both small and large companies and manufacturers
“5 Best Practices for Successful Product Development & Innovation” – this blog post focuses on how to effectively develop new ideas and innovate existing designs to create products that consumers love
Visible Knowledge for Flawless Design: The Secret Behind Lean Product Development – this book explores the principles of visible knowledge and how they fit into product development and innovation
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