Product Designer

    Published • Application due Indefinitely

    Tofugu is looking for an experienced Product Designer, who also has solid experience and understanding in UI/UX, to turn ideas into project specs for colleagues to work on (then ship!). A product designer at Tofugu will think through and shape product ideas (both your own and the ideas of others) for feasibility, design the product or feature at a macro level, and write up more detailed project specs for product we decide we do want to do. You will be working on both WaniKani and the Tofugu Blog. This is a remote, hourly, part-time contractor position consisting of 10-20 hours of work per week. Learn more about how we hire and work, here.

    Success in this position is determined by the consistent production of successful project specs —  those are project specs that are completed and shipped by colleagues, on time. To do that, one must work through a variety of promising ideas to find the ones that we are capable of doing (and want to do, too), thoroughly think through each of them to make sure the ideas are actually as good as they initially sounded, then write project specs that are figured out: de-risked (it's clear what the team should do and shouldn't do, too), well-written (easy to understand and interpret without extensive back and forth), and well-estimated (how long we want to spend on something given the bigger context — not necessarily how long something will take). Basically, we're looking for a really good product designer who will help us turn ideas into projects that have a high likelihood of successful completion.

    This role works with the Product Lead role to discuss ideas, brainstorm, and prioritize which products and features to work through. We have a ton of ideas, and a ton we want to do, but we need help from someone with the drive and focus to turn them into projects we can actually ship. At the same time, you should have the experience and foresight to be able to say: "maybe we shouldn't do this right now, because of xyz." In other words, you will need to be able to understand what "progress" is when it comes to learning a language, and be able to estimate if a project will create "a little," "a lot," or "no progress at all," if we do it. Being a language learner yourself will help in this regard, though there will be people who can help to evaluate progress.

    And FYI: Our product design philosophy generally follows Competing Against Luck. That is, we don't spend a lot of time on surveys, A/B testing, and the like. We consider and evaluate ideas based on how much progress we think the learner will make in their goals to learn Japanese, should we do the project. We might interview customers to understand the deeper story of what they're actually trying to make progress on in their life, but in general you'll focus on thinking about and developing product, not so much "wading for things to do in the analytics, or amongst customer suggestions." Although we might look at either of those things, it's not the primary means we use to create and update our product.

    The Work

    This role will work with the Product Lead role — as well as technical experts in engineering, design, and content — to do following product design work:

    • Brainstorm, think through, discuss, and debate product ideas with the Product Lead role — What ideas do we have? What should we look at next? What should we prioritize? Why? Does it help the learner to make "progress"? How much progress?
    • Shape product ideas: that is, think through, test, and validate ideas for their value (again, progress made toward the learner's goal to learn and use Japanese) and feasibility (can we actually do it in a reasonable amount of time with our current capability?), and decide whether or not to move forward with a potential project.
    • Sketch (often literally) out solutions to potential projects. This may be fat-marker sketches, rough wireframes, and the like. Figure out the assumptions in the idea and its design and clarify them. The expectation is not to design in detail (you can leave that to a designer), but to outline and think the entire project through to figure out if it's doable, or even worth doing in the first place. Thoughts and opinions on UI/UX might happen here, or in the project spec stage.
    • Identify risk. Answer and predict what could delay a project from being finished if it's not figured out or defined before the project starts. Are we doing something we've never done before? Are there any assumptions on how the pieces interact and fit together? Are there any decisions that need to be made now to prevent days or weeks of back-and-forth later?
    • Once we feel like a product is worth designing, write a project spec for it. Project specs figure out where things go, how a user gets there, what the key components are, where users interactions exist, where buttons, links and such take the user, etcetera. In a sense, they set boundaries. What should we do? Maybe more importantly, shouldn't we do? Where is the risk, and how does one get around it? What does "done" mean? That said, the project spec does not tell someone how to do something. It also doesn't say how to design something, though there should be some rough (but thought-out) UI/UX work done at this point. One way to think about the level of detail a product designer does in the project spec is this: Your goal is to write up a project spec so that the project, as a whole, can be assigned to a team. The tasks, and the design, are up to those doing the project. They know the boundaries, but they get to decide how it's done.
    • In writing project specs, you will often work with technical experts — most often engineering, design, and content — to determine feasibility within finite timelines (again, everything is feasible with enough time or resources, so you have to be able to think within reasonable, but imagined, boundaries). Some knowledge in any or all of the above fields will help you to be a better product designer at Tofugu, as you will be able to estimate the difficulty of more products and projects without extra consultation.


    • You have a lot of experience designing product, and you're really, really good at it. This is not an entry position. It is also not a middle position. In traditional job title terms, you're at the level of being senior or principal product designer. We're looking for someone who'll blow our socks off, someone who will show us what we've been missing out on all this time and take us to the next level.
    • You have a great understanding of UI/UX, to the point where you're opinionated about it. You can integrate your UI/UX knowledge into your fat marker sketches and descriptions in your project specs.
    • You have some familiarity with front-end coding and design. You don't have to actually be able to do those things, but you'll need enough understanding to know what's doable on the coding side so you can reflect that in your product design work.
    • You are action-oriented. That is, you don't just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike. You know that the hard work of deliberately thinking through ideas, writing them out, and testing them is what produces project specs (or their equivalents).
    • You're great at simplifying complexity. That is, you can figure out the simplest way to do something that is, in reality, much more complicated than first glance.
    • You can take a problem and design a solution for it. In other words, you think in terms of the problem being solved — or, as we put it, the job to be done. We want our users to make progress in their goal of learning Japanese, and you should be able to design product and product features with that as your North Star.


    Job Type: Part-time, Hourly, Contractor (10-20 hrs/week)
    Work Hours: Flexible, M-F
    Work Location: Remote, Worldwide
    Pay: $100/hr, + $25/hr after six months

    The hours for this role are "whenever you want," so long as you're able to work with the Product Lead to consistently produce projects that are adopted, and completed successfully by colleagues. This is a contractor position.

    The person offered this role will need to complete a paid trial period at around ten hours a week for one to two months before a continued agreement is formalized (and hours are adjusted/increased).

    If you think you would be really good at this, you have extensive product experience, and you want to help Tofugu and WaniKani to develop out its product and features, we'd love to talk to you. To apply, please put together the following:

    • Resumé (PDF format, please)
    • "Cover Letter+," or some other kind of document that tells us about you and your experience. You'll almost certainly go beyond the recommended "one page" of a typical cover letter, so don't worry about that. PDF if possible, please. 10MB limit. Some things we'd love to know about:
      • Why are you applying.
      • Your product design experience.
      • What you've done.
      • How you'll add value to our mission.
      • How you measure success in product design.
      • What you would do if you were hired.
      • What you'll need to do it.

    When you've put together all of the above, please fill out and upload the documents to the following form:

    You will receive an email response letting you know if you made it to the next step. We tend to get a lot of applications, so it might take a little while. Please be patient! The hiring process for this position is:

    1. Submit application
    2. We might request a work challenge
    3. Short Interview (30-45 minutes)
    4. Long Interview (~two hours)
    5. Reference Interviews
    6. Offer

    Interviews, steps, ordering and the like are subject to change, but the above is how it usually works.

    If you have any questions, email