With such a broad and ever-growing spectrum of design roles currently on the scene, the comparison between UX design and product design is frequently hashed out. There seem to be two camps of voters on the issue; many have asserted that there’s very little distinction between the two vocations, and some argue that they’re totally different jobs with clearly defined priorities. Let’s be clear: there are definitely a fair few overlapping characteristics when it comes to both jobs. But if they were the same job then they’d have the same title, right?
The truth is, product designers and UX designers do very similar jobs on paper. It’s one of the reasons the two roles are so interchangeable — product designers often become UX designers and vice versa. Though subtle, the differences between product design and UX design make themselves known when it comes to varying approaches to processes, thinking and priorities. This comprehensive guide will lay out all the key differences and similarities of job titles, meaning you’ll never get confused between a product designer and a UX designer again. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What is a UX designer?
- What is a product designer?
- What are the similarities?
- What are the differences?
- The takeaway
Sound good? Let’s dive in!
1. What is a UX designer?
In order to gain a comprehensive insight into the difference between a product designer and a UX designer, it’s important that we get a good understanding of both job specifications. Of the two, more people tend to have a good sense of what is involved in being a UX designer. Fundamentally, UX designers focus on user satisfaction and ensuring that the product actually fulfills the user’s needs. UX designers design with user interaction as their main focus, ensuring they’re continually improving the usability and accessibility of the product.
A UX designer will take control of the full scope of the design thinking process, from the research to the ideation, and remain people-driven at all times. Getting into the user’s mindset is integral to a UX designer’s role, as is both user testing and prototyping. In short, the UX designer is responsible for ensuring the product is as optimised as possible for the user.
2. What is a product designer?
Fun fact: as product design derives from industrial design, product design has been around for quite a while longer than UX design. Despite this, the anatomy of a product designer remains elusive to many — sometimes including product designers themselves.
A product designer’s role is largely quite flexible, and can be likened to that of a full-stack designer; a multidisciplinary ‘jack of all trades’ designer who does UX, UI, coding, project management and (perhaps most importantly) problem-solving. In short, a product designer designs solutions to the problems that might arise during the initial process.
In order to solve these problems, product designers will assemble teams to facilitate solutions, create multiple test plans, produce wireframes and go through rounds of A/B testing. A product designer will also support the developers through the launch process, as well as working alongside the marketing teams to ensure synergy between the brand and the product. They are, in short, the guardians of the product: ensuring it’s the most relevant, cost-effective and functional product it can be and that all the stakeholders are happy.
3. What are the similarities?
From the above definitions, you may have already noticed some obvious similarities between the two roles. For starters, both designers will go through the design thinking process and maintain a human-centered approach when it comes to design. Both have a market research aspect to their job (although naturally, the UX designer will delve deeper into the user testing).
Alongside these overlapping traits, it’s not uncommon for both UX designers and product designers to use the same tools during the design process. Wireframing tools like Balsamiq and Sketch are commonly used by both designers, as well as user mapping software like Lucid Chart and Overflow. In fact — product designers and UX designers basically use the same tools, with a few exceptions!
4. What are the differences?
Despite these similarities, UX designers and product designers have a fair few differences in their job specs. One of the best ways to distinguish between a UX designer and a product designer is the questions they ask. While a UX designer might ask: “Is this product easy to use?” A product designer might ask “does this product make sense in the current economy?” Again, a UX designer might ask “How do I make my design user-friendly?” but a product designer would ask “How do I make my design cost-effective?”
From the differences in these questions, you can gauge that the two designers have different priorities. For the UX designer, the priority is usability. For a product designer, it’s the process, business, cost and brand. A UX designer will identify the problems, and a product designer will propose solutions.
The general consensus is that compared to UX or UI designers, product designers have a wider range of skills, and therefore a wider range of responsibilities within the project. This is generally reflected in the salary, with product designers often getting paid more due to higher demand. According to glassdoor, the average salary for a product designer in the states is $106,766, compared to the the average salary for a UX designer which is $90,697. Of course, this is all relative — it depends on the company, and the scale of the project!
Below is a product designer job description [courtesy of indeed.com]
And below is a UX designer job description [courtesy of indeed.com]
Despite the fact that both jobs require a high level of design skill, we can see that there is a higher level of decision making and business acumen required in the product designer job spec, whereas the UX designer job spec involves more specific design responsibilities including research and wireframes.
5. The takeaway
The main takeaway from this comparison is that product designers and UX designers have very similar jobs — but it’s arguable that a product designer has a few more responsibilities in terms of thinking of the process as a whole, including the business, process, and branding. That’s not to say that a product designer does more work than a UX designer! Depending on the product and company, it’s likely that both roles will involve the same level of hard work and dedication to ensuring the product is the best it can possibly be. In fact, the roles are so similar that they’re easily interchangeable. This is one of the reasons why product designer to UX designer and vice versa are extremely well-trodden career paths.
Hopefully, this piece will have provided you with a clear distinction between the two job specs. For further reading about different roles and specializations in UX design, check out our articles on:
What You Should Do Now
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