Product designer vs UX designer — what’s the difference?

Product designer vs UX designer — how do these two roles measure up against each other?

While product designers and UX designers often have intertwined responsibilities, they are not the same. And understanding their key differences will help you make the right choice, whether as a tech newbie or as an organization looking to scale their product team.

This article will walk you through all you need to know about a product designer vs a UX designer.

TL;DR

  • It’s challenging to reach an agreement regarding the differences between a product designer and a UX designer.
  • UX designers focus on the aesthetics and usability of the product, including color palettes, fonts, user interfaces, and other elements.
  • Product designers usually work closely with business teams to understand what they want from the product and develop ideas to solve specific needs.
  • Several professional courses help you acquire the needed skills for a successful career in product design or user experience design.
  • Hire a UX designer if you need someone to own the overall design process in your Saas business.
  • Go for a product designer if you need someone with business acumen to lead strong cross-functional collaboration for your product team.

Product designer vs UX designer

The responsibilities of product designers and user experience designers often overlap, so it can be difficult to tell them apart. Also, it doesn’t help that many organizations use both terms interchangeably, making it harder for early-career folks to understand the differences between these roles.

Even industry experts have conflicting opinions when it comes to product design vs UX design.

For example, Rob Fontenot, Growth Product Manager at Lendio, Founder at Path2Product, suggests that the difference between these roles is primarily an issue of perception. In his words:

“there are visual designers who only worry about the aesthetics. Then there are UX designers who do visual design plus a whole lot of other stuff.”

Rob Fontenot on qualities of good UX designers

Meanwhile, Ruan Shah argues that “product designers are full-stack — they are UX and UI designers. On the other hand, UX designers will only design how something works but not how it looks. The main difference between both roles comes down to how close they are to the product — UX’ers are, put, further towards context/humans than product designers are.

UX designer

UX designers are designed-focused. Their role is to make a product easy to use, thereby optimizing user experience. To do this, they create customer-friendly visual elements that improve the usability and accessibility of a solution.

What do UX designers do?

The day-to-day responsibilities of UX designers include the following, depending on the specific organizational structure:

  • Researching users, target markets, and competitors
  • Working on assets and documentation needed for design hand-offs
  • Collaborating with the product team and cross-functional team members to deliver new solutions and features
  • Building customer journey maps, user personas, and empathy maps
  • Carrying out usability tests
  • Designing information architecture, user flows, and navigation
  • UX writing and usability testing
  • Leading design thinking
  • Extracting insights from user research data
  • Designing wireframes, mockups, and system governance
  • Leading user experience design, interaction design, visual design, user interface design
What do UX designers do?

What skills are required in UX design?

If you’re looking to pursue a career as a UX designer, then you should commit to sharpening these skills:

  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • An eye for details
  • Research
  • User empathy
  • Ability to use a wide range of design tools
  • Graphic design
  • Basic coding knowledge
  • Advanced communication
  • Project management
  • Technical know-how including wireframing, using prototyping tools, UX writing, and interaction design
  • Analytics

What makes a great UX designer?

Succeeding as a UX designer requires more than soft skills and technical know-how. To excel in this role, you must have several personality traits. So let’s take a look at them.

  • A UX designer must have a curious and analytical mind.
  • They pay attention to detail and have the ability to see the big picture.
  • UX designers have a keen interest in problem-solving.
  • UX designers have a natural desire for learning.
  • They can communicate their thoughts.
  • User experience designers are great listeners.
  • UX designers empathize with users and can put themselves in users’ shoes to understand their pain points and unique needs.

Product designer

Product design is a business-oriented role that involves developing existing solutions, designing new features, and carrying out product maintenance.

While it touches on several UX design tasks, product design has a broader focus with several organizational responsibilities. For example, product designers collaborate with cross-functional teams to discover business value opportunities.

Because of their knowledge of the business goals, product designers lead the entire design process. This means they coordinate UX researchers, visual designs, and other team members to create products that meet users’ needs and business objectives.

What are product designers’ responsibilities?

Product designers perform several functions, depending on the business structure and team size. Specifically, they are responsible for:

  • Determining the product’s look and feel
  • Using research to identify business opportunities that align with user needs
  • Conducting user, competitor, and market research
  • Carrying out product updates
  • Collaborating with cross-functional team to release features and execute product strategies
  • Defining product roadmaps
  • Finding ways to increase market share, revenue, and user base for the product
  • Conducting usability tests and designing high-fidelity prototypes
  • Mapping user experience and visual designs
  • Identifying product strategies for increasing market share, revenue, and attracting new users
Responsibilities of Product designers

Specifically, the product designer works on the overall feeling and experience of the solution as a whole. In contrast, a UX designer focuses on the product’s aesthetics and how these factors affect usability. Unlike the UX designer who handles core design functions, the product designer’s responsibilities live at the intersection of the customer, product, and business goals.

What skillset is needed of a product designer?

While UX design emphasizes core design skills, product design requires knowledge of business strategy and solid communication skills. If you’re looking to explore a career in product design, you should commit to honing the following skills:

  • Problem-solving
  • Project management
  • A good grasp of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript
  • Data science
  • User empathy
  • Technical proficiency
  • Public speaking — for interviews and presentations
  • Business savvy
  • Long-term planning and strategy
  • Research

What are the qualities of a brilliant product designer?

Like UX designers, product designers need to have a strong sense of user empathy and an eye for aesthetics. These qualities help them create visually-appealing products that meet both the users’ needs and specific business goals.

Specifically, product designers need to:

  • Be persuasive: Strong persuasion skills allow you to find a walk-around to seemingly difficult tasks. Product designers know how to leverage others’ knowledge and experiences to tackle challenges.
  • Be goal-oriented: The whole idea behind building products is solving problems through design. To do this, the product designer must have the ability to focus on a given task, define problems and brainstorm possible solutions.
  • Understand business goals: More than solving users’ needs, a great product helps the business meets its goals like increasing its market share or reducing the bounce rate on its website. An essential part of a product designer’s role is using design to solve problems that help the business achieve its goals. To do this, you must clearly understand these objectives and align stakeholders around them.

How to start your career as a product or UX designer?

UX design and product design present growing career opportunities for people looking to break into the industry with a non-technical background.

For example, a 2020 research discovered that nearly 700,000 people have “product design” on their LinkedIn profiles. And things aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Glassdoor statistics put the salary of product and UX designers in the US at $105,448 and $105,112, respectively.

There’s never been a better time to explore the opportunities presented by these career paths. So, how do you go about it?

Thinking of a career as a UX designer?

As a newbie, the first thing you want to do is invest in learning about UX concepts and skills. The idea here is to get familiar with the designer’s language so you can execute projects effectively. Most of the work you do as a UX designer involves prototyping, building wireframes, and mapping user flows and customer journeys. So, learning how to execute these tasks effectively is key.

Great UX career benefits lie in a solid understanding of design principles, such as typography and color theory. In addition, get familiar with basic design tools like Sketch, Figma, and Adobe Creative Suite.

Now, let’s look at a few courses for anyone who wants to delve into the world of product design and level up their knowledge.

UX design courses

While UX design isn’t a conventional course taught in many schools for x number of years, some experts have done the heavy-lifting and created relatively affordable online courses, especially for early-stage UX designers.

Many of these courses explore fundamental concepts and skills, helping you build your knowledge from the ground up. They are also a great way to check whether UX design is the field you want to explore in the future.

The next question is, “how do you find these courses?”

It’s not rocket science. A quick Google search for “UX design courses” brings up an indefinite list of several free and paid UX courses like Google UX Design Professional Certificate.

Google UX design professional certificate

UX Design Institute’s 6-month Professional Diploma in UX Design is great for anyone ready to commit to a user experience design career.

Professional diploma in UX design

To unlock the next level in your career, you may consider a degree-level course like the BA UX/UI design course at EU Innovation Hub, Germany.

BA UX/UI design course

Intrigued by the product designer roles?

After spending considerable time in UX design, some persons grow into product design roles. In other instances, a newbie can opt for product design from day one. Whichever is the case, one thing is sure: A successful product design career doesn’t happen by chance. Instead, it requires commitment and dedication, plus a handful of soft and hard skills.

As a product designer, your job goes beyond working on products that solve users’ problems. Ultimately, you need to tie these solutions to precise organizational goals and align stakeholders around these objectives.

Product designers are expected to oversee projects and collaborate with business teams. So, more than anything else, you need to understand how products fit into the company’s priorities at a time.

If you’re looking to break into this industry, you must have a firm grasp of UX design to help you excel in the ideation phase. Also, product designers should have top-notch project management skills, enabling seamless collaboration across multiple teams to deliver the best solutions.

Product design courses

Enrolling in a product design course is a huge commitment requiring time, dedication, and money. So, before making a move, do your research and be sure that you can handle all of this seamlessly.

That said, let’s go through a few course options for people looking to explore this career path.

Udemy offers several affordable courses that are just right for beginners.

Udemy product design course

You can opt for a Bachelor’s degree from a formal university such as the B.Sc Product Design at Bournemouth University.

Bournemouth university BSc product design course

…and the 4-year B. A Product Design program at the Barcelona European Institute of Design taught in English.

BA product design course

If you have some experience in product design, you can opt for an advanced degree like the Master of Product Design and Development Management program at Northwestern University, USA.

Master of product design and development management

Which one do you need to hire for your SaaS?

Should you recruit a product designer or UX designer? Frankly, it depends. While lines between both roles, many companies already have a fair idea of who they need for specific tasks.

As mentioned earlier, a UX designer focuses on the overall interactive presentation of a product. On the other hand, a product designer is business-oriented and ensures that the product matches the organization’s priorities.

That said, you should hire a UX designer if:

  • You need someone to own the overall design process, including user experience (UX) and user experience (UI) design, visual design, and interaction design.
  • The tasks at hand include designing system governance, information architecture, wireframes, and mockups.
  • You need someone to conduct usability, design, and optimize user flows and navigation.

On the other hand, go for a product designer if:

  • You require someone to conduct user research, study market trends, conduct competitor analysis and use this data to identify viable business opportunities.
  • You need someone to define product roadmaps and execute product strategies
  • The tasks at hand include product updates and leading product development.
  • You need someone who can identify ways to increase the product’s market share, revenue, and user base.
  • You need someone to make sure that product design and development are within your budget.

Conclusion

While product designers and user experience designers seem like two peas in a pod, several lines separate them. Ultimately, the one you choose, whether as an individual or organization, depends on your goals.

To recap, here are vital things to note about a product designer vs UX designer:

  • Product designers are business-focused, while UX designers are design-focused.
  • As a product designer, your work involved collaborating with business teams to deliver solutions that fit the organization’s goals.
  • Both product and UX designers require a certain level of design knowledge to function in their roles.

Are you a product designer or UX designer? Learn how to build product experiences code-free with User Pilot. Book a demo call with our team to get started.

Userpilot is a Product Growth Platform designed to help product teams improve product metrics through in-app experiences without code. Check out userpilot.com

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