Product Design vs. UX Design

Product Design vs. UX Design

29 Sep 2023

To the outside world, the differences between UX and product design might seem wafer-thin.

If both of these professions are centered on design, then surely they can’t be too dissimilar, right?

Well, not exactly.

Though UX designers and product designers will often be working alongside one another, there’s a clear difference in the primary interest and focus of each profession.

Consequently, their skill set and day-to-day tasks, as well as the techniques and tools they implement to achieve their goals, very often look pretty different.

But before we dive into the nitty-gritty, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page. What actually is product and UX design?

What Is Product Design?

At its core, product design involves the entire process of designing a product, be it physical or digital. However, it’s so much more than that: their essential principles are founded on combining “functionality, usability, and aesthetics” into one cohesive item.

This process can involve strategic decisions, such as deciding on market placement, price, and distribution. Very often, the person in charge of product design – the product designer – will be involved in the whole lifecycle of the product.

That means that their presence is felt from the initial discovery stage all the way through to new releases and updates.

Naturally, the role is user-centric. A product designer will anticipate consumer needs, preferences, habits, and frustrations via research, prototyping, and testing. The product designer will not only consider the visuals; the system used and backend elements also require their attention.

Yet, product design has a much wider scope in that it considers the needs of the business, too. Specifically, how does the product help the business, and at what cost? Product designers may often be the face outward to clients, too.

In other words, product design is all about solving pain points experienced by consumers, but in a marketable way.

Interestingly, product design is actually the successor to industrial design, a term that refers to the design of electronics, furniture, and other physical items.

In this way, you can see how expansive the concept of product design is. It considers the entire project journey of building a product from start to finish.

What Is UX Design?

‘UX’ means user experience. From this, it’s not hard to figure out that UX design is highly user-focused.

In essence, UX design is all about creating a strong, pleasant, and instinctive experience for the user. UI Design, usability, branding, and functionality are all critical concerns for a UX designer.

They achieve these by building user processes, designing user interfaces, and performing extensive user research.

Where product design has a wide overview of the process, UX design trains a laser focus on how a user interacts with the interface of a product. The role of a UX designer often comes at the beginning of the product life cycle.

For example, if they are responsible for creating a new landing page, they will consider the placement of wording, images, and buttons in order to create a seamless experience. They might even consider changing the domain name in order to bring everything together cohesively.

This gives us some insight into the main difference between the two design processes. Now, we’re ready to investigate further and uncover the three key differences between UX and product design.

3 Key Differences Between UX and Product Design

Though they may seem similar, there are three areas in which UX and product design differ.

1. Skills

Probably the biggest difference between UX and product design lies in the skill set each professional must have.

UX designers will often be experienced in user research, interaction design, and information architecture.

At the heart of these skills is a desire to understand human behavior. More specifically, these disciplines want to uncover how and why we interact with digital interfaces. Understanding these impulses allows a UX designer to ideate and mold an instinctive, pleasant user experience process.

Design is another skill that UX designers are required to have. Product designers will naturally have a flair for this, too, but there’s no question that UX design requires more of a creative feel.

Other skills or backgrounds that a UX designer would need include:

  1. Interpreting data and qualitative feedback
  2. Planning and conducting user research
  3. Conducting and analyzing competitor analysis
  4. Prototyping and wireframing skills (and avoiding these ten critical wireframing mistakes!)
  5. Translating business goals into digital experiences

Though the role of a UX designer might seem broad, this pales in comparison to the all-inclusive sweep of a product designer.

Product designers often need to have an understanding of engineering, product management, business operations, market trends, and customer behavior.

A UX designer is concerned with creating a useful product; a product designer not only has this as their focus, but they also need to ensure said product is scalable and marketable.

Moreover, they often require leadership skills and strong interpersonal abilities, as they will undoubtedly lead a team, report back to management, and most likely communicate with external stakeholders. Flawless communications equipment, such as Vonage cloud calling, is key to managing such a variety of personalities.

A product designer will probably require the following skills:

  1. A strong understanding of UX/UI (user interface)
  2. An understanding of design and prototyping skills
  3. The ability to apply design thinking to planning and project work
  4. Experience with user research (either conducting or partnering with researchers)
  5. Experience collaborating with designers
  6. Strong visual and verbal communication skills
  7. Strong collaborative skills

Free to use image sourced from Pexels

Considering the breadth of skills that a product designer is required to have, they very often command greater salaries than their UX designer counterparts.

But what else is different between these two areas of expertise?

2. Tasks

Given the contrasting skill sets, it’s natural that the tasks required from each position would also vary.

For example, UX designers would typically have the following tasks:

  1. Ideating potential designs
  2. Considering how to improve product usability
  3. Providing feedback after testing
  4. Creating prototypes for new products, websites, and features
  5. Conducting user research and testing
  6. Analyzing and applying customer feedback and data
  7. Merging interface design concepts with digital design
  8. Improving user navigation

In comparison, a product designer would have these sorts of tasks:

  1. Analyzing market trends and user behavior research
  2. Identifying market opportunities
  3. Applying the above to inform product ideation
  4. Creating and implementing a product design strategy
  5. Managing the design team, communicating goals, needs, and deadlines
  6. Working with stakeholders and managing their expectations and needs
  7. Monitoring product post-release and analyzing for improvement
  8. Collecting and implementing design feedback

As you can see, the tasks required from each profession reflect the focus of their work.

A UX designer is heavily focused on inventing and tweaking the user interface according to user research. In comparison, a product designer’s tasks indicate the overview that they have over the product process; though usability is important for product designers, they also have to take into consideration market trends, stakeholder expectations, and future iterations of the product.

3. Tools and Techniques

There is definitely a contrast when it comes to the tools and techniques that UX and product designers use.

UX designers will be experienced in using wireframes, prototypes, and user testing to fully understand and map out user behavior and build a smooth and pleasant user interface.

Product designers are more likely to use product sketching, 3D modeling software, and product testing. Using these techniques and tools, they will be able to build both the physical and digital components of their desired product.

And there we have it: the three major differences between UX and product design.

If you still feel confused about how these two concepts distinguish themselves from one another, we can consider the questions that each designer may ask themself.

A UX designer would ask: is this product easy and intuitive to use? A product designer would ask: is it useful to the market by providing value to users?

For a quick and final thought experiment, let’s imagine that both a product designer and a UX designer are part of a project to create the interface for an outbound calling services platform. The UX designer would focus on the feel and design of the interface, whereas the product designer would oversee the entire process of building the platform, including all the backend components.

See the difference now?

Tools and Techniques in UX Design

User-Centered Design Tools

UX designers rely on tools like MockFlow, Sketch, Adobe XD, Figma, and InVision for creating wireframes, prototypes, and mockups. These tools help them visualize and iterate on user interfaces.

User Research Techniques

UX designers conduct various research methods such as user interviews, surveys, usability testing, and analytics analysis to gather insights into user behavior. They use tools like UserTesting and Hotjar to collect and analyze user data.

Information Architecture

UX designers use tools like card sorting and tree testing to organize and structure content effectively. These techniques help ensure that users can easily find the information they need.

Persona Development

UX designers create user personas to represent different user groups. This helps them to create detailed personas with demographics, goals, and pain points.

Usability Heuristics

UX designers apply established usability heuristics or guidelines to evaluate the user-friendliness of a design. They assess factors like learnability, efficiency, and error prevention.

Prototyping and Testing

Rapid prototyping tools like Axure RP or Adobe XD are essential for creating interactive prototypes that can be tested with users. A/B testing tools like Optimizely help refine design choices based on user feedback.

Tools and Techniques in Product Design

Wireframing, Prototyping, and UI Design Tools

Product designers use tools like MockFlow, Sketch, and Balsamiq for creating wireframes interactive prototypes, and designing the visual elements of the user interface. These tools enable them to craft a seamless and visually appealing software interface, spanning from initial wireframes to achieving pixel-perfect UI designs.

Version Control and Collaboration tools

Product designers need to have a system to keep track of multiple versions of design assets and collect feedback from various stakeholders to collaborate seamlessly. A tool like MockFlow becomes invaluable in this regard, as it allows us to effortlessly manage all design iterations and gather feedback while collaborating efficiently with our team. With MockFlow, we can maintain an organized and centralized platform for tracking the evolution of our design assets and ensuring that the design process remains smooth and well-coordinated.

Design and Development Collaboration

Collaboration tools like Figma, Zeplin, or Abstract are used to bridge the gap between design and development teams. They allow for seamless handoffs of design assets and specifications.

Design and Development Collaboration

Collaboration tools like Figma, Zeplin, or Abstract are used to bridge the gap between design and development teams. They allow for seamless handoffs of design assets and specifications.

Design Thinking Workshops

Product designers conduct workshops and brainstorming sessions with stakeholders to define product goals and strategies. Techniques like design thinking and journey mapping are employed to align the team's vision.

Market Research and Competitive Analysis

Tools such as SEMrush and SimilarWeb help product designers analyze market trends, competitive landscapes, and user preferences to inform product decisions.

Data Collection and Analysis Tools

Product designers rely on tools like Excel and dedicated business analysis software to craft financial models, perform ROI calculations, and formulate persuasive business cases that substantiate product investments. Additionally, they employ qualitative data analysis software, such as NVivo or MAXQDA, for in-depth exploration and interpretation of qualitative research data.

Customer Feedback and Metrics

Product designers continuously monitor user feedback and metrics like customer satisfaction, retention rates, and revenue. Tools like Mixpanel and Google Analytics are essential for data-driven decision-making.

While both UX and product designers employ design principles, their choice of tools and techniques reflects their distinct areas of focus. UX designers emphasize user-centered design and usability testing, while product designers have a more comprehensive role that involves business strategy, market analysis, and project management. Understanding these differences is crucial for organizations looking to build successful products that meet user needs while aligning with business goals.

Designing Our World

Hopefully, we’ve clarified the difference between product and UX design.

Though both require creativity and a flair for design, they ultimately encompass different strategies, goals, and skill sets.

Yet, there’s no doubt that product designers and UX designers are a crucial part of today’s world. Without them, we’d be completely lost in the digital maze, without an instinctive user interface to help solve our myriad problems.