Product design vs UX design: What’s the difference?
Reading time: about 5 min
Even though both disciplines are unique in their own right, the discussion about product design vs. UX design would not happen in the first place if there wasn’t some confusion about which is which. To understand the differences of product design vs. UX design, let’s first define the two roles.
What is a product designer, and what is a UX designer?
It’s a simple enough question: What is a product designer? Even if the day-to-day specifics may vary by industry and company, product designers are typically the people who work to differentiate a company’s products from those of their direct competitors or rivals.
A product designer studies the needs of their customer base to help manage the design process and deliver the ideal experience. After launch, the job of the product designer really begins. It includes adding updates to optimize performance, as the product designer’s pursuit of the best product possible is nonstop.
In order to devise a solution that’s both profitable and sustainable, a product designer will:
- Improve upon existing product designs
- Evolve a product to match changing customer needs
- Find new ways to make a product more user-friendly
When comparing product design vs. UX design, the next question is: What is a UX designer? As a UX designer, the entire focus of your product design efforts occurs before the launch. Everything about the app, product, or website must be at its best version possible ahead of the launch date.
Once the product is released, the UX designer’s work is now complete. At this point, the product becomes the responsibility of the product designer, and the UX designer focuses their attention on the next project. For the UX designer, every project is finite and ultimately tied to a schedule.
These same limitations are also what make the UX designer role interesting, as they get to:
- Create original designs or refresh existing products
- Solve difficult problems with user-centered design practices
- Overcome obstacle to get products user-ready with a timeframe
Similarities between product design and UX design
Both product designers and UX designers take a human-centered approach to design. Each will also rely regularly on market research to guide the design process and use wireframing or user journey mapping software like Lucidspark for quick iteration and collaboration among their teams.
Product designers and UX designers not only use most of the same tools, but also adhere to the same five-stage design thinking process. These stages are:
Besides the overlapping traits they share, these two distinct design roles are tasked with helping to simplify workflow and product usability, incorporate user-feedback loops, and validate scopes for genuine upgrades or add-ons. Now, let’s see the differences of product design vs. UX design.
Differences between product design and UX design
The key difference of product design vs. UX design is the focus behind each process. Product designers are always concerned with how the customer connects with the product. It’s their job to make the product relevant and appealing to its audience, all while taking competing products, stakeholder demands, and even the economy into consideration. Product designers think about:
- Ways to make their product more cost effective
- How to align the product to business objectives
- What the product looks like two years from now
For a product designer, a successful product release isn’t enough. They also become involved with keeping products relevant, effective, and up-to-date as time goes on or as the technology, trends, and public interests change. In contrast, UX designers find themselves narrowing their focus on the customer experience or how people perceive the overall usability of their products.
Because UX design is structured around user needs, UX designers concern themselves with:
- Whether or not customers enjoy using the product
- Ways their product (and its features) benefit users
- How to make products as user-friendly as possible
In order to build products that fulfill their customers’ needs from the start, UX designers always pay close attention to customer satisfaction and how quickly people engage, interact, or adapt to their solutions—knowledge used to revisit a product design but usually for their next project.
Tools of a product designer vs. UX designer
Although both design disciplines share almost all the same tools, the role of product designer can be broader at some organizations than others. During their process, product designers may use:
- Paper and pen for sketching ideas and concepts
- Physical or digital whiteboards for brainstorming
- Diagramming tools for visualizing processes, roadmaps, user paths
- Wireframing or prototyping tools for modeling and testing designs
- Graphic design programs or CAD software for product development
- Product analytics tools to assess the performance of digital experiences
Product design teams will also rely on some form of project management software to track their design process. To further improve the customer journey, product designers might utilize a user research and journey mapping template to better collect and organize user insights, brainstorm improvements, and then map out and implement an improved user journey.
UX designers, being inventive, must create a range of options with the users’ needs in mind.
To better visualize their stories at a high level, share ideas and collaborate with others, help align team members, and achieve buy-in from stakeholders, UX designers often incorporate tools like a storyboard template to empathize with how customers think and feel across their journey.
Because so many aspects of UX design center around mobile and web app architectures, a UX designer must often find ways to visualize the steps users take to complete tasks. Tools like an iOS wireflow template let UX designers ideate screen designs for almost any use-case scenario.
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