Is product design really the same as UX design? | Strafe Creative

Is product design really the same as UX design?

Digital DesignThis VS ThatUser Experience
2 UI UX designers working together

As a digital product design agency owner I often read industry content and one of the questions I see asked a lot is, “Is product design the same as UX design?” In my opinion, I’m not sure this is always answered very clearly, so it made sense to write an article about it.

Anyone who doesn’t work in the industry probably has no idea there is a difference, never mind what is it. The truth is that whilst many job functions overlap, the perspectives and remits of each designer are quite different.

But here’s the thing – a good product designer who has a strong feel for UX could apply for UX design jobs and vice versa.

Let’s go into a bit more detail about what that really means.

What is a UX Designer and what do they do?

A UX designer is laser-focused on creating a product that fulfils the users’ needs first and foremost. They work to understand who your user is, what their needs are and how to satisfy these within your design.

Meeting user expectations on usability and accessibility is just part of what they can do for you, they also gamify the process to keep users engaged for the long term.

You’ll need a UX designer on your team right from the get-go when it comes to research and they will help you see your product through to launch, being deployed again when you need updates and new features.


The UX perspective in a digital product

In short, a UX designer fights for the user in your design and they will always ask, “Is this product user-friendly?” Does it allow the user to navigate well, find what they are looking and solve their problem?

With that in mind, UX designers are also responsible for wireframes and user flows which show the user journey in its most simple form.

Their perspective brings an incredibly important balance to your project when working with others, like a product designer.


What is a product designer and what do they do?

Whilst a good product designer considers UX elements within their work, this is the person on your team who thinks holistically. This means they consider the design, the product and how that fits within the wider business.

They work on beautiful, functional designs and balance this with critical thinking on ease of build, cost-effectiveness, commercial viability, internal system integration, ease of maintenance and later additional features.


The product design perspective in a digital product

A product designer is involved in the bigger picture view of your product design, including the build with the development team.

Their perspective is equally important to your project, because whilst they understand that the user is critical in good design, they also appreciate that the product has to work as part of your business model.


Why the two roles are often confused

The similarities in job functions can be confusing.

In both product design and UX design, the product development process is fairly similar. Both consider user flow, wireframes, building prototypes and testing. Yet where a UX designer will dive deeper into user research and testing, a product designer will step back and consider the bigger picture of product management.

UX design is a relatively new role in the digital design industry and has grown from the understanding that there is a real need to focus on user satisfaction. This has meant diversification or specialisation for some designers and an opportunity for companies to hire the specific skills they need.

When it comes to recruitment, UX designers will often have a portfolio filled with wireframes, user flows and specific UX examples. On the flip side, a digital product design would have examples of full, beautifully designed SaaS projects, having been part of the project from start to finish.


Do you need to hire a UX designer and a product designer?

On bigger teams, a UX designer and a product designer would work alongside each other. Where a budget is smaller it is quite possible to hire one designer who has an appreciation and proven experience in both areas.

If you are asking about value for money, then I really don’t think you can scrimp on user satisfaction versus commercial satisfaction. Having both perspectives brings a balance to the design process that gives your project more chance of success in today’s market.


Final thoughts: Is product design the same as UX design?

Both product design and UX design cover similar areas of your product development process, but fundamentally bring two important perspectives to the table.

Understanding why and where to pull these designers in on your project can be the difference between a smash hit or a flip-flop of a digital product.

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