The Key Differences Between UX Designer vs Product Designer

Michael Wong Oct 6, 2021 • 7 min read
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An In-depth Breakdown on the Differences Between UX Designer vs Product Designer

Short on time? No stress, we have a brief summary of what a Product Designer is in the Designership TLDR

What is a Product Manager?A product manager needs to understand business outcomes, forms timelines, briefs, and brings structure and a business perspective to every project. 
What is a UX Designer?UX design, or user experience design, aims to ensure that the product being created meets the users’ needs. They take the brief and guidelines to work within from the product manager and delivers a beautiful and delightful 
What is a Product Designer?The product designer embodies both roles, they harmonise the role of the UX designer and the product manager. A product designer will need a wide range of skills in order to fulfil requirements by all stakeholders. 
Summary of Key Differences Between UX Designer vs Product Designer

What is a UX Designer?

What is a UX Designer?
What is a UX Designer?

UX design, or user experience design, aims to ensure that the product being created meets the users’ needs. The UX designer works to create and develop products that ensure an effortless and enjoyable experience for all users. 

A UX designer takes the wheel when it comes to the design thinking process—they conduct UX user research, they consider the users’ motives when using the product, and they combine good design with functionality, branding, and usability. 

For a UX designer to truly create a game-changing design, they need to step into the shoes of the user to get an authentic user experience. They test, assess, and do everything necessary to get the product right. 

What Is The Role Of A UX Designer?

The roles and responsibilities of a UX designer, aside from an understanding of a design tool like Figma and a working computer, include: 

  • User Research: conducting user interviews and research surveys
  • Psychology: understanding how the user perceives the product and anticipating their needs and wants
  • User personas: creating user avatars and mapping out users’ journeys
  • Usability testing, testing, and more testing: Conduct usability tests and amend what doesn’t serve the user
  • Wireframes: planning and demonstrating interface elements  
  • UI Design: consider the aesthetics of each element and how they affect how the way in which user interacts with the product

Based on the users’ feedback and fluctuations and changes in the market, a UX designer will work closely with developers and product managers to make improvements. 

The soft skills that are crucial for UX designers include a creative mindset, collaboration, curiosity, and above all, critical thinking.

This is because a UX designer needs to understand the user to make the product effortless. This requires empathy-a skill that goes a long way. 

What is a Product Manager?

What is a Product Manager?

According to UXDesign.cc, the product manager is the “business advocate aimed to organize the development process to achieve business goals.”

The product manager is responsible for leading the process and making strategic product decisions. In fact, some people describe the product manager as the “mini-CEO” because of this.  

Senior Product Designer at OLX Group Vadim Grin points out that they’re better described as “product leaders at the intersection of business, technology, and user experience (UX).”

What is the Role of the Product Manager?

Product managers wear a lot of hats when it comes to design. As they deal with several internal and external stakeholders, they need to be able to manage the entire product lifecycle and roadmap from start to finish.

Some key roles as a product manager include: 

  • Understand business outcomes: product managers need to be able to anticipate and understand how marketing and business work
  • Form timelines, create briefs: creating and forming briefs for the UX designers that are organised and with clear instructions
  • Creates structure with regards to how it affects the business: every desicion made needs to come from a business framework 

What’s a Product Designer?

What is a Product Designer?
What is a Product Designer?

So, now we have a brief understanding of the process, let’s see how a product design fits into everything.

A product manager makes a brief, and submits it to the UX designer. After this, the UX designer is responsible for receiving briefs and guidelines and delivering an enjoyable user experience that meets that brief.

The big question is: who sits in between these two roles to help harmonise and integrate them? 

This is where we get the role of the product designer.

CareerFoundry has this great summary of the role of a product designer: “a product designer designs solutions to the problems that might arise during the initial process.” 

They’re the jack-of-all-trades designer who embodies both sides.

A product designer is responsible for macro designing: problem-solving and project management, as well as the tech side of things including UI, UX, and coding. 

Product designers need to be well-equipped in order to manage across large teams of developers, marketing, sales, and everything in between. They’re the ones collating A/B testing data, communicating between marketing and developing, and act as a captain of the project ship making sure it all runs smoothly. 

As product design requires a wider range of skills and holds a lot more responsibility, a product designer will often get paid more than UX/UI designers (more on product designer salaries later in the article). 

Why are Product Designers in High Demand?

Outside of the tech world, design is perceived as an art form, but in the tech world, it’s perceived and understood a little differently. 

This rings especially true for UX/UI designers—because, at the end of the day, we are problem-solvers. A UX/UI designer is responsible for helping a business grow, help generate more revenue, and help deliver solutions to people. 

With most UX/UI designers being zoned in completely on meeting the customer’s needs and wants, what happens to the business? How are we helping them to hit those business goals? 

That’s where a product manager comes in. They bring the right creativity to produce a delightful experience and also add a layer of “analytical-ness” to strategically get there.

Desirable Traits of a Product Designer

To be a product designer, you’ll need to have a variety of unique skills and be prepared to wear many hats. 

Not only will you need to be good with UX, but you’ll also need to understand business economics, project management, marketing, and even have a good understanding of distribution.

1. Highly Strategic and Outcomes-Driven

A product designer should always be referring to their North Star, and stay focused on business/product outcomes

2. Highly Empathetic and Analytical

In a product designing role, you’ll be working across several teams and several people.

Therefore, in order to properly communicate with internal and external stakeholders, you’ll need a mastery of analytic tools such as Hotjar, Analytics, Fullstory, and good-ole-faithful Google Sheets.

For this role, it’s not enough to be about looking at a heatmap alone.

Designers need to also come up with strategies to dissect and calculate values when presented with data. For example, if you’re given a spreadsheet of numbers and analytics, it’s your role to decipher the data, understand it, process it, and form strategies.

3. A Strong Understanding of Business and Marketing

After all, as a product designer, you’re probably creating products to help someone generate revenue so you need to know how the game works. 

For instance, product designers do need to understand business and marketing on a deeper level than others. Therefore, your work needs to help move the needle for both the user and the business, something that requires strategy, logic, and deliberate choices.

What’s The Difference Between Product Design and UX Design?

You may have noticed that UX design and product design are pretty similar roles. 

After all, both designers go through the design-planning process, and they both value market and user research (although, UX design does favour testing a little more). 

UX Designer RolesProduct Designer Roles
User ResearchEverything In UX Design
PsychologyProduct And Team Management
User InterviewsTechnical Understanding
Info, ArchitectureFeature Prioritisation
WireframesBusiness Acumen
UI DesignAnalytics And Data
Not an exhaustive list of all the responsibilities

It’s not rare to see UX designers and product designers slipping in between both roles.

The big difference between UX design and product design is how they both ask questions in regards to a project.

UX design priorities usability, and product design priorities the process of creating the entire product. A UX designer is like the builder, and the product designer is like the architect/building manager making sure it all goes to plan. 

Questions A Product Designer Would Ask:Questions A UX Designer Would Ask:
“Are we meeting both business and user outcomes?”“What value are we delivering to the user?”
“What is the go-to-market strategy?”“When do we plan to launch this product?”
“How are we defining priorities within our feature releases?”“Which feature should we focus on designing first?”

Product Design Salary Expectations

Good news! It’s usually thought that a product design role requires a little more knowledge, a little more skills, and a lot of finesse.

As a result, salaries for product designers tend to be a little higher than usual. 

Here are some estimates of product designer salaries as a rough estimate from Glassdoor:

How Much Product Designers Get Paid

Now you can see why product design can be such a lucrative job! 

Best Books for Product & UX Designers

Books for Product & UX Designers
Books for Product vs UX Designers

There aren’t many books dedicated solely to product design as this discipline requires a diverse understanding of many departments to get you started. 

In terms of useful resources that are in the product design space, here are the top five books:

How to Transition From UX to Product

Product design could be the job of your dreams.

Remember, as with anything in life, that there is no way to skip over learning product designer skills, and there are no shortcuts. Becoming a meaningful product designer requires tactical experience.

You’ll need a deep understanding of what works, what doesn’t, and work on building up confidence in your own skill set through real and practical experiences.

What you can do is:

  • Be more mindful with the projects you work on, and always track and measure key metrics
  • Work closely with product managers to learn their methods and approaches to problems
  • Challenge yourself. Ask better questions that go beyond the user and take into consideration the business’ needs

After seeing the numbers, it’s pretty tempting to hand in your resignation and begin chasing a career as a product designer.

After all, what other job would give you the opportunity to really flex your UX/UI skills along with management and business strategy?

If you’re interested in becoming a product designer, as we said, product design requires real-life experience as well as tech experience, so you’ll need to roll up your sleeves, and start designing. 

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