Product Design vs UX Design: why you need to know the difference

What’s a UX Designer? And what’s a Product Designer? What’s the difference? And why should you care? I’m so glad you asked. If you’re looking to develop a product, build an app, become a designer or even develop a website — understanding the difference may be one of the most important things you need to […]

Joe Simmons

UX Designer
·4 min read (1159 words)


What’s a UX Designer? And what’s a Product Designer? What’s the difference? And why should you care? 

I’m so glad you asked.

If you’re looking to develop a product, build an app, become a designer or even develop a website — understanding the difference may be one of the most important things you need to know. 

But trying to figure it out can be frustrating.

Job titles for designers are getting increasingly nuanced and complex. The differences are often only understood by people who have been in the industry for a while (and sometimes not even then). Here’s a list, just to name a few:

I may have made a few of these up, but you get the gist. 

It might seem like a mind-boggling range of roles, and it is! Each of these positions offers something unique, and I could probably write a blog post on each of them. In 2020, UX Designer and Product Designer are two of the most commonly used and together they can play a hugely important role in your business. 

What’s the difference between UX Design and Product Design?

Let’s get into defining what these roles mean, and why the difference between them is important to your business.

Defining a UX Designer

On Wikipedia, UX Design is defined as…

The process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.

The key part of this is “user satisfaction”. This means the role of a UX Designer often incorporates activities like customer interviews, user observations and prototyping; which are all really great, but in the grand scheme of things, not enough to build and launch a brand new product or service into a market.

So why does a UX Designer exist?

The role of UX Designer was created as a response to the old-school thinking that a designer’s role was to deal with colour and typography (the aesthetics), while the app design was up to the software engineers.

Until some brave soul stood up and said… “isn’t the most important person the user?” To which the answer was: “yes”.

And so UX was born. And us designers started designing out prototypes, talking to the users and actually watching them use the things we design. All to make software better for users and to make users happy.

The Product Designer

Then along came the Product Designer. 

(Just to be clear, the role of the Product Designer has been around for decades. However, this is specifically relating to the new trend for designers of apps and websites to call themselves ‘Product Designers’. It’s essentially shorthand for ‘Digital Product Designer’.)

A few years back, I asked a designer (of websites and apps) why he was calling himself a Product Designer. He told me it “was the current fad and it didn’t really mean much.” 

As the years went by, I’ve come to the conclusion that he couldn’t have been more wrong.

The difference between UX Design and Product Design

The business dictionary defines a product as: 

A good or service that most closely meets the requirements of a particular market and yields enough profit to justify its continued existence.

I could unpack that for days. But instead, I’ll just highlight that this shows a product exists in a context (requirements and market place) and it exists over time (profit for continued existence).

And that’s what separates a Product Designer from a UX Designer. 

A UX Designer can create something that is easy to use. They can build apps and websites that have good usability and accessibility. While a product designer designs for a context. 

Or, more simply, a Product Designer designs for a market. They design for long term business goals. They design for branding and positioning. They make technology decisions that impact the scalability of a product. This means they will add a wider range of value, help you develop the right features and most importantly challenge you and your brief. And without that kind of thinking at the design phase, your product may fall short.

So, if you were to describe the difference between the two it’d be something like this:

UX Designers work to make the product more user-friendly. Product Designers create a user-friendly product that can thrive in the context of a marketplace.   

Build something worthwhile

We’ve covered the difference between Product and UX Designers. But to take us back to a question I asked at the start: why should you care? What could this mean for your business? 

Well, put simply, you should care because you need to find the right kind of designer if you want your product or service to succeed. Will you ever find yourself in a situation where you are choosing between a UX Designer or a Product Designer? Probably not. But you will find yourself trying to find a designer that offers you the right mix of skills for your project. And knowing what you’re looking for can be the difference between a good hire and a failed product.

Questions you need to ask yourself

To get the most value out of the design process, you need to set yourself up for success by asking yourself the right questions. Here are a few suggestions that should give you a strong start:

Answer those, and you’ll be well on the way to finding the ideal designer.

Questions to ask your designer?

The second thing is to be able to ask your designer the right questions. Here are some questions that might help:

It’s all about fine-tuning

This might all seem like a lot of information for you or it may all feel quite simple and easy to understand. The good news for you is that there are a lot of great UX and Product Designers out there, you just need to know how to fine-tune your search — and, hopefully, this blog has helped with that. 

Of course, if you really want to guarantee success, you can always come and work with a company like ours, and get access to a whole design team with a range of skills and experience. 

If not, your goal should be finding the right team as that’s the key to building a product that really does “justify its continued existence”

And after all, isn’t that what we’re trying to do? Build something worthwhile.

If you want to find out more about how to launch a new product or service, take a look at Mark’s blog post, which lists the key things you need to consider (that many companies forget). 

I'm Joe Simmons

UX Designer at Newicon

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