The spectrum of roles in the UX world is growing day-by-day. As a design professional, it can be easy to get confused by the different job titles du jour. One of the 2 most confused roles are the ones of a Product Designer and a UX Designer. Is there a difference? Are they the same? And which one should you choose?
Let’s start with the basics...
What is Product Design?
Put simply, Product Design is the process of identifying a market opportunity, clearly defining a user’s problem, developing a proper solution for that problem creating a product which blends together the needs of the user and of the business.
By this token, Product Designers' main task is to optimise the user experience while simultaneously helping their brands reach the long-term business goals. Product Designers are often called ‘jacks of all trades’ and are seen as generalists in the world of UX Design.
Product Designers are more focussed on the business goal of the product: making sure the product/market fit is right, the product goals are aligned with the business goals, and creating product roadmaps. They ensure their products are cost effective, functional, and timely.
What is UX Design?
UX Design, in turn, describes the process design teams use to create highly usable, meaningful, and relevant products for the users. This involves a whole spectrum of design: from product conception, to branding, design, and integration.
UX Designers are ‘traditionally’ seen as hyper-focussed on the user’s needs, user satisfaction, and taking full ownership & control of the Design Thinking process.
The difference between Product Design and UX Design
If the role definitions sound nearly identical to you...it’s because the differences between a UX and a Product Design are NOT as big as they once were! Product Designer’s business-goal orientation is supposedly the only thing that differentiates them from a UX Designer. There, we said it, the roles are nearly identical. So why are there even 2 different names for the same job?
Put simply, because Product Design is a development of a similar, older design discipline - industrial design. Originally, Product Design was referring to physical products, until it transferred over into the digital realm.
Plus, the names of tech roles, their scope, and responsibilities are constantly changing, and that..well, can sometimes lead to confusions like this one!
Don’t get us wrong, some companies might still refer to this ‘traditional’ job description when writing out job ads, but we have several reasons why you shouldn’t get too bogged down by the titles & the supposed differences between them...
Reason #1: The industry is changing FAST
Design industry is a very fast-paced field. Role requirements and descriptions change very quickly, and if you’re stuck on a particular description you might be missing out on some important developments. The title of UX designer has been around for just a couple of decades, and who knows which new titles are going to come around in just a few years…
Reason#2: End business goal should ALWAYS be on your mind
All too often, UX Designers take this ‘official’ difference as an excuse to focus too much on specific design characteristics and don't think about the broader challenges, and bigger picture of the project they are working on. Well, guess what, that’s the most surefire way to never get promoted and stay an executor rather than a strategic partner for the rest of your career.
It’s not that hard to come up with a sleek, cool design–most designers can do that, regardless of their seniority. What’s harder is to design intentionally, with a bigger goal in mind. So the next time you find yourself getting carried away on a project, stop and think critically: why are you designing in this particular way? This will help you when pitching or communicating your design work to non-designers.
Learn to look past your direct role and consider your team as a whole: is what you’re suggesting feasible for the web dev department to implement? Is legal going to be on-board with this? Does it meet the business goals? Considering all these implications makes your job harder, but it also levels you up as a Designer, REGARDLESS of your title.
Reason#3: The job ads do NOT reflect this difference
If you take the time and browse through the recent job ads, you’ll notice one thing… A lot of them are written out for the position of “Product Design/UX Designer”. Loads of companies are looking for all those skills...In ONE person.
What's even more interesting, is that if you compare a job ad for a UX Designer with a job ad for a Product Design position, a lot of times, you won't be able to spot any differences.
Reason#4: Titles are a vanity thing
Sure, titles should serve a purpose and provide a clear overview of your skills, seniority, etc. But.. this is just not the case in the UX world anymore. You could be a UX Designer, or a Product Designer, or a Conversation Designer, UX architect, or a Customer Evangelist Designer, Head User Experience Technologist or any other ambiguous and vague title, but in the end…
The titles are often just a vanity thing and they’re not what you should be focussing on.
So instead of focussing on what your title means, we suggest you focus on the skills you want to perfect, and choosing your career track instead. Typically, regardless of the role and the industry, there are two career tracks that you can pursue…
The technical, or specialist track OR The managerial, or generalist track. Both require a completely different skillset...but, that’s a topic we’ll get into another day.
Bottom line is, the roles are defined by the company you’ll be working for, so make sure to read the job specs thoroughly, pay attention to the SKILLS and RESPONSIBILITIES that a role has, instead of getting hung up on the title.
Break down the roles you are applying for, and cater your skills to the employer. What do they need? Can you deliver given your current skill set? Can you meet their needs and exceed their expectations? Cater your job to the skills you want to learn and areas you want ton work on, instead of to titles!
If you're thinking of a career in UX design, our guide to free UX/UI design courses is a great place to start!