What’s the difference between Product design and UX design? UX Question #44

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Dominic from Leicester, England, asks: What’s the difference between UX design and product design?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Dominic. This is UX Question number 44 and I am Ben Judy.

What’s the difference between UX design and product design? Well, job titles in this career field are crazy.

I’ve been called just about everything: Webmaster, Interaction Designer, Information Architect, Visual Designer, Product Designer, and so forth. I was doing holistic UX research and design in most of these roles, no matter what job title my employer assigned to me.

You usually don’t see a company that has official job titles of UX Designer and Product Designer, in the same organization. It’s one or the other, and lately, product designer seems to be more trendy.

The titles given to designers have a lot to do with who holds the most influence within the business. Businesses today are often led by leaders with a background in one of three disciplines: technology, design, or product management. One of those three is usually the dominant discipline in a modern, tech savvy company.

In an org where Product Managers have more influence over technology and design, they will call designers, ‘Product Designers’ to reinforce the fact that designers serve under the leadership of product managers.

So, as a Product Designer, you won’t report to a UX manager who focuses on user outcomes, you report to a Director or VP of Product Management whose focus is primarily on the business outcomes.

This explains why product designers tend to emphasize or lean toward strong UI design skills.

By contrast, a UX designer tends to emphasize a more holistic UX skillset including user research and information architecture and interaction design, et cetera.

You still need to do all of that work, no matter what you call it, product design or UX design. But here’s a question to ask yourself: do you want to be the kind of designer who primarily designs for great user experiences? Or, do you want to design primarily for the business to be more profitable?

Product Design and UX Design are often used interchangeably, or without much thought as to what might be different between them. But I do think words matter. In a nutshell, a product designer’s job is to make a product manager happy; whereas a UX designer’s job is to make the users of the product happy.

If you do both of those things successfully, and you should, then just let your bosses call you whatever they want to call you, do some good in the world, collect your paycheck…

…and keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: What is inclusive design?

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