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Is product design the same as UX design?

When building a digital product, think of UX and product design as two halves of a whole. One focuses on user feelings, and the other on product functionality and look.

9 November, 2023
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From the placement of a button to the ease of navigating through a website, a lot goes into creating a truly user-friendly experience. While many believe that product design and UX design are one and the same, they are, in fact, distinct in many ways. 

If you're curious to understand these differences, you've landed on the right page. By the end of this article, you'll be able to distinguish between the two and appreciate the art and science behind every swipe, click, or scroll.

Understanding UX design

UX design isn't just about making things look pretty. It's a strategic process that centers around the user, ensuring their digital experiences are intuitive and delightful.

Defining UX design as a part of product design

User experience design is a subset of the much broader discipline of product design. While product design encompasses the entire journey of creating a product from ideation to launch, UX Design focuses explicitly on the user's experience when interacting with the product. 

Think of product design as building a house: it involves architecture, interior design, plumbing, and more. In this analogy, UX Design would be like interior design – it ensures that the occupants find the house comfortable, functional, and pleasing.

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Key responsibilities and objectives of a UX designer

Here’s what a UX designer is responsible for:

  • User-centered design. Crafting interfaces and experiences that are intuitive and user-friendly.
  • Usability testing. Utilizing tools like Lookback.io or Hotjar to understand user behaviors and identify pain points in real time.
  • Interface design. Designing layouts using tools such as Figma, Adobe XD, or Sketch, ensuring that users find them logical and appealing.
  • Information architecture. Organizing content and features in a structured manner, often employing tools like Lucidchart or Microsoft Visio.
  • Interaction design. Dictating how users interact with elements, whether it's a swipe, click, or hover.
  • Feedback collection. Gathering user feedback, either through surveys, direct interviews, or analytics platforms like Google Analytics.

The importance of user research and analysis in UX design

User research and analysis help create a product that resonates with its target audience. Without an in-depth understanding of the users' needs, preferences, and pain points, designers can only make assumptions, leading to potential misalignment between the product's functionality and user expectations. 

Tools like UserTesting or Maze allow designers to gather insights directly from users. For example, A/B testing a new feature can provide analytical data about which version users prefer or which one leads to better engagement or conversion.

Exploring the role of wireframing and prototyping in UX design

Wireframing and prototyping are essential steps in the UX design process. A wireframe is a low-fidelity representation of a product's layout, similar to a blueprint. Tools like Balsamiq or Moqups can assist designers in creating these. 

On the other hand, prototypes are interactive mock-ups that simulate user interactions, often designed using tools like InVision or Marvel. For instance, if you're designing a new navigation menu for a website, a wireframe might show where the menu will be placed, while a prototype would let you click through the menu options, revealing submenus or linked pages. 

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Differentiating UX design and product design

While UX design and product design have some common ground, they each play unique roles in the product development process. Here are the nuances that separate these two vital domains.

Overlapping aspects between UX designers and product designers

Both UX and product designers prioritize the user at the center of their designs. They engage in user research, empathize with the audience, and aim for functional and aesthetic solutions. 

Both roles require a deep understanding of user personas, and they often collaborate using tools like Figma or Adobe XD. Both disciplines also involve iterative testing, making improvements based on user feedback and analytics.

Core differences in focus, goals, and deliverables 

To display the differences better, we made the table below.

Differences in focus, goals, and deliverables 
Differences in focus, goals, and deliverables 

Skillsets required for UX designers and product designers

The following skillset belongs to UX designers:

  • User research. Techniques to understand user behavior and needs, often employing tools like UserTesting.
  • Wireframing. Creating blueprints of interfaces using tools like Axure or Balsamiq.
  • Prototyping. Building interactive mock-ups to simulate the final product with tools like Marvel or Proto.io.
  • Information architecture. Designing structured content and features.
  • Usability testing. Analyzing user interactions to identify improvements.

Next, we have the product designers. Here’s what they need to master:

  • End-to-end product design thinking. From ideation to delivering a finished product.
  • Material knowledge. Understanding what materials to use, especially for physical products.
  • 3D modeling. Using software like Blender or SolidWorks for physical product designs.
  • UI design. Crafting the look and feel of the product interface, often with tools like Sketch or Adobe XD.
  • Project management. Overseeing a product's journey, ensuring it meets both user and business objectives.

While both UX and product design are intertwined in the product development process, their focus areas and skill sets can be distinct. Recognizing where they overlap and diverge ensures that the right expertise is applied at each stage of the design journey.

The collaborative relationship between UX designers and product designers

Behind every great product is a team of dedicated designers working in harmony. Discover the collaborative dynamics between UX and product designers and why their teamwork is critical for success.

Importance of teamwork for user experiences and functional products

The symbiotic relationship between UX designers and product designers helps shape products that are both functional and user-friendly. Teamwork is essential for a few reasons:

  1. Holistic approach. A product is more than its user interface. It's an amalgamation of aesthetics, functionality, user experience, and technical viability. Both UX and product designers bring unique perspectives, ensuring that every facet of the product is addressed.
  2. Consistency. For any product, consistency across its interface is key. If a UX designer crafts a seamless user flow, the product designer must align the UI to match this. Disjunctions in design can lead to user confusion.
  3. Efficiency. Collaborative efforts often lead to quicker problem-solving. For example, a UX designer might pinpoint a user’s pain point through usability testing. The product designer can then immediately address this in the design, reducing the time spent on iterations.
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Effective collaboration between UX designers and product designers

The collaborative relationship between UX and product designers is much like the interplay between a film director and a cinematographer. 

While one focuses on the story and its delivery (UX Designer), the other ensures it's visually compelling (Product Designer). 

Both also need to understand what a design system involves to ensure consistency and scalability. Here’s how the effective collaboration looks like:

  • Clear communication. Clarity in articulating ideas, feedback, and changes is key. Tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams facilitate real-time communication, ensuring both designers are on the same page.
  • Shared tools and platforms. Using shared platforms, like Figma or Zeplin, enables real-time collaboration. A product designer can instantly see changes a UX designer makes, ensuring alignment in design iterations.
  • Regular check-ins. Scheduled meetings, like daily stand-ups or weekly syncs, foster consistent collaboration. For instance, if a product designer is considering a new visual element, they can consult the UX designer to ensure it aligns with user flows.
  • Feedback loops. Constructive feedback is the backbone of effective collaboration. Tools like InVision or Miro can be employed for joint brainstorming sessions, allowing designers to annotate and directly comment on design mockups.
  • User-centric focus. Both designers should always prioritize the user. Regular user testing sessions, employing platforms like Maze or Lookback.io, ensure that both the UX and product design are aligned with user needs and preferences. 

Also, the methodologies of continuous product design mean constantly iterating and improving based on feedback, keeping the product relevant and user-centric.

Case studies: converging paths of UX design and product design

Real-world examples speak louder than words. Let's explore some standout designs from Merge to illustrate how UX and product design often intersect in fascinating ways.

TelQ's interface revamp

UX and product design case study: TelQ
UX and product design case study: TelQ

TelQ, an SMS quality assurance giant, faced challenges with a dated platform design. At Merge:

  1. We prioritized product design, revamping TelQ's user interface based on user feedback.
  2. Major changes included streamlining text creation and refining data tables for clarity.
  3. The menu, especially the Admin section, underwent a significant overhaul for better usability.
  4. User insights played a pivotal role, leading us to simplify text creation and declutter data tables, enhancing user interaction.

WeFight's digital connect 

UX and product design case study: WeFight
UX and product design case study: WeFight\

WeFight, a healthtech pioneer, aspired to strengthen their digital-user relationship. Here's how Merge assisted:

  1. Engaged with WeFight stakeholders to glean essential insights.
  2. Comprehensive user research informed our design decisions.
  3. Article layouts were revamped for user-friendly navigation.
  4. We embedded disease-related quizzes within articles, catering to diverse users.
  5. Iterative mockups and prototypes ensured a refined design, amplifying user engagement.

Alta's web presence makeover 

UX and product design case study: Alta
UX and product design case study: Alta

Though a heavyweight in the securities exchange, Alta's design lacked luster. Our approach at Merge included:

  1. A thorough UX audit to understand existing strengths and flaws.
  2. Restructuring information for an intuitive user journey.
  3. Infusing modern visuals to demystify complex investment terminologies.
  4. Utilizing Webflow, ensuring the design was responsive and user-centric, especially for the growing mobile user base.
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LiveSchool's edtech standout 

UX and product design case study: LiveSchool
UX and product design case study: LiveSchool

LiveSchool aimed for a distinct edge in the Edtech landscape. At Merge:

  1. We delved deep into market research, understanding LiveSchool's audience and competitors.
  2. Visual concepts and high-fidelity mockups echoed LiveSchool's innovative ethos.
  3. Interactive features, including animations, enriched user engagement.
  4. Using Webflow, we ensured the design was scalable, adaptable, and most importantly, user-friendly.

RelayPay's crypto-finance fusion 

UX and product design case study: RelayPay
UX and product design case study: RelayPay

RelayPay's vision to integrate cryptocurrency with mainstream finance needed a fresh design perspective. Merge's strategy involved:

  1. Comprehensive market research to fathom user expectations.
  2. Close collaboration with RelayPay to shape user personas and objectives.
  3. A user interface that prioritized simplicity, catering to both crypto novices and pros.
  4. Educational components to demystify cryptocurrency for users.
  5. Ensuring a uniform, engaging design experience across web and mobile platforms.

Want your product to attract, engage, and keep customers?

Merge is here to help.

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Conclusion

To sum it all up, no - product design and UX design are not the same. Product design encompasses the entire journey of creating a product, from ideation to launch, including aspects of UX, UI, and even physical components. In contrast, UX design is specifically focused on the user's experience when interacting with the product.

When building a digital product, think of UX and product design as two halves of a whole. One focuses on user feelings, and the other on product functionality and look. Businesses looking to make an impact should get how vital both are. Together, they're the recipe for a product that your users will love and remember.

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author

CEO and Founder of Merge

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

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