Product Designer vs. UX Designer: The Difference Explained

Written by Coursera • Jun 4, 2021

Product designers are involved in the entire design process of a product, while UX designers focus more on the hands-on design portion of the process.

A happy product designer in the office

Product designers and user experience (UX) designers are similar—in fact, sometimes the titles are used interchangeably. But sometimes they’re not. Broadly speaking, product designers tend to be more involved with the entirety of the design process of a product, while UX designers generally focus specifically on refining the user experience of a product.

Here’s a breakdown of their key characteristics. (Salary estimates provided by Indeed.)

Product designerUX designer
Generally involved in the entire design process of a product, including brainstorming, UX, project management, and business-related processes.Designs with a focus on making products pleasant to use and navigate. Generally has a more narrow focus than product designers.
$118,339 average US salary$98,351 average US salary
Past experience can include UX design, leading projects, and collaborating with other teamsPast experience can include visual or graphic design, interaction design, and UX knowledge

Of course, job roles can differ from company to company. Some companies may expect their UX designers to be heavily involved in business processes, or their product designers to work exclusively on design.

Get the details: What Does a UX Designer Do?

Product designer vs. UX designer

Both product designers and UX designers are designers that rely heavily on UX tools and methods. While specific tasks might set them apart, both roles work to ensure the finished product’s user experience is smooth and intuitive. This means both are expected to know how to use common UX tools, like Balsamiq, Sketch, Lucid Chart, or design tools like Figma.

There are few key ways that product designers and UX designers differ:

  • Product designers tend to be more business-oriented. Product designers can be expected to be more aware of business priorities than UX designers. This might manifest in working more closely with business or product teams than a typical UX designer might, and making sure business needs are met in a finished product.

  • Product designers tend to take the lead. Product designers are often the ones tasked with captaining the entire design process of a product. They can wrangle UX and visual designers, researchers, and business teams together to make sure all needs of a product are met. Because of this, product designers can be expected to have some experience leading projects or teams.

  • UX designers are more design focused. UX designers are often expected to design the actual visual and interactive elements of a product. That’s not to say that product designers don’t—but as a UX designer, expect to dig in a little more into the hands-on aspects of designing a user-friendly product.

So what’s product design, exactly?

Product design is the process of creating a digital or physical good. The process is generally grounded in research and involves keeping the user’s experience in mind.

Product design has in recent years become associated with digital products like software or apps. But product design can also refer to the design of physical products, like furniture, electronics, and other manufactured goods. This latter type of design is also called industrial design.

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Read more: UX Design vs Graphic Design: Choosing the Right Career Path

Product designer salary and UX designer salary

According to various salary aggregate websites, product designers tend to have slightly higher average salaries than UX designers in the US.

RoleGlassdoor, US averageIndeed, US averagePayscale, US average
UX Designer$102,057$98,315$74,635
Product Designer$103,680$118,339$84,422

Here’s how similar professions compare (all information gathered from Glassdoor):

Becoming a UX designer or product designer

With the need to develop similar skill sets, the paths to UX design and product design can easily complement each other. Moving from a UX designer to a product designer can be a natural transition as you gain more experience and begin to take on more responsibilities.

If you’re just starting out in your design career, you’ll want to solidify your understanding of UX concepts and familiarize yourself with key design tools. Here’s a closer look at what that means:

  • UX concepts and skills: User-centric thinking is critical, but UX design isn’t just a mentality. Work as a UX designer would also include being able to prototype, build wireframes, or mapping user journeys or user flows. These skills will also be foundational for your work as a product designer too.

  • Design tools and principles: UX designers should generally be familiar with several design tools. These can include Figma, Sketch, and Adobe Creative Suite. Strong understanding of design principles—like typography and color theory—will also be an asset.

If you want to move into product design, it’ll also be useful to have the following skills under your belt.

  • Leading projects: Many job descriptions for product designers call for previous experience overseeing projects. This might be something you can gradually build into a current design role. 

  • Collaboration across different teams: Product designers are expected to work with business teams, and might draw their own conclusions about best practices based on data. Having a wider understanding of a product’s importance and priorities within a company will be important.

Read more: 9 Essential Skills for UX Designers in 2021

The designer career path

Product designers and UX designers, similar as they are, are only two roles in a wide field of other similar roles. There are plenty of other roles you can consider in a design career, with each their unique differences.

Graphic designer: Graphic designers develop the visual aspects of websites, ads, and other graphic interfaces. It can be a good starting point if you have a good eye for design but aren’t ready to jump into UX. Here’s how graphic design compares to UX design.

UX engineer: Also called a UX developer, UX engineers are responsible for  programming the front end of websites and apps with an eye to UX principles. It can be a good option for those who are drawn to coding and web development.

UX researcher: If you enjoy learning about people and their behavior, UX research might be worth considering. As a UX researcher, you’ll conduct the research that UX designers use to then design a product—the surveys, interviews, and data-focused studies that reveal what’s working in a product, what’s not, and what people want.

Product management: If you’re a product designer, it can be possible to pivot your career into product management. While this will distance you from the design elements of the job, if you’re intrigued by the planning, research, and collaborative aspects of product design, product management can be a role to consider.

Getting started

Whether you’re eyeing a product design position or hoping to develop your UX design career, having a solid grasp of UX principles will be foundational. If you’re looking for a place to start, consider the Google UX Design Professional Certificate offered through Coursera. You’ll get familiar with digital design tools, learn essential UX concepts, and come out with completed projects to put into a portfolio. The first week is free.

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Written by Coursera • Jun 4, 2021

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