Hiring in any capacity is a risk. A hire can be great on paper but not gel with the workplace. Or you could pass on someone great over something miniscule. Hiring for a product development team is even harder because job titles and descriptions often often muddied.
Here we’ll go over one of the most confusing hiring decisions: hiring a product designer vs a UX designer.
What’s in this guide:
- What is a product designer?
- What is a UX designer?
- What are the key differences between product designers and UX designers?
- How to know which to hire
- Hire a fully-managed product team with DevSquad
What is a product designer?
The term “product designer” has recently been lumped to together with digital products. However, it’s important to realize the term can apply to physical goods (known as industrial designers).
According to Coursera, a product designer is “somebody who oversees the design process of a product from start to finish or oversees the improvement of an existing project.”
This is bar none the golden definition for a product designer. Because good product design has a consistent vision throughout the design thinking process. And despite the fact that development may shift. It doesn’t shift because the product is handed off multiple times. It shifts because a product designer dictates it based on user research.
Like a head chef that can work any part of a kitchen’s line. A product designer should be able to help throughout the design thinking process. For simplicity, we’ll lump them together into 3 main responsibilities.
- Designing - From empathy to testing, a good product designer will have their hand in every aspect of the process. While they may not be doing the ground level work, they can assist and make suggestions where they feel fit.
- Staying focused on the user - Staying consistent in design thinking means staying user-centric. A product designer will help wrangle in ambition of other team members (like UX designers) as to not take away from the customer experience.
- Collaborating across teams -Being a product designer means making sure the product development machine is well oiled. With engineers, UX designers, UX analysts, stakeholders and more; any breakdown in one group could back up the whole project. To help stay on track, the product designers need to take a holistic approach to the project. Making sure the development process is aligned with both the business needs and the user needs.
Product designers will have both technical and soft skills. When looking to hire one, pay extra attention to their soft skills.
- Coding - A product designer will not be doing the bulk of coding. Despite this they should have knowledge of front and back-end languages and how they interact.
- UI design - Some elements a product designer should be familair with are; copywriting, interactions, typography and color pallets.
- UX design - Prototyping, information architecture, and wireframing.
- User research - Interpreting of qualitative and quantitative data and implementing next steps.
- Design thinking- A great product designer helps shepherd the team along through development. From gaining empathy for the user to putting prototypes through testing.
- Communicative - A product designer needs to be able to guide discussions between inter team members, across teams, to execs and stakeholders.
- Holistic viewpoint - While you want the teams themselves to focus on what they do best. Product designers should look at the project in it’s entirety.
- Team first attitude - Product designers need to put multiple teams first. Including engineers, marketers, UX designers and the business as a whole. They are juggling all the competing ideas and input from all these groups.
- Investigative - Ideally, everyone on the development team should be problem solvers. What separates product developers is that they are solving the problems that link teams. For example, UX designers want the engineers to code something. But there is a disconnect. A product designer should be able to diagnose the problem and implement a solution.
- Empathetic - This ties into not only staying user-centric but understanding the needs and feelings of the teams they work with.
What is a UX designer?
User experience designers focus on providing users with the most functional and intuitive experience. Their roles can vary by company. Smaller companies and startups may need them to do everything. They could be a UX analyst, researcher, and more. However, in a bigger company they can find themselves doing only one of those specialties.
If you hire a UX designer, they should be comfortable doing some/all the following:
- Plan and conduct user guided research.
- Use the gathered qualitative and quantitative data to suggest next steps.
- Create user stories and personas accurate to what the data has suggested.
- Create prototypes and wireframes.
- Participate in usability testing.
- Contribute to the improvement/creation of information architecture.
The majority of the skill set is shared between product designers and UX designers.
- Coding - While the majority of coding will be handled by engineers, having a UX designer that can create protoypes using code is invaluable.
- UI design - Relates to the aesthetics of digital products. This includes typography, color pallet and use of relevant tools. Such as adobe suite, Figma, Sketch, etc.
- User research - A good UX designer can take data from many sources and boil it down into easy to understand information.
- Design thinking/ UX design - Has background in the 5 stages of design thinking; Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.
- Communicative - Can participate in ideation sessions productively.
- Empathetic - Can relate to both the ideal user and other team members.
- Curious - Willing to ask questions and innovate without the fear of failure.
What are the key differences between product designers and UX designers?
There is a lot of overlap between product designers and UX designers. And for good reason. Depending on a company’s needs, they may do the exact same thing. But there are key differences you should know.
1. Product designers often fill a managerial role
If you didn’t know what product designers did and went off strictly job posts. You would think they’re superheros.
Companies don’t know either. Companies put every buzzword and term possible in their job post. Trying to get someone who can do at least half of what they ask for. What a product designer will definitely do is, in some capacity, manage the project and the people working on it.
Take a look at some ways companies on LinkedIn will say “ project managment” without explicitly saying it.
Notion: “Run projects end to end with engineers to drive your vision to the ship line”
Warner Bros, Discovery: “A holistic approach to problem-solving that results in elegantly simple solutions to complex challenges.”
ZocDoc: “Overseeing the user experience of features from conception to launch. Designing at all levels of fidelity including sketches, wireframes, user flows, visual designs and prototypes.”
Another possible reason they do this could be that product designers make on average 10k USD less than project managers.
2. Your product designer should be with you from the beginning
We’ve all heard horror stories from product development. Where a project was handed off so many times that the final product is a Frankenstein’s monster of the original vision. This happens because only the beginning designer knows where the project began. Subsequent product designers will only know where the project is and inject their own creative vision to it.
Having a stable product developer helps avoid this scenario. They take your vision and bring it to fruition.
This is why, here at DevSquad, when we take over a development project we build our prototypes from scratch. It allows us to bring your vision to reality without echoes from previous dev teams.
3. UX designers are plug and play
On the contrast, a UX designer can join at any stage of development and be a welcomed addition. And since UX design is such a broad profession, you can hire one as specific in their skills as you need.
Do you need more hands for user research? Bring on a UX researcher.
Have a whole library of information that needs to be organized for users? Hire a UX architect.
A UX designers can help sure up any lacking parts of your development team. Just be sure you have someone to direct them.
4. A product designer should understand every development role, while a UX designer doesn't have to
We’ve all had the managers who know about every role in the company. At least enough to help where needed. And we’ve all had managers who know basically nothing. Product designers are no different.
A product designer may have more experience in one field compared to others, but they should have broad knowledge of the design process and inner-workings. With this knowledge, they are able to help the team, make suggestions, and ask questions that move the needle.
5. Every product designer is a UX designer, but not every UX designer is a product designer
Most product designers start off as UX designers and change job titles as they gain experience.
As we’ve talked about, a product designer needs to know every part of the design process. But not too well that they forget the forest for the trees. An UX designer, on the other hand, is most valuable when they analyze the trees thoroughly. It’s such a comprehensive methodology that you both need people looking over the whole project and people looking deeply into one aspect.
How to know which to hire
Now that you got a clear definition of both product designers and UX designers. Let’s decide what you need.
Infographic idea: H’3(Hire a product designer if you) and subsequent h’4s; Side by Side with H’3(hire a UX designer if you) and subequent h’4s.
Hire a product designer if you:
1. Are in the early stages of developmen
If you are early in development and are just beginning to build your team; a product designer is a great place to start. They have broad knowledge that can help throughout the process(including hiring UX designers).
2. Need guidance in the product’s development
On that same note, with such broad knowledge they can guide you around common pitfalls that often plague product development. Such as hiring too fast or setting unrealistic deadlines.
3.Are debating whether you should restart a project from scratch
A product designer can often come in and diagnose problems that you don’t see. With this insight they may be able to solve the issues without having to scorch earth the project.
Hire a UX designer if you:
1. Are looking for man power in creating the product
If product development is going smoothly but deadlines are creeping up. Hire a UX developer to take some of the work.
2. Have a specific role that needs to be filled
If your team is lacking in some aspect. You can do one of two things; 1) give a team member a chance to learn 2) hire for the specific skillset you need. Neither is the wrong anwser. It just depend on your circumstances.
3. Can communicate your vision in a comprehensive way
Product designers often act as an intermediary between the project’s end goal and the team. If your confident that you can run a development team and communicate your ideas in language they undertstand. Hire a UX designer.
Hire a fully managed product team with DevSquad
Are you nervous about your project development? Is the decision between hiring a product or UX designer not the only one weighing you down?
We get it.
Product development is scary. And with only 40% of products surviving in the market. The first time may be the only time to get it right. Here at DevSquad you get a fully managed product development team ready to take your product to market. No hassle, no stress. Just us realizing your vision and getting it over the finish line