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Product designer vs. UI/UX designer

You've probably come across announcements for UI/UX designer and product designer positions. If you wondered what the people of this profession are doing, then this material is especially for you.

Who is a product designer?

If you try to figure out who a product designer is, a path of misunderstanding awaits you. There are tons of definitions on the Internet, and it seems that everyone has their own vision. If you scan vacancies, then you can see very different requirements. 

Sarah Klein, a designer from America, did an interesting experiment. She took 10 product design jobs and 10 UX design jobs in San Francisco. The result of the experiment made us understand that a product designer is more about business, and a UX designer is about the experience.

In general, everyone agrees on one thing - the product designer must, first of all, make the product. But no one was able to define clear boundaries where the work of a designer ends and the work of a related specialist begins. Should a product designer write technical specifications, conduct research, dig into analytics, compose UI kits, talk to business, pump metrics? 

What functions should a product designer perform?

Usually, large agencies work on several dozen products at the same time. And the skills that a designer applies in doing so are highly dependent on the product, client, development methodology, and even the season. The same specialist often uses non-overlapping skill sets on different projects.
For example, a designer can provide an expert opinion on the interface and prepare a UI kit.

Product designer skills

Most often, employers expect product designers (as well as UI/UX designers) to be able to:
  • conduct design research;
  • maintain and expand the design system;
  • defend and justify their decisions;
  • exercise copyright control; work with large amounts of data;
  • ask questions, look for answers, and argue your point of view;
  • make up product hypotheses;
  • explore tasks and processes; design custom scripts and interfaces;
  • check design solutions with quick usability tests and metrics;
  • draw characters, icons, and other graphic elements (if necessary).

Narrow specialist or wide profile

It is not necessary to be able to do everything from the list above at once. But at least 2-3 points will be in every vacancy. Rarely are they looking for a specialist who only knows how to work with analytics, conduct research or write scripts. Why is that? It seems that a super-professional in one narrow discipline can bring an incredible amount of benefit to a project. We can name two reasons - speed and processes.

At the stage of transferring artifacts from specialist to specialist, a lot of time is spent on acceptance, correction and synchronization. For example, one narrow specialist can conduct incredibly high-quality and useful research in one day. And then transfer the results of this study to other teams for a whole week: either the act has not been signed, or the resource has not been planned, then the responsible manager has not conveyed what is needed to whoever needs it, then the designer did not understand the report and asks 4 times.

It turns out that it is cheaper to hire a super expensive generalist than a whole team of narrow specialists. Because he will carry out all these processes on his own without losing information during transmission. This will not make the product worse, but it will be ready much faster. In a world that totally worships Scrum, the speed of product creation is extremely important. Of course, a tough narrow specialist will find a job anyway, but the demand for generalists is much higher.

What skills do a designer need in 2021

There are two big approaches to building a product - experience-driven or data-driven.


At the center of this approach is the experience gained by the designer. Watchfulness, logic, intuition, charisma and luck — that's all about them. If a person has made 40 marketplaces, then it will not be difficult for him to make 41: he looked at a couple of new shots on Dribbble, read the technical specification, talked with several representatives of the target audience, worked through the information received and issued the layouts for development.
Key skills:
  • Watchfulness.
  • Logics.
  • Best practics.
  • In-depth interviews.


Now almost everything can be measured: page traffic, retention, readability, profit. Some solutions increase these metrics, others decrease them. By experimenting and comparing numbers, the designer gets an objective picture of the product and evaluates the project from the point of view of common sense.

Key skills:

  • work with analytics;
  • research and A / B tests;
  • formulation and testing of hypotheses.

Additional tools and more versatile skills:

If you work with small projects - for example, for startups - your experience and skills are enough for you. Because the cost of a mistake is not so high, and the cost of product development is several times lower.

But sooner or later the project will grow, and data-driven skills will be required. In large products, an improvement in efficiency by at least 1% can bring millions of rubles in profit. And without a data-driven approach, this is almost impossible to achieve.

In addition to design skills (observation, data drive), it will be useful for any designer to know about related areas: when it is better to use Scrum, and when Kanban, about the box office gap and how JavaScript differs from Swift - all this will help to communicate with all members commands in one language.

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