Product vs UI vs UX design: what’s right for you?


Chances are you’ve experienced the struggle that is trying to describe your role as a UX, UI or product designer to your friends and family. You may have even had all three of these roles, maybe all at once or at different times in your career. 

It’s not that easy to describe each role, and a search online will give you a myriad of definitions for each. If you’re a UX (user experience), UI (user interface) or product designer on the job hunt, it’s critical for you to know which role to apply for. One reason being pay, depending on the company, UX and product designers can make more on average than UI designers. This is why it’s so important to know how much you’re worth before you apply for a job. 

“Titles are important in knowing your value and what you bring to the team,” Betty Huang, UX designer at Seen says. That is to say, if you’re hired for UI, but doing UX work, you might not be doing the work you’re passionate about—or be compensated appropriately. 

Titles aside, you may find that even a job description for one of these roles can be difficult to decipher. Does the hiring company want a UX designer, a UI designer focused on both UX and UI, or a product designer who will actually be a UX/UI designer?

How is each role different?

Regardless of whether your title has UX, UI or Product in it, you’ll have to deal with the process of design thinking. So some tasks from one role may overlap into another. It’s not as simple as saying, “UX designers only work on wireframes” or “UI designers are focused just on the visual aspects.”  

“Some projects are more visually heavy than others,” Huang says, “Sometimes that can be where the bulk of the work is.”

Though companies might have different definitions, we’ve brought together the most common differences (as well as where there’s overlap) based on typical job descriptions and conversations with designers to help you determine which role is the best fit for you. 

Product designer

While the responsibilities of a product designer do overlap with that of a UX designer, as a product designer you’ll find yourself more involved in the full lifecycle of the design. This means you’ll find yourself working on solutions and validating decisions with users and stakeholders. You’re just as concerned about how a button works on an application now, to how the entire application will work a year from now. While the needs of the user are important, the product designer’s main focus is making the stakeholders happy and ensuring that the final product meets their needs.

What you’ll do: You may find yourself working in Sketch creating prototypes and screens, while also meeting with product managers and developers to gather feedback. You’ll also take the results of any research you’ve conducted and translate that into features that’ll provide value to the end-user.

Questions you’ll answer during the design process:

  • Who will use this product and how will they use it?
  • How can we make this product cost-effective?

Your role in the design process
Defining problems -> Research-> Planning-> Creating workflows-> Wireframing-> Creating mockups -> Prototyping-> Delivering product

Reasons to consider product design: You prefer working on a product from beginning to end, have a keen eye for detail and are able to switch gears and prioritize at the drop of a hat.

You’ll enjoy this role if: You enjoy staying on top of the latest trends in design, like taking the lead on projects and supervising others, and aren’t afraid to hustle or challenge the status quo in order to deliver products in a timely manner.

UX designer

The goal of a UX designer is, you guessed it, to create a great user experience. While the goal of the product designer is to concentrate on the overall needs of the business, the UX designer is primarily focused on the end-user’s satisfaction.

What you’ll do: As a UX designer you’ll find yourself busy identifying and resolving any issues causing frustration for the end-user. Research is also key to your role, and is essential as you create new concepts for products. You’ll also create wireframes, mockups and journey maps. Collaboration and communication are essential in this role, as you’ll find yourself working with a variety of people, from project managers to software developers.

Questions you’ll answer during the design process:

  • How can I make this user-friendly?
  • Can I make this any easier to understand?

Your role in the design process: Research-> Planning-> Creating workflows-> Wireframing

Reasons to consider UX: You’re highly analytical, empathetic, can easily put yourself in the shoes of others and have a knack for figuring out what makes users tick.

You’ll enjoy this role if: You welcome the opportunity to take a deep dive into research (though, if research is your primary focus, consider a UX Researcher role) and then present quantitative and qualitative data when explaining your design choices. Also, if collaborating with a variety of teams as well as stakeholders is your jam, then this is the role for you.

UI designer

UI designer works on the visual elements of a product. Once the design of a product has been created, it’s up to the UI designer to work on the initial prototypes created by the UX designer. As a UI designer, you’ll concentrate on the visual elements of an application and the flow of the design. 

What you’ll do: You’ll work on design specifics, like designing individual screens, creating visual touchpoints and making sure the design is consistent throughout the application. You’re focused on everything from buttons to icons, while always keeping in mind how the user will interact and communicate with each aspect of your design. While the other roles have an eye for design, you bring it to life, responsible for creating a product that’s aesthetically pleasing as well as user-friendly.

Questions you’ll answer during the design process:

  • How can I make this product visually appealing?
  • How can I make sure the functionality of a particular screen is right for the user?

Your role in the design process: Wireframing-> Creating mockups -> Prototyping

Reasons to consider UI: You totally geek out over visual elements such as typography, color palettes and animation, and your comfort might lean more towards heads-down work than collaboration.

You’ll enjoy this role if: Making things beautiful and interactive gives you life. It brings you immense joy to create things that are aesthetically pleasing, both through visual communication and graphic design. Also, through the work you create, love the fact that you can connect emotionally with the user.

Finding a design job that fits your skillset

So, now that you know the skills and foundation for each role, how do you make sure you get the role that suits you? Depending on the size of the company, any one of the three titles may be used to source for one role, which includes all the responsibilities. So although you know the differences between these roles, the hiring manager or recruiter posting the job description may not.

It all comes down to doing your own research during your job search. Study the job descriptions carefully and look beyond the title and focus on the job description to see if it aligns with the type of role you’re seeking. Be prepared to ask plenty of questions if you’re called in for a design interview, including specifics of the role and what will be expected of you.

Because of the fluidity of the design function, when it comes to many technical design roles, Mike Hall, senior UX designer at Seen says that often titles don’t matter: “What matters is that you’re mindful of the user experience and how someone goes through a product.”

Though you might determine that you don’t fit in a UI or UX bucket, be mindful of what you focus on in various roles in your career, and what truly makes you happy to walk into the office. “Decide what you enjoy, what challenges you like and where you want to be involved in the entire design process,” Huang says.

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