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The Differences between Graphic, UX, UI, Product Design and Product Management

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10 Apr 2016

You’ve been admiring the amazing design projects on those artists’ portfolio websites for so long, and you finally decide that you want to be an awesome designer like them. You searched on Google and was led to Dribbble or Behance. But while you scrolled down and appreciated those elegant pictures, you also became more and more confused.

Graphic Design? UX Design? UI Design? Product Design? Product Management? What are their differences? Which one should you choose to focus on? You searched and read many people’s answers, but are still confused because they persisted in their own views.

Last year I was in the same boat. And after experiencing these different roles, my answer is: There’s no standard answer.

You see, same roles in different companies might have different responsibilities. The larger a company it is, the more specialized its roles might be, while the roles in a startup can be much more cross-functional.

But mostly, the differences between these terms are still obvious.

Graphic Design

When most people talk about design, they are actually talking about graphic design. A “painting” it presents, your eyes it seizes. Posters, illustrations, these all fall into the category of graphic design.

Whether a graphic design stands out usually depends on how it presents an idea. A good graphic design will be neither too explicit like a piece of white paper, nor too implicit like a complicated story. The moment you saw it, you understand it tacitly but in the “a-ha” way. It’s an art of being “impressive”.

UX Design & UI Design

While User Experience Design is a conglomeration of tasks focused on optimization of a product for effective and enjoyable use, User Interface Design is its compliment, how it looks and feels, the presentation and interactivity of a product.

UX Design roles and UI Design roles are easily confused. Design roles in many companies cover both UX Design and UI Design. Other companies, such as Facebook, have independent researchers who focus on user experience research. They identify research topics and conduct surveys to generate insights that both fuel ideation and evaluate designs.

Product Design

Product Designers are the ones who walk through the whole design process.

They are the pioneers and monitors. They are the people who generate new ideas and test them for commercialization. Instead of burying themselves in pixels or user behaviours, they conceptualize and evaluate product ideas. They redesign logos, they ship new features, they try every possible method to make better products. The process of Product Design is the process of ideating, selecting, implementing and evaluating.

Product Management

Product Mangers deal with the planning, forecasting, and production, or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product lifecycle.

Just as the names indicate, Product Designers focus more on the design of their products, while Product Managers focus more on the management — product development and product marketing, which are different yet complementary efforts. They care about product competition and market share; they try to maximize sales revenues and profit margins. Compared to the roles whose names contain “Design”, Product Managers have a much heavier business focus.

As these roles have respective responsibilities, people in design, product management, engineering and marketing should be able to work cross-functionally. Whether you have an engineering or business background, you need to know which roles you want to play after you learn to design and which roles you can play the best. Learn design wisely, then learn design well.


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