What Is the Difference Between Product Development and Product Design?

The lines sometimes blur between product design vs product development, particularly if the same engineering team is responsible for both. However, they are two distinct yet essential processes in the projects that bring digital products to market. 

Product design and development are pivotal in achieving business success by fostering innovation and facilitating product launches. The synergy between these two processes increases product quality, alignment with user demands and expectations, and cost control from concept to product release. 

And it begins by understanding the fundamentals of each process. 

Understanding product design

The product design team determines the optimal product features that deliver maximum value and appeal to the target audience. When fleshing out a concept, the team responsible for product design focuses on all elements of a digital product, including a user-friendly interface, intuitive navigation, and product aesthetics, all supporting essential functionality. 

A successful product design process involves “design thinking.” Traditional design processes follow a step-by-step plan of gathering information, creating a plan, and then advancing to development. Unfortunately, a linear approach heading in the wrong direction will waste time and resources. 

Design thinking is iterative. It incorporates user feedback early and often, ensuring that each design element meets or exceeds expectations, which usually involves more than just explaining how the product will work. Product designers can leverage rapid prototyping that provides users with a realistic experience, showing not only telling, so they can give honest feedback on the design. 

Once the design team completes its work, the product development can confidently move forward. 

Exploring product development

Product development is the entire flow of steps required to launch a new product. Every step is crucial, from product ideation through concept development to prototyping, testing, and launch. Product development teams consist of people with different skills and talents, including project managers, engineers, designers, programmers, and marketers. 

Effective product development involves:

  • Clear communication of the desired outcome
  • Interaction between designers and engineers 
  • Freedom to give feedback on each stage of the process 
  • Support for continual improvement 

It's not enough to simply come up with an idea and launch it into the world. Instead, the process of creating a successful product is an ongoing one that requires constant feedback and improvement. 

This is why it's so important to actively solicit user feedback throughout the development process. That way, you can identify areas where your product may fall short and make the necessary adjustments to improve it.

Product design vs product development: Key differences

Although there are some gray areas when comparing product design and development, they also differ in a few fundamental ways. Below, we outline those differences. 

Scope and focus of work

Product design primarily focuses on the visual and functional aspects of a product. Both UI and UX designers contribute to product design, working together to define the specifications of a functional, user-friendly product. 

On the other hand, the product development team picks up where product design leaves off. Its focus is more technical, determining how to make the vision from the design team into a reliable, high-quality product and marketing it to the company’s target audience. 

For example, let's consider the development of a new mobile app. The product designer would first create wireframes and mockups of the app's interface, considering user flow, accessibility, and brand consistency. They would also conduct user research and testing to ensure that the app meets the needs and expectations of its target audience. 

Once the design is finalized, the product developer will begin coding the app. They would ensure that the app is responsive, scalable, and secure while integrating any necessary APIs and back-end functionality. The developer would work closely with the designer throughout the development process, ensuring that the final product matches the designer's vision and meets the end user's needs.

Required skills and expertise  

Although it’s possible for some of a company’s resources to work both on product design and product development, the two phases of a project involve different skills. 

Product design requires team members with the ability to visualize an idea through wireframes and mock-ups. The design team must also be skilled at listening to customers’ needs and mapping the journey to show how the product will address them. 

In addition, the design team typically handles prototyping and usability testing. They’re also responsible for producing an accurate cost estimate for the project, which provides insights into its viability.  

Product development team members use their software engineering, coding, and integration skills to build the product. The most successful teams will work iteratively to ensure quality and minimal rework later in development. The development team will also include people with skills in market and competitor research, market screening, marketing, and commercialization expertise that ensure they’re launching a product that will generate interest among the target audience—and revenue for the company.  

Is product design part of product development?

Because product development encompasses all steps from ideation to commercialization, product design is actually a phase of development. Moreover, it is a crucial one. Without a design tailored to users’ needs and perceptions, the development team would lack direction, and the project would fail. 

It’s a concept that’s easy enough to understand, but it’s not always implemented. Only 40% of new products reach the market and turn a profit. 

The other 60% fail due to a lack of research, hasty development processes, and inadequate marketing. Thoughtful, well-planned product design, iterative development, and a solid go-to-market strategy give companies a better chance of being in the minority that will succeed. 

The interplay between product design and product development

There’s no doubt that product design and product development are closely linked. And skilled project managers will encourage both the product design and the product development teams to bring out the best in each other. 

Here we explore the intricate relationship between product design vs product development and how they complement each other to bring innovative and functional products to market.

How product design can drive success in product development 

Good product design can help reduce production costs, improve efficiency, and increase customer satisfaction, ultimately leading to increased sales and revenue. By incorporating design thinking principles and involving users in the design process, companies can create products that solve problems, make work easier, and positively impact users’ lives.

Microsoft is a prime example. The tech giant focuses on delivering design-led innovation to solve more users’ pain points. Their designers are working to account for the impact that features have on all users’ lives, including users with disabilities. This is sparking innovation, leading to new products and solutions. 

How product development can improve product design: 

As the product development team members work to create the digital product, perform market research, and make plans for commercialization, they commonly discover options or roadblocks that the design team didn’t anticipate. This creates an opportunity to revisit and improve the design during the product development cycle. 

Additionally, product development can enhance product design by providing feedback on prototypes and making changes based on customer feedback. This iterative approach can help ensure that the final product is most successful. 

Airbnb is a high-profile example of a company that rethought its design, and, as a result, it built a billion-dollar company. Airbnb researched users’ preferences, discovering that high-quality photos of properties are key to decision-making about booking a stay. Taking a user-centric perspective and adjusting its original design improved customer experience and business growth. 

The role of creativity and innovation 

Bringing a new product to market is inherently an act of creation and innovation, but it’s not limited to certain design or development team members. While the focus may be on a stunning user interface or an attention-grabbing marketing campaign, other team members will use their creativity to write elegant code, draw information from a focus group, or find a clever solution for overcoming a project hurdle. 

When all product design and development team members use their unique skills and talents, they can create something truly great. 

Building a better product

Both the product design and product development teams play crucial roles in a successful, profitable launch and must collaborate to achieve it. The product design team will use its talents to visualize and journey map an idea and determine a path to developing it cost-effectively. The development team builds the design to create and commercialize a reliable, functional product. 

When users come across a digital product that satisfies their needs for efficiency, problem-solving, or entertainment, they don't always realize it's the outcome of effective communication between design and development teams. It's also a result of a culture that welcomes new ideas and gives freedom for constant improvement. 

Smart business leaders consider the interplay between these two teams, evaluate how well both processes work—independently and together—and ensure that design and development have the tools they need to enhance their performance. That’s why it’s essential to take into account the collaboration and interdependence between product design vs product development for a successful product launch.

Working with a digital product development partner can streamline and optimize the entire product development and design process. At Patent355, our services help streamline product design and development by aligning product vision and addressing gaps to help drive business growth. Contact us today to learn more.

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