What’s the difference between a UX designer and a product manager? When both roles are on the team, they often find themselves wondering where each other's responsibilities start and end.
In practice, there’s quite a bit of overlap between these two roles. This can cause a point of friction for some but under the right conditions, having both product managers and UX designers on the same team creates some of the most successful products and services around.
People in each of these roles often come from various backgrounds. On the one hand you have UX coming from graphic design, art, or even business and technology backgrounds. Product managers too come from a variety of backgrounds such as business or technology and in fact many UX designers end up moving into product management!
There is indeed a lot of overlap between UX design and product management, but there are also very important differences. Understanding shared responsibilities as well as distinct differences creates a strong working relationship between the two roles and increases the chances for a successful product and team.
Both UX designers and product managers have shared responsibility from building the vision and strategy of a product all the way down to specific design element execution. Where clear overlaps exist, strong collaboration and communication create an amazing product experience.
Roles start to diverge when considering the larger scope of each person’s job. In the big picture of building and managing any given product, there are several inputs from executives, sales, marketing, support and more that must be considered and balanced.
Additionally, there are important details in practice and execution of UX design that, if overlooked, can degrade any well thought out product. For these reasons having both a strong UX designer and product manager creates a well rounded and more effective product team.
At a high level, product managers are responsible for the overall delivery and success of the product. This means they are accountable to several different teams in order to deliver a product that satisfies all their needs as well as the needs of the customer.
Product managers spend their time building and maintaining the product roadmap and working with designers and developers to prioritize and launch features and enhancements for the product.
Product managers are not managing the team, but the product itself. This means establishing good relationships with sales, marketing, business, technology and more in order to balance all the necessary needs of the business.
What this means in practice is product managers are making decisions every day in the best interest of the business and its customers to ensure that the product is continuously meeting the needs of both.
UX designers spend the majority of their day crafting thoughtful interfaces and designs of the product itself. They focus on what the company knows about its customers and turning that into usable, valuable features inside the product.
The day to day life of a UX designer will vary depending on the team and company (just as with product management) but in general they are creating customer journey maps, flows, sketches and interface designs to represent the user experience and how it should manifest in the product.
This work also includes various methods of testing these designs with customers to refine and improve the interaction of using the product.
In many cases, the UX designer is also responsible for ensuring that the company’s brand and style are applied appropriately in the product design to maintain consistency in overall aesthetics. This includes the creation of style guides, pattern libraries and standards for the visual design of the product and its features.
Measure UX and prove the value of research
A great deal of shared responsibility lies between UX designers and product managers. Both of these people are focused on solving problems for customers through the product they are creating. This brings us to the first point of overlap between the two roles… defining the problem.
Both UX designers and product managers have an active part to play in defining the problems the product and features are solving for its customers. This work happens most effectively when product managers and UX collaborate.
Product managers are being charged with meeting certain business goals through the development of the product. To do this requires defining which problems to solve for customers that will also meet these key business objectives. For UX designers, the overlap here occurs where they are collaborating with product managers to further define those chosen problems to solve with a deeper understanding of the design and user implications of solving them.
The next area of overlap then exists in understanding the customer (or users) of the product. Both product managers and user experience designers should be conducting and participating in user research. Whether interviews, usability tests or field study observations, each role is critical in learning more about the customers and together creating key insights from user research.
Collaborating on a solution together is the biggest area of overlap between UX and PM. Whether creating concepts, journeys, flows or prototypes, these roles often work together to paint a picture of the solution for the customer. From there, iterating on that solution in early stages or even post launch is another shared responsibility between both roles.
While there are shared responsibilities and overlap between UX designers and product managers there are common differences as well. Product managers tend to have a much wider set of responsibilities to other teams in the organization like sales, marketing, customer support and even the executive team.
The reason for this is that PMs are on the hook for the overall success and delivery of the product. Executive teams in most cases are holding product management accountable to meeting key business goals through new product development or enhancements. As a result, product managers own the overall vision, strategy and product roadmap and timing for future planning of the product.
Of course user experience design is complementary and critical to many of the above responsibilities that solely rely on product managers. At the same time, UX has its own set of unique differences from that of a product manager.
UX design is responsible for the execution of design for the product. They most often own all visual design and interaction decisions to be made for product development. In reference to the visual design, they are responsible for ensuring the product and overall design are meeting company and brand standards for consistency across the product (and even multiple products in some cases).
When working with technology teams, UX design is responsible for executing the detailed design requirements necessary for development. Collaborating with developers in the same way they do product managers is key for successful and efficient product development. Overall, UX is focused on the delivery of the design execution and less accountable to the product success. Although proper user-focused design execution should lead to product success.
Ultimately product teams are more successful when they have both the role of a dedicated product manager and UX designer. As you can see, when done well each role compliments each other and allows the organization to create laser focus on all aspects of product development.
You have several smart people working together on problems in the overlap areas. This creates the opportunity to ‘cover more ground’ with the role of a PM to extend the work of UX, engineering and others to the business, marketing and beyond to create an end to end successful product.
Each situation will vary, but establishing clear communication and responsibilities with your teammates ensures everyone is on the same page for their role in making the product and design most effective.