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Product Manager and UX Designer – What’s the Difference?

Marcin Treder
By Marcin Treder on 27th January, 2013 Updated on 22nd April, 2020

Product Manager and UX Designer

Photo Credit: pelican via Compfight cc

Product Manager vs. UX Designer

I always advocate in favor of broad definition of User Experience Design practice. The one that contains not only UI design, but whole set of activities that lead to creation of a great product.

Here’s the definition from my recent ebook UX Design for Startups:

User experience design (abbreviation UX, UXD) – A discipline focused on designing the end-to-end experience of a certain product. To design an experience means to plan and act upon a certain set of actions, which should result in a planned change in the behaviour of a target group (when interacting with a product).

A UX designer’s work should always be derived from people’s problems and aim at finding a pleasurable, seductive, inspiring solution. The results of that work should always be measurable through metrics describing user behaviour. UX designers use knowledge and methods that originate from psychology, anthropology, sociology, computer science, graphic design, industrial design and cognitive science.

When you’re designing an experience, you are in fact planning a change in the behaviour of your target group. You’ve found out their problem and you’re trying to destroy the burden using design methods.

User experience lies at the crossroads of art and science and requires both extremely acute analytical thinking and creativity.

Planning, measuring, building, validating – that’s a pretty broad set of actions, but this is what, I believe, have to be done to create stunning UX Design. The question that’s often asked is the role of Product Manager in that picture. If UX Design is responsible for the product, what Product Manager is responsible for?

I’ve heard from a couple of well respected UX Designers, that currently Product Development and User Experience Design are almost the same and in the lean future they actually should become the same. UX Designers are expected to understand business objectives (couldn’t agree more!), be really team-oriented (collaboration is crucial!) and guide product through iterations (we should be great at measuring behaviour and acting upon results!).

Is there anything left for Product Managers? Well, in my opinion, yes and no. It all depends on the type of organization.

PM = UX Designer

For small startupish teams UX designer and Product Manager can be the same person. UX designer should well understand business goals, users needs and should be focused on delivering an amazing product. Product done through ongoing, efficient, collaboration with other specialists.

If there’s not a lot of dealing with stakeholders, marketing is done in a guerrilla style, sales are limited to simple activities, the financial part of the product is rather obvious, the strategy doesn’t need to be adjusted to corporate strategy, etc. there’s no need to bring on board an additional person.
A small team can deal with most of the problems on their own. In fact, this how we work at UXPin.

PM ≠ UX Designer

However, if there’s an ongoing need to coordinate the work of different departments (sales, marketing), dealing with stakeholders is overwhelming, the strategy is as complex as a whole organization, marketing is a challenge, the engineering team is massive… – there’s definitely place for a Product Manager. PM, in this environment, uses his understanding of the target group and the product, to make sure the train is going in the right direction.

The things mentioned above shouldn’t be done by a UX Designer. The danger of losing focus on the design will be too great.

The little image below sums up he distinction between Product Manager and UX Designer in organizations that actually need both positions

PM vs UX

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