When it comes to bringing a digital product to market, both user experience (UX) and product management play an important role, and in recent years, these disciplines have gone through an interesting evolution. While there is some overlap between them, they are distinct and each required as part of the product life cycle.
Still, there tends to be confusion around the overlapping of shared responsibilities, which, in turn, can lead to power struggles, misalignment, and disrupted workflows — none of which are conducive to healthy partnerships or working environments.
We recently hosted a meetup to explore this junction of UX and product management, where a panel of seven experts from the Chicago area discussed how the disciplines have evolved as well as how to best distinguish between them.
Robynn Upton, Director of Product Management, Intelligent Medical Objects
Varun Kapoor, Senior UX Designer, GE
Scott Blair, UX Team Lead, VP Product, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Bryn McCoy, UX Director, Product Designer, Adjunct Faculty, Columbia College Chicago
David Shastry, Creative and Product Lead, DebtPay
Will Norris, Lead UX Strategist, SPR
David Kinney, Principal Architect, SPR
Mediated by: Litha Ramirez, Executive Director of Experience Strategy & Design, SPR
Below we’ll share some of the key takeaways from the conversation.
The Marketing Team’s Role
Where does marketing fit in the UX/product management mix? Opinions vary. While some find value in marketing owning the product design process, others think they should not have such a heavy hand. At the very least, though, everyone including the marketing team deserves to have a seat at the table.
Regardless of who owns a product, for it to be successful begins by asking some key questions, such as: What problem are we solving? Is this an urgent problem in the marketplace? Is the problem pervasive? Will someone actually buy this—is it monetizable? Knowing the answers to these will help to ensure that the team is designing a product that will actually bring value to the marketplace.
If You Build It, Will They Come?
An interesting way to think about the relationship between marketing and product design is this: everyone knows the age-old adage, “if you build it, they will come.” UX takes this and turns it on its head, asking: if you build it, will they come? Whereas marketing asks, if you build it, can we sell it? Essentially, the role of UX is to identify problems we didn’t know we had and it’s up to the marketing team to sell solutions. It becomes a symbiotic relationship. Product management fills that sweet spot in between discovering the problem and marketing it.
The Optimal Product Design team
The different roles and responsibilities that comprise the optimal product design team will vary by project and organization. That said, some key factors are universal and can improve results. First, the way in which your team interacts i.e. gets along, collaborates, etc. often outshines a team with a single star player who has deep expertise. Secondly, someone on the team has to be willing and readily able to make decisions. (This is often a product manager but doesn’t have to be; more on that next.) And finally, smaller, more agile teams tend to produce more nimble results. Usually, these teams are cross-functional and made up of players with a variety of skill sets; a highly specialized skill set can be detrimental to quick delivery, but sometimes is necessary if the project is complex or very large in scale.
UX Designer vs. Product Designer vs. Product Manager
Is a UX designer a product designer? Is a product manager a product designer? What distinguishes one from the other? There are a lot of blurred lines around each of these roles. Here’s a general breakdown.
A UX designer focuses primarily on user satisfaction, identifying problems and ensuring that a product actually fulfills the user’s needs. They cover the design thinking process from research and ideation to user testing and prototyping, keeping usefulness and usability as the priority.
The difference between a UX designer and a product designer can be fuzzy. A product designer is similar to a UX designer and often does UX, UI, and coding, but is also concerned with business and cost.
As for product managers, they will most likely share some responsibilities and goals with the product designer and UX designer, but for the most part, a product manager is responsible for the growth and profitability of a product. They often have to make a strong case for their product’s feature development to get their organization to invest time and resources. In short, they operate at a level higher than UX and product designers, facilitating cross-practice cooperation and collaboration to translate user problems and market needs into a monetizable, desirable, and useful product.
Looking for more? View our photo album — it includes additional insights from the panelists. You can also learn more by dropping us a note, and make sure to follow SPR on LinkedIn.