Skip to main content

Product Designer?

Today's entry in Pragmatic Marketing's product management weblog links to an article by Jacques Murphy called "Software Design: Seeing vs. Thinking". The article raises important issues that product designers face when balancing the needs of simplicity and flexibility.

However, the article seems to assume that product managers play a direct part in designing the products they manage. I firmly believe that product design lies outside the scope of a product manager's responsibilities.

A product manager determines the requirements for a product, but not its design. Thus a product manager specifies what a product should do (functional requirements). She also places constraints on the product's behavior (nonfunctional requirements), such as how easy to use it should be. But placing constraints on a product's behavior does not mean specifying the product's design.

A product manager is uniquely qualified to learn what the market demands and translate this knowledge into product requirements. But only an ergonomist or user interface expert is qualified to design a product that satisfies these requirements. How many product managers are trained in user interface design?

Comments

Michael said…
Are there any interface designers trained in product management?

I always go back and forth about seperating the product management and development out. I'm all over the "if you specify the software you're writing yourself, you'll end up with only software you like, not your customers," and yet, many of the software applications I like (blogines, delicious, blogger, etc.) seem to be driven by teams of people who interchangably fill both roles (or, so I think).

Perhaps these things I like are small enough scale that dev and product management can be the same (or maybe not). Do you think there's anything to that?

Like I said, I go back and forth between putting up the product management/dev wall.
Roger L. Cauvin said…
Good point. I don't think there has to be a wall between product management and development. In fact, I think the same person can be a product manager, a designer, and a developer.

What's important is to understand the roles and responsibilities, even if the same person fulfills them. Someone who understands the market needs to formulate the requirements in a design-free manner. Someone skilled in user interface design needs to design the user interface. The knowledge and the skill set for these responsibilities are quite different, even if the same person happens to possess them.
Unknown said…
I too think that product manager and product designer are two distinct roles. Product managers often get involved in design because they have a knack for it, a flair. And often because their developers don't.

Regardless, companies need to separate requirements (problems) from specifications (solutions)--even if the two documents are written by the same person. Read my article on the subject at http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/productmarketing/topics/02/0204s.asp
Brandon said…
Here is a hypothetical case. Assume all the customers have browsers that support Java Applets. So the Applet UI would work in the given market. Assume you are building a Web app of some kind. Assume there are three different people in the role of product manager, product designer, and software developer.

Who decides whether the UI is HTML or applets. How is it decided.

Take Google maps. Was it development or product management who said let's try to have interactive HTML (ajax) maps? Who owns or does anyone own that decision? For Google Maps, I would say it's use of Ajax is one of the most exciting "features"? Would you say it is an implementation decision?
Roger L. Cauvin said…
Nice example, Random. I will give my thoughts on it in tomorrow's blog entry.
Julian M. said…
Hi Cauvin.

I know this post is too old (we are in 2013 now), but how do you think this is nowadays connected with the Growth Hacking buzzword?

As far as I could read, Growth Hacking involves not only the product management roles but also the user experience design, which may overlap with the designer role.

I was wondering if you have any thought or comment about that, seven years after the original post was written.

Thanks!
Roger L. Cauvin said…
Julian,

Thanks for resurrecting the conversation and raising the question of whether the distinction between product management and product design still applies.

I do think the distinction still applies. Product management and product design are still different skill sets and require different talents to fill the roles.

For example, a product manager may be exceptionally adept at identifying customer pain points, forming product strategy, leading the process of running experiments to validate the strategy, and framing the requirements that the design of the product must satisfy.

But there is nothing in those skills (aside from customer orientation) that necessitates the person playing that role also can design a solution to address the pain points, execute the strategy, and satisfy the requirements.

Similarly, a person doesn't possess product management skills just by virtue of being a user experience designer. User experience design is a separate role with a different set of skills and activities.

Nonetheless, while the two roles differ significantly, it's possible for one person to possess both sets of skills. In that case, the person can take on some of the responsibilities of each role, but bandwidth constraints probably preclude assuming all the responsibilities of both roles.

Popular posts from this blog

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

What Product Managers Can Learn from the Apple iPod

The Story When Apple unveiled its iPod digital music player back in October 2001, I dismissed it as a  parity product . I already owned the Cowon iAUDIO CW100 MP3 player, loaded with my favorite tunes. There was Apple, generating great hype over the iPod as if it were a breakthrough product. The idea of a portable digital music player was nothing new. The first mass-produced MP3 players came out in 1998. In late 2001, the concept may have been new to a lot of Apple customers, but it wasn't new to me. I proudly showed my MP3 player to friends when they gushed about the iPod. Thus Apple's iPod was not an innovative product in and of itself. Years later, however, I realized the significance of ecosystem of which the iPod was a part. Apple had released iTunes (with technology purchased from  SoundJam MP ) and created the iTunes Store for finding and downloading music. Unlike Napster , it was a safe and legal way of distributing and acquiring music. The prior way of playing

Stop Validating and Start Falsifying

The product management and startup worlds are buzzing about the importance of "validation". In this entry, I'll explain how this idea originated and why it's leading organizations astray. Why Validate? In lean startup circles, you constantly hear about "validated learning" and "validating" product ideas: The assumption is that you have a great product idea and seek validation from customers before expending vast resources to build and bring it to market. Indeed, it makes sense to transcend conventional approaches to making product decisions . Intuition, sales anecdotes, feature requests from customers, backward industry thinking, and spreadsheets don't form the basis for sound product decisions. Incorporating lean startup concepts , and a more scientific approach to learning markets, is undoubtedly a sounder approach. Moreover, in larger organizations, sometimes further in the product life-cycle, everyone seems to have an opinio