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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?


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
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.

Roger L. Cauvin said…

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.

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