During Startup Week Buffalo 2020, Aaron Smith co-lead a presentation entitled “A User Experience Designer is a Product Manager’s Best Friend” with former colleague and former CTO & SVP of Product at Sentient Science, Adam Rasheed. Over the course of 45 minutes, the two outlined how the roles of the User Experience (UX) Designer and Product Manager (PM) are inextricably linked together in ways that are often overlooked. Breaking it down into specific areas of focus, Aaron and Adam first outline the two distinct roles and then explain how their actions are interwoven throughout a product’s lifecycle, using their shared experience working at Sentient Science, as an example.
Understanding the Relationship
Although both are unique roles set apart from one another in any company, Aaron and Adam begin their presentation by explaining the interlocking responsibilities of a UX Designer and PM throughout a product’s lifecycle. Using the notion that any product development is completed using the human-centered design process (through the eyes of the UX Designer), Aaron lays out the three key components that lead to a successful product design and implementation: Desirability (Design), Viability (Product), and Feasibility (Development). These three facets must be identified and present from day one for a product to be successfully developed.
Most importantly, UX Designers and PMs meet where Desirability and Viability intersect. At the center of the two the team will find solutions that answer business and user problems. It answers the fundamental question at the root of all product development: Can the team developing the product eliminate pain and increase the enjoyment of the experience for the end user while also making money for the business? Acknowledging from the onset how these two roles combine to address these core questions in product development will help ensure that the project stays on course throughout the development lifecycle.
Understanding the Roles
Understanding how the two roles are intertwined also requires knowing what each role is responsible for individually as well. Adam and Aaron take some time in the presentation to cover the basic functions of each role they both know so well. As Adam takes the time to dispel myths regarding what it is a PM does and does not do, Aaron emphasizes that the UX Designer must be the voice of the user and advocate for the user’s needs while balancing business goals. Aaron points out how “As the user experience designer, I’m not in charge of making it look pretty, but I am in charge of bringing the information to the table to the rest of the team of what our users like and what they don’t like; what will they use, and won’t use.” The role of the UX Designer starts with understanding the end user, what their problems are, and then working towards a solution to resolve the issue.
Aaron and Adam also take a moment to explain the difference between a customer and end user. Although the two can be the same, it is not always the case they will be. Though this might seem like a minor differentiation it in fact plays a vital role in product development. From a UX perspective, this differing viewpoint impacts the design of a product. That’s why it is important to collect both customer and end user data to back the initial hypothesis. The data from both groups will help validate and push forward initiatives and keep the project on track.
Working Together Throughout the Product Lifecycle
UX design belongs at the very beginning of the product development lifecycle. If you wait until the Product Design stage to bring UX in it’s already too late. Further, UX design will also play a key role at the very end of the project lifecycle, as they help lead the effort to gather product feedback. Aaron lays out the cross sections where the UX Designer and PM must work together throughout the product lifecycle by explaining how to use user personas and journey maps to gather enough information about clients and the product’s users to create a profile detailing how they interact with the product and use it on a daily basis. Gaining this understanding lets the project team come together as a group and brainstorm innovative ideas before prototyping and testing the product. To explain this in relevant terms to the audience, Aaron and Adam use their experience at Sentient Science to demonstrate how this practice was used to improve Sentient Science’s client onboarding process.
Aaron and Adam conclude the presentation by reminding the audience how although it seems the UX Designer and PM might work in separate roles, they in fact play complimentary pieces to one another and can combine together to create stronger, more efficient product teams.