The best businesses are user-centered.
They create products that people need and want, and then offer great experiences around those products.
Designers and UX departments don’t have a monopoly on user experience thinking. At the best companies, everyone is thinking about customer experience.
Product managers come from all sorts of backgrounds and bring different skills to the table.
My background in HCI and as a UX designer gives me a user-centered view of how customers experience the product. This makes me a great choice for leading a product reboot or creating a new product offering, and identifying points of friction that can be streamlined.
I’m a systems thinker, not an interface thinker.
Separate Titles from Skills
There’s a list of things you have to do to launch product. Figure out your market and its needs. Figure out what needs to be built. Design it. Build it. Support it. Et cetera.
You don’t need “a designer”. You need someone to plan the flow of the product, identify which screens need to be built, and plan what each thing looks like and how it all looks together. Those functions can be completed by one person or four depending on the situation.
Managing Product Comes Down to Managing People
Simply, you’ve got to find a set of people whose skillsets complement each other and the needs of the project.
Titles are shortcuts to bundles of skills that usually come together. I’ve seen people collide when there’s too much overlap on a project and both Person A and Peson B think that their title “owns” work that both of them want to do. I believe in explicitly identifying which skills are needed for a given project, which people are good at which things, and explicitly discussing who owns which part.
Keep Your People Happy with New Challenges
Some designers are fundamentally visual thinkers. These are the folks who are, at heart, communication designers. They may gravitate toward the marketing world. They have the traditional agency world to model a career path: the Creative Director is a well-understood figure who makes strategic and creative decisions. The CD manages both people and product.
But UX designers tend to be structuralist or analytical thinkers. There isn’t yet good paradigm for how they grow throughout their careers. I currently think that UX designers need a path into product-manager types of roles as they mature, and I’m an advocate for providing the necessary training and opportunities to create UX- and product-focused PMs, who can exist alongside BizDev-, Marketing-, and Sales-focused PMs.
It all comes down to keeping your people happy. You have to understand what motivates different people and figure out how to help them get it, earn it, and work towards it. Lots of designers are motivated by strategic roles, and those people need a path to strategic leadership.