What’s a Design Product Manager?

August 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

Edit: This post was syndicated to the Women 2.0 blog on August 26, 2012. You can read here.

This is a question I’m often asked. Sometimes we’re labeled as Product Designers, other times it’s Product Managers, and even other times we’re Product Managers of User Experience. But labels are just that – labels. To fully understand what a Design Product Manager is, I’m going to attempt to summarize below.


Traditionally, Product Managers have either come from engineering (technical PM’s), or they’re more business minded, typically hailing from Marketing (PM’s focused on growth). But what we’re seeing in Silicon Valley is this understanding that users no longer have the patience to “learn” how to use software. The companies that are most successful at disrupting an industry are the one’s that focus on the user (Uber, Dropbox, Mint.com, Box, to name a few). They want software to be intuitive and easy to use. As soon as they sign up, they want to immediately know exactly what to do and where to go. And they don’t want to feel stupid if they don’t know how something is done in a software product. This is where we’re now seeing a new breed of Product Managers pop up – Design Product Managers, and we sit at the intersection between the technical and the business (engineers and marketers).

Design Product Managers focus on creating intuitive products, building user needs rather than user wants, and making decisions based on user behavior rather than what users say. This is called Design, or Design Think (it’s also known as Customer Development and the Lean Startup movement – based on lean manufacturing – is a huge proponent of following its methodologies). There are still a few people that believe design is more about the aesthetics and making things pretty – that’s called art.

As a Design Product Manager, we listen to users, but we don’t focus on their solution. We focus on their problems. We’re both champions of the product, and champions of the user. My fundamental belief is that Product Goals and User Needs can absolutely be balanced and in fact, the two go hand-in-hand. It’s not enough for a product to just be user friendly, it needs to meet product goals and Design can be used to solve how those goals will be achieved. As a Design Product Manager, I have to both write specs and PRD’s, as well as conduct user research, develop personas and user stories, and wireframe. And at BizeeBee, I’m taking it one step further with actually designing the end result that gets implemented by Engineering.

So in short, a Design Product Manager is a product manager, first and foremost, hailing from Design, and using their expertise to champion both the product and the user.


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