The title is pretty self explanatory, but the context is that a new project with a small team will need the work of a product manager and that of a UX professional to get the job done. The company, outside the project, has some product manager skills, but very little UX skills. So deciding between a product manager with UX skills and and a UX designer with product manager skills depends partly on where those lines are usually drawn.

  • You seem to have answered your own question
    – Mervin
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 18:15
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    @MFrank2012 - Man, I wish I'd answered it better.
    – psr
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 18:43

5 Answers 5


I've been working as a PM for almost 15 years and have had the privilege of working with 20+ different UX designers during that time, and have seen many variations on the PM and design relationship. I've also faced the same problem you have of choosing between hiring a PM gneralist and UX specialist.

Here's my advice: find a part-time UX designer (can be a contractor) and hire a full-time PM who has "good enough" UX design skills and the inclination to follow advice from (and learn from) talented UX designers. Here's why:

  • Good UX designers are very efficient. A good, full-time UX designer on a small team will quickly outrace the rest of the team. For example, in a previous job I met with our very busy deisgner for only an hour each week, and in that hour he was able to give me enough guidance to solve a week of my UX problems.
  • A PM's time is mostly spent on generalist non-UX tasks: meeting with customers, negotiating with staheholders, doing competitive business research, presenting to management, writing documents, etc. Only a small fraction is UX design and research. I have yet to meet a talented UX designer who wants to spend 90%+ of their time on non-design work, and the better the designer the less patience they have for non-design time-wasting.

Net-net, if you hire a full time designer it's likely they will soon be bored and unhappy doing the job you describe on a small team. A PM with UX skills, however, will be thrilled to be doing UX work, even if it's just 10% of the time, especially if you can pair them with a consultant who can help the PM solve really hard UX problems and define overall UX guidelines.

If your app needs to be stunningly beautiful, meaning you'll keep your designer busier than most small teams can, ignore my advice above and go with the design expert.


Product Manager typically has to answer to the company. So they are beholden to profits and losses. The UX designer is more beholden to the end user. Obviously, they are both beholden to both, but that's how I usually divy it up.

Product Manager: This site needs to X Y and Z for the company. UX Designer: Let's figure out the best way to let our customer perform X Y and Z.

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    I also feel like the PM is more concerned with the project as a whole, and the people involved, whereas a UX Designer really only cares about building the solution to best fit the customer's needs
    – Brad Orego
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:36
  • I think that's fair. I'd maybe call that person the Project Manager, though.
    – DA01
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 19:46
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    @DA01, A project manager falls somewhere between the product manager and ux designer. A product is typically made up of several projects. The product manager handles how all these projects come together, or build upon one another.
    – CaffGeek
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 22:16
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    The CEO plays golf and skims bonuses off the top. On occasion, they pop-in to demand design changes that make sense to no one.
    – DA01
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 19:51
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    @JoJo In a small one product startup the managers are the staff, e.g. the CEO is the sales, markerting and product manager, the CTO is the project manager, architect and developer and so on. Commented Jan 29, 2012 at 21:11

I think this question relies heavily on the scale and scope of the project at hand. This is also related to the size of the team/company that is working the project.

Generally speaking a Product Manager concerns themselves with a broad set of aspects of the work. They can both specialize and generalize, and in the realm of online product management I see them contending with some of the following elements of a project, in no particular order:

  • Understanding the customer/user
  • Understanding the market (including sales and marketing strategies/tactics)
  • The technology stack
  • UX Design (to include interaction models, e.g. touch vs. web, overall product flows and paths)
  • UI Design (aesthetic and isolated or individual experience design, e.g. in commerce completing a transaction vs. the overall shopping experience)

One of the key areas of expertise a PM can bring to the group is the ability to balance out the efforts related to all of the above and other elements of the project.

Whereas a UX designer is more versed in the specific UX and UI design as described above. And not at all ignorant of the other factors listed.

This is all from my professional experience, and I know others have had variations on the above. Also apologies for anything that may be missing, as I'm am trying to provide some general guidance for the questioner.

Where size and scale of project fit in is related to how much of a need the project has for the above specializations. In many smaller companies and on smaller projects, many times the Product Manager can fulfill the needs of the UX and UI contributions.

Hope this helps and happy to clarify.


At Marketo the difference is that the product manager defines the problem (MRD) and the UX Designer solves the problem (PRD). Additionally, product managers have like 10 other jobs to do.

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    Interesting... I would have thought that both of those would be under the purview of the product manager. Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 22:43
  • We do it different than most. The PRD is the details, the HOW, the design. It makes sense (to me) that the designers are responsible for this work.
    – Glen Lipka
    Commented Jan 29, 2012 at 17:03

Both jobs focus on the product, however they focus on it from different perspectives.

The PM, deals with feature requests, product performances, market response to the product, has a say on the go-to-market approach, prioritise features and so on.

The UX designer, both gets inputs from the PM, as in, "We need to deliver this feature, but there is this problem to solve", as well as providing him output from the user research, interviews, usability testing.

Of course the answer of a problem (design of the solution) can only be as good as the definition of the problem (product requirements).

It's also true that there are a lot of professionals that do both, (actually that's an assumption, but is true for me) and they are probably better defined as UX Architects, but they still don't replace fully a PM.

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