The relationship between designer and manager is an interesting one. We work closely together, and there is much overlap between what both people do and bring to the table. Pair this with no shortage of opinions and throw in a little sprinkling of ego and we have a party!

  • Both and project need to understand the business goals and user needs and have organizational awareness.
  • Both think about potential features to build, if and how we should build them, and who they serve.
  • Both people think about design and interactions — and in some cases both actually do design.

While our job descriptions draw a neater line in the sand, in reality, that line is much more blurred. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the interplay can create some interesting if not tense moments.

To start, I can tell you that we like ourselves some autonomy. We enjoy using our heads to really think through problems and come up with neat, clean and innovative solutions.

The designs we make is an output of our problem-solving skills.
— click to tweet this

On that note, we really, really, really need to understand the problem we’re solving — and we need you to clearly and calmly describe it to us. Once we thoroughly understand the problem, we can go about our business of thinking of ways to solve it with design. We love to see the problem as it ties into the broader vision, so help us put the pieces together!

It’s not that we don’t want your input, we do! We even like to design with you, from the beginning — and we like it when you visualize your thinking through drawings.

We would just prefer that you’re not prescriptive and go about developing a feature without us.

We know you like to strut your stuff in Balsamiq, Axure or the mockup tool of your choice. You should do whatever it takes to help you think through a problem. Designers need freedom in solution thinking though.

When we get mockups from you before we’ve had a chance to think about the problem ourselves, it can bias and limit how we approach solving a problem. This makes it harder for us to think creatively.

So just consider when and how to use those mockups. We’d love a user flow or simple list of use cases or scenarios (or JOBS TO BE DONE, whatever you’re into these days).

Requirements, we love them! As much as the next person — and we love saying, “do you have the requirements?” As if they are hiding somewhere. Like, oh I haven’t seen them, they must be out to lunch.

However, we also love brevity and conciseness. If you send us a Jira ticket with a little novella in it, there’s a 50/50 chance we’re gonna read it; we’ll probably just ask you to sit down with us so you can read it to us — I mean, go through it with us. Give us the good stuff, we want to hear it, just take a little time to tighten up the verbiage → “excessively lengthy or technical writing” — thank you Wikipedia.

We need your help uniting the team and conveying the importance of good design. Getting good work across the finish line can be a challenge. The voice of the designer can get lost in the mix.

Managing to get the rest of the team on board with our design ideas and solutions can be a delicate dance at times. We do our best to unite the team using design as a tool to do so — but we need your help too!

As an extension of that, we also need your help making user experience a priority. Acknowledge that details matter. Give us the time and space in the process to focus on details.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the process of shipping software (fixing bugs, designing a feature for quick delivery instead of best UX) while losing sight of the bigger picture.

Being tactical and rational is fine, but in order to create truly great experiences, we need to let go of constraints, think big and be open to ideas that — on the surface — are a departure from what we feel might be safe or reasonable.

Let’s not forget who we’re designing for — understanding the customer is a team sport! Does this new feature impact each type of user in the same way? Probably not. Help us out by communicating the goals and ideas with clarity about the different types of users and how the work we’re doing might affect or help them.

If we talk about it, we may learn that a group of users, for example, may really benefit from some aspect of the feature, and some may not — so we may design it differently.

The more information we have to inform the solutions we’re designing, the better. Do you have data and or analytics that you can share with us? Are you tracking metrics that are correlated to the work we’re doing? By all means, share it! Product Managers are sometimes privy to data that designers are not; it’s useful for us to see it and understand how the data evolves over time. We probably have ideas about how to best track outcomes we’re trying to achieve with our design solutions — so don’t hesitate to ask us!

By helping us measure the effectiveness of our work, you can help elevate our practice by showing our organization the value of design.

Dealing with uncertainty and taking risks is part of the work we all do on a product team. When it comes to the customer, sometimes it’s clear what we need to design and build to meet their needs. Other times we need to break the chain and make a departure from the norm in order to change user behavior. This is is hard because it’s difficult to know how to change user behaviour and it’s impossible without experimentation. We need your help to bravely experiment with behaviour change. Let’s wade into risky or unknown territory in an effort to achieve what feels impossible or hard.

Designers and Product Managers work best together when they understand how to work together. Autonomy and freedom in solution thinking are baseline starting points for designers to do good work. Product Managers can help by uniting the team and conveying the importance of good design and making the user experience a priority.

Can you think of any ways to improve your process or collaborative aspects of your relationship with your Product Manager?

We are most successful together, and even relationships can be iterated upon. If something isn’t working change it and take time to be grateful for the good partnerships you have!

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Thanks to my colleagues and great Product Managers I have the opportunity to work with as well as to my Twitter community for inspiring conversations and inspiration on the topic. 😃

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