What’s the Difference Between a Product Manager and a UX Designer?

In the words of Julie Zhuo, product designer at Facebook, a UX designer is “responsible for the actual design (the flow, the sound bytes/pixels, etc.)” while the product manager is responsible for “coordinating across different teams, getting folks aligned on goals and timelines, inward/outward communication, and analysis of whether a product is actually a ‘best product’.

In my own experience, it depends on the size of the company. When Eat Sleep Poop App was just me and some developers, I had to divide my time between doing all the ux work – research, flows, wireframes, prototypes, testing, analytics – and the product management work: finding synthesis between the tech and the design; making sure the product fits into higher-level goals of the business – such as having a release in time for the holidays; communicating a unified message about the product across different verticals, such as Facebook and the App Store; adjusting our IAP strategy to increase sales.

Now that I have a very talented UX designer working with me, I am freed up to focus more on the product. Of course, the UX is still vital, and I continue to be involved with all the intricacies of the customer experience; but now I’m more able to consider the business aspects of the product – namely growth and sales and their alignment with both tech and design.

A lot of how a small product business such as Eat Sleep Poop App evolves is: “what can we afford to do this month that will produce the most value?” And then the value is determined by understanding our customer’s needs. A good example is this pending 4th quarter of 2017. While we have spent most of 2016 growing, we did not take the time to do some essential development work on the code base. Now we are looking down the barrel of Apple’s release of a brand the new version of Swift 4, and we are barely catching up to be steadily entrenched in Swift 3. That means that if we are to continue down the path we’ve been on for most of 2016, we are further distancing ourselves from having an updated code base.

So here’s some more specificity for you: I received a request from some users to update the Sleep module of Eat Sleep Poop. And believe me, I am dying to give them that enhancement – especially because my analytics shows that it’s the #2 feature of my app – but if we focused our energies on that enhancement, we would be building it on top of a shaky code base – and with new, un-tested engineering talent. That could be a big waste of time. Consider the math: each team member spends about 15 hrs/week on the product (it’s a side project for all of us); if an engineer who is unfamiliar with the code attempts to build the Sleep enhancement and fails, we could potentially have lost a month. This same engineer could be assigned the task of refactoring the code (the migration to Swift 4), which would put her in the position of learning the code base without a ton of risk – while getting us closer to our goal of having a Swift 4 code base.

In the meantime, my UX designer and myself have the time to prepare and test designs at a prototype level – all the while determining which features and enhancements will bring the most value (in addition to the Sleep module enhancement that has already been planned).

Back to the question of how the role of UX differentiates itself from the role of product designer, I see the role of the product designer as quarterbacking the ball down the field; and the UX designer as the role of the running back. They are intrinsically combined; however, the product designer has to strategize at a higher level, one that encompasses the commercial success of the product. In the words of Jeff Lash at SiriusDecision, “the product manager is responsible for the commercial success of a product, overseeing it from inception/ideation through design, build, launch and growth/enhancement.” Whereas before 5% of my time as UX designer was spent on growth, 30% of my time as product manager is spent on growth. Similarly, 90% of my energies were spent on the mobile app; whereas now about 50% of my energies are spent on alternative applications which can become pillars of Eat Sleep Poop – such as a web application and IOT applications.

Related Articles: A Product Managers Job. By Josh Elman. Medium. 2013


  1. Julie Zhou on Quora
  2. Jeff Lash on SiriusDecisions.com

App Store Descriptions are Gifts to UX Designers

When I’m starting to research a new client’s digital product, one of my favorite places to go is the app stores. This is where companies have an opportunity to identify their product in the most concise terms possible.

Let’s take a look at how Instagram describes themselves in the app stores: ‘Over 300 million users love Instagram! … It’s a simple way to capture and share the world’s moments on your phone … customize … transform … share your photos and videos … follow … Facebook, Twitter … ’ [note: I’ve added the elipses to cull the key words].

If we view their marketing copy on their web site, it is different. It includes their slogan: ‘Capture and Share the World’s Moments’; but it doesn’t emphasize simple or the number of users. The keywords here are: fast, beautiful, fun, easy, free, Facebook, Twitter.

It’s hard to argue with such a successful company like Instagram. We can assume that they market their product differently on the web vs in the app store for a reason, probably based on analytics. With less prestigious companies, however, such as newer startups, I have found that such choices are not intentional – but mistakes. For example, an LA startup I worked with had contrasting copy on their Android vs iOS descriptions. This revealed several user experience holes in the company’s product.

When a company is inconsistent with their marketing copy, it reveals the truth about the company – that they have a fractured organization, where one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. For example, the marketing team isn’t in-line with the engineering or product teams. And thus they are chasing different goals. Ultimately, it’s the user who pays for these inefficiencies. An analogy is a child whose parents disagree; one parent says so-and-so is bad; whereas the other parent says so-and-so is fine. The child ends up confused as to which message is the correct one. Similarly, if a company sends mixed messages to its users, those users will wind up confused and/or missing out on understanding key features about the product.

As a user experience designer, these kinds of mistakes are opportunities to do good – to help a company align its message. We can find out whom is responsible for writing the copy; for posting the copy to the app store; and for driving the strategy behind the copy. And then we unite those persons through documentation – maybe just emails – but ideally, through healthy discussions, whiteboarding and Google Docs. Soon, the message will become succinct; teams will become unified; the design will reflect that unified message – and users will reap the benefits.

Lastly, I’d like to emphasize how much a unified message can effect a company’s revenue. If their message is unified, it will be reflected in how their users talk about the product. Like the game of telephone, if the message is simple, it will remain intact after countless numbers of persons have re-iterated it. Same with a digital product’s message – it has more of a chance of going viral if it’s succinct and concise – and, of course, reflective of a succinct and concise product.