An Overlap! Or? Product Owner vs UX Designer
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Imagine this: somewhere in the product world, a product owner Amanda and UX designer Olia work on a SaaS product together. But they both feel there’s some tension building up. Amanda passed Olia’s design to the development team and they started implementing the feature. Olia thinks that she should be the one curating the process. Both women realize that this is not the first time such situations keep happening to them.
What’s the problem here? What are product owners and UX designers? Where do these two roles overlap? And most importantly how to turn frustrating overlap into effective collaboration?
We will answer these questions in this article once and for all. Eleken is a design agency for SaaS businesses, and our UX designers work with product owners day to day. We decided to explain and compare these two roles and also share some tips on avoiding situations like Amanda and Olia have.
What is a product owner?
If you ask Amanda, she’d define the product owner role as a person responsible for defining, prioritizing, and managing the product backlog. The role is typical for Scrum product teams and is usually not separated from the product manager’s role.
Product owner responsibilities cover only a part of the of product manager’s scope. Good product managers are product owners, and usually it’s more effective when one person takes on these two roles. As a great product manager and product owner Amanda has a profound understanding of all product aspects, from technical feasibility to user experience.
Amanda’s role is to "own" the product by managing and facilitating the team’s efforts necessary to build a product. This means she constantly makes sure that everything stays on the product roadmap track throughout the product development process.
Turning the product vision into an actionable backlog is one of the main responsibilities of the product owner. Another one is constant communication with users and generating user stories.
Overall, Amanda works closely with developers, marketers, and business analysts, but most of all with UX specialists to ensure the designs meet real-world needs while aligning with business goals and budgets.
UX designer role
Olia is here to help us define the role of a user experience (UX) designer. She is a user experience specialist who designs products that are easy and enjoyable to use. UX designers are responsible for improving the user experience of software products and services through research, design, and prototyping. Their job is to ensure that everything about your product works well for the people who use it - from the way it looks to how intuitive it is to use.
To achieve that Olia identifies user needs, conducts user research, and creates wireframes or prototypes based on her findings. UX/UI design is her essential responsibility. She works closely with product managers and product owners as well as with developers.
By the way, when you're curious to learn more we have an article explaining UX designer responsibilities.
How do product owners and UX designers collaborate?
Product owners and UX designers collaborate most often in the process of product development. And to be honest, one without another is not effective.
Product owners and UX designers collect and analyze information about user needs and use it to move from ideas to product creation. This is the case with our characters Olia and Amanda, as they constantly cooperate and share information about user needs.
Product owners share product vision with UX specialists to ensure that the design will embody the product goals. UX designers generate ideas about how, based on UX research, the product can look and function.
Both product owner and UX designer participate in Scrum ceremonies like daily standups, sprint planning and reviews, and the like. They both collaborate with developers to understand how the product can be built and keep an eye on implementation.
Now when we see how product management and UX design combine forces, it’s time to look closer at the issue of overlap in their work.
Oops, overlap! Causes and consequences
Amanda runs the product backlog, while Olia researches and designs user experiences. The difference between product pwner and UX designer’s skill sets and scopes seems clear. However, in real life, the overlap happens all the time:
Most of the confusion happens at the product discovery stage or while iterating quickly on a rapid design. Both UX designers and product owners work with user experience and here their efforts can duplicate.
In some teams, UX designers are responsible for UX research, they can also get feedback from real users by running usability tests or conducting surveys during the testing. In other teams, this job belongs to product owners. And in some teams, the responsibilities are not clearly assigned and this can lead to misunderstandings in terms of who’s responsible for what.
Another case is when it is not clear who is responsible for collaboration with developers and who curates the implementation of designs. It can be both a UX designer and a product owner. In this case, you may need to reconsider your organization structure or make some minor changes in the processes.
The problematic situations described above are rather typical. The study from Nielsen Norman Group proves that such overlap is quite common for UX and product management roles. There are several reasons for that. And one of them is how closely both UX designers and product owners work on the product’s user experience.
Both designers and product managers define, create, and optimize UX, so no wonder a similarity in responsibilities is present. The reasons for it according to the Nielsen Norman research are:
- Lack of leadership in the team
- Poor understanding of product owner and UX designer roles and responsibilities
- The belief that team members have the required skills to take others` responsibilities
- The desire of all team members to do the right thing
Respondends report that overlap causes frustration and misunderstandings in the teams.
How to deal with "product owner vs UX designer" overlap?
It's easier to resolve the overlap between product owner and designer roles than you think. Just acknowledge the problem in your team and follow these simple principles:
- Clearly define roles in your product team
- Assign responsibilities to each role
- Make it clear who is to take leadership
- Make team roles and responsibilities explicit for the whole team
- Encourage frequent and effective communication between team members
If there’s a lack of action from the company management in this matter, you can implement the principles above with your team starting from the bottom. Be proactive and you will notice how you and your team will benefit from resolved product and UX overlap and healthy collaboration.
A couple of words from Eleken to sum up
At Eleken, we believe that product management and UX roles and especially their collaboration are the base for the product's success. Together they contribute unique skill sets and perspectives, and develop a holistic view of your product.
In our work, we take a flexible approach and communication as a base for collaboration. Thanks to that our designers easily become part of clients` teams and thrive in various work environments.
Here's what a product owner of Habit app, Kate, says about collaboration with Eleken:
“We communicated every other day and had regular calls with design updates. The workflow was smooth, we worked iteration by iteration in a rhythmic manner. I am really impressed by Eleken designers’ quality of work and their design leadership”.
You can find your dedicated UX designer at Eleken. All our designers are experienced in the product field and know how to collaborate effectively with product owners and product managers. Drop us a line and see it for yourself (we have a free trial)!
Best SaaS Web Design: Unveiling the Secrets of Impressive Websites
The SaaS industry has become one of the fastest-growing ones in recent years. Just imagine, in the USA alone, there are about 17,000 SaaS companies serving up to 59 billion customers across the world. So it’s no wonder that many SaaS startups seek ways to survive and thrive in such a competitive environment. But what can help them stand out?
As a SaaS design company, Eleken has worked on numerous SaaS projects, from agriculture to data analytics, and gained a lot of valuable experience. From our standpoint, it is a well-thought-out SaaS web design that can help young startups gain a competitive edge. In one of our recent videos, Ilya Dmytruk, the founder and CEO at Eleken, shares some insights into what is so special about SaaS UX design that requires a narrow specialist.
When some of our clients come to us, they request to “make it like Stripe” or some other popular SaaS solution. But creating an impressive SaaS web design is not about mimicking the best companies and copycatting their user interface. It is, first and foremost, about creating simple, easy-to-navigate, and user-friendly designs that combine functionality and aesthetics. Still, we can always learn from the best, so let’s see what helps successful SaaS businesses deliver exceptional web designs launch after launch.
What tactics do reputable SaaS websites employ?
In the recent McKinsey report, researchers uncovered that design-driven companies outperform industry benchmark growth by as much as two to one. The report highlights that user-centric design provides businesses with more opportunities than ever today. Leading companies appear to excel in these four areas:
- More than a product: embrace the power of user experience.
- More than a feeling: employ design metrics.
- More than a phase: follow an iterative process.
- More than a department: hire cross-functional talent.
Eleken designers agree that the above four clusters of design actions work well and are ready to share some SaaS web design practices to help every business become a top performer.
More than a product: embrace the power of user experience
SaaS websites' goal is to sell software to the user. Therefore, the designer's task here is to present the product in the most favorable light, namely to showcase all the advantages, highlight all the features, and show that your application is better than competitors.
As we mentioned, many of our clients are asking us to make their solution look like Stripe. But why do so many SaaS businesses look up to Stripe? The answer is clear: Stripe has a good combination of a user-friendly interface with consistent design elements like color schemes, font styles, and layouts across all solutions, as well as a professional team that promotes customer feedback.
In one of the interviews, Michael Siliski, the Business Lead at Stripe, said that one of the major principles in their design process is that they “really, really care” about user experience and put customers' needs first. This user-first approach encourages their team to search for the right balance between function, craft, and joy. One of Stripe’s designers shares an example of how everybody is involved with the product at all levels. The designer mentioned the case when the CEO didn’t like the result and wrote the needed code by himself.
Yes, most SaaS companies do acknowledge the value of user experience, but just like Stripe, it’s also important to know how you differentiate yourself through your UX.
Eleken use cases
Our UI/UX designer Dasha notes that the first step to differentiating yourself through UX is to maintain the same style across all visual components of the company. This means that the design of both your website and the SaaS product should be created by the same designer or agency. Such practice ensures that everything looks, feels, and sounds the same. As an example, let’s look at the case of SEOcrawl.
Aside from doing the platform overhaul, our designers helped the SEOcrawl team to create designs for various marketing campaigns aimed at attracting audiences.
When talking about designs for marketing purposes, we believe that they should not only include authentic visuals but also convey brand identity, emotion, persuasion, and, most importantly - trust. Let’s look at a sign-up landing page. It has it all: a contrasting headline, relevant visuals, social proof, as well as a clearly visible call-to-action button.
It’s great if designs for social media with headers and icons align with the overall style, so we did for SEOcrawl:
Also, we designed numerous easy-to-read email notifications and newsletters for different purposes, including a free trial activation newsletter or new comment notification.
Tamara, another designer at Eleken, also shared her insights with us. When she was designing Кірsi’s platform for accounting, consulting, and specialty law firms, she also created marketing materials for participating in the exhibition and creating a pitch deck.
The standard colors used in the accounting and financial fields are dark, restrained colors, usually blue shades. But Kipsi is a dynamic and young startup that is developing rapidly and introducing innovative ideas. To stand out from competitors, the client wanted to express this freshness in their style visually. So we used bright, vibrant, and youthful color palettes, such as fresh blue and purple. Here are some post examples Tamara created for LinkedIn:
This ensured consistency of the project's visual style in all communications, making a positive impression.
More than a feeling: employ design metrics
Successful SaaS companies don’t rely on opinions and personal preferences. The design is more than a feeling for them. They implement design metrics and measure the design in the same way as cost, quality, or time.
Design-driven companies link design to value, considering the entire customer journey and using the UX design metrics, like satisfaction ratings, usability assessments, field studies, A/B testing, and so on, to understand their user needs better.
Stripe is a master in user testing, empowering every employee to connect with users. For example, the company recommends following the “Make surveys about users, not about you” principle. This means UX researchers should avoid general requests, asking to help users to take the survey. Instead, it is better to explain to people why their answers will benefit them. For example, it will help fix a bug, improve the quality of service, or make the page more useful. Stripe offers this example of Rocket Rides, a demo for Stripe Connect, to illustrate this point:
As Eleken designers always want to remain user-focused, we constantly monitor user behavior and conduct usability testing. For example, while working on Kipsi, we measured the time users spend on the platform (Time on task metrics) and tracked the functions and tasks they use most often (Success Score). As a result of our effort, we extended functionality, adding a Product Tour function that helped new users navigate the interface.
Design metrics play an important role when talking about product redesign. For example, our clients from Refera, a web platform that allows doctors to create and send referrals, came to us to redesign a product’s landing page. They wanted to convey the feeling of trust and confidence, urging leads to leave an email address and book a demo. To achieve this goal, we conducted the user research. We found out that users have more trust when they see people with whom they will interact. So we placed a real doctor’s picture instead of illustrations to evoke trust. Our designer also suggested changing the blue color, often overused in medical design, to a calm green palette, as well as replacing outdated flat-style illustrations with more classical 3D images.
More than a phase: follow an iterative process
Many companies still consider the design phase as just one of the product development stages. Yet, design works best in environments that encourage learning, testing, and iterating with users. This is especially true for SaaS projects. When companies rely too much on one iteration, this can result in losing the customer's voice.
The Stripe designers follow a rapid iterative loop when they start their work by analyzing actual users’ needs and understanding their problems, and then designing the right product to solve them. The company calls this process “product shaping”, which means building “a rough solution to a concrete user problem” when it is strictly planned what to build and why.
At Eleken, we follow a similar process. Ilya, our CEO, explains that design is a process, not an event. Users’ needs and market expectations often change, so adjusting to the time and changing design is important.
For Eleken, the iterative process is quite effective because of its simplicity. The team follows a series of repetitive steps, improving and refining the product with each new cycle. Here are three stages of Eleken’s design process:
- Creation: Once the initial observation, research, and requirements have been gathered, Eleken designers analyze the first screens and discuss how they may work. Then, we create raw mockups and send them to the clients for approval.
- Testing: The clients share their ideas about what they like and what could be improved. Eleken designers gather the feedback and make the needed changes.
- Evaluation: We think of ways how to improve the mockups. Once the first iteration ends, the second starts. This process repeats until we get the result that satisfies everyone.
Let’s look at Kipsi’s design of documentation requests. The section navigation is simple and intuitive. But before it evolved to the version you see, it went through a number of approval cycles.
The first iteration of the flow for document requests did not include the ability to indicate that the request is not relevant or the document does not exist. During this iteration, we collected our client’s feedback and understood that this option was necessary. The second iteration already included this functionality.
More than a department: hire cross-functional talent
In a truly collaborative environment, there are no departments, titles, or assigned offices. Instead, there are cross-functional teams that work in tandem. All of them are focused on making a great product together to meet users’ needs.
Even though Stripe early invested in design, they were not immune to scaling up. In the beginning, they had a product-focused team. But for efficient scaling, they needed more cross-functional specialists to assist Stripe with storytelling, design research, content strategists, and so on. To address these challenges, Stripe built five teams with over 100 designers that focus on cohesion across all design disciplines, product design, operations of UX research, and many more.
In the current space, setting up central design departments or smaller independent design teams is no longer effective. McKinsey researchers found that the distributed teams are much more successful, as they have a clearer focus on their customers and can build better cross-functional partnerships. As a result, they are 10% faster to launch a product and have a 30% higher success rate when getting concepts to market.
But sometimes, companies struggle with having the right talent on board. TextMagic, a Nasdaq-listed SaaS company, managed to overcome this challenge by extending its team with our designers. They hired Eleken to design a platform, including designing marketing campaigns, CRM, and desk services functionality.
Eleken designers were always in touch with the TextMagic team. We had video calls with the product manager every other day and arranged demos to present the results of our work every one or two weeks as if our designers were in-house employees. Here is what Irene Avdus, PM at TextMagic, shared on Clutch:
Delivering excellent web designs has never been an easy task for SaaS companies. It remains especially difficult for companies that raise the bar on consumer expectations like Stripe.
But no matter the case, having a design team who deeply understands your product and the target customers is important. Eleken can provide you with the right SaaS design talent for your product, even if you have a narrowly-focused project that requires niche expertise. Jamie Conklin, VP of Product at Astraea, commented, “It is unusual to find a designer who has experience building applications with geospatial data - especially imagery data. We found that in Eleken.”
So if you want to develop your SaaS web design with a team who enjoys solving problems and has a high degree of autonomy, drop us a line.
Customer Stages of Awareness: Mapping SAAS Customer Journey
There are two related concepts in marketing — customer funnel and customer journey.
Marketers and salespeople love funnels because they are simple and controlled, and show a pleasing picture of leads that inevitably convert, forced by gravity. A SaaS sales funnel is so adorable we even put one on Eleken’s landing page.
In fact, as product designers, we at Eleken prefer using customer journeys in our UX research, but we would never think of illustrating anything with a journey because nobody loves customer journeys. In fact, they create all kinds of troubles — they are messy, confusing, and hard to work with. Just look at Gartner buyer journey below.
The bad news is that you need to work with journeys anyway if you’re in SaaS. Successful SaaS can’t do without superb user experience, which is hard to achieve without compiling user goals and actions into a timeline skeleton.
The good news is that understanding journeys is way more simple than it looks. To organize a complex web of interconnected events, we can divide touchpoints into stages of awareness. We’ll get to this later, and now let’s clarify what customer journey map and sales funnel are.
The difference between sales funnel and customer journey
Funnel tells a company-centric story. From your company’s point of view, leads start at the top of the funnel and passively move toward the bottom from awareness to purchase.
A marketing funnel is focused more on broad categorization than individual touchpoints. Even though a customer’s real behavior can go through those milestones, they usually take a much more winding road.
That's why funnels can't offer us much insight about consumers. When we want to understand customers’ behavior, we need a user-centric marketing and design tool. We need a customer journey.
What is customer journey
A customer journey is a story of someone who has a problem and is looking for a solution to that problem. Even though it visualizes the same process of moving from strangers to buyers as a funnel does, the journey approaches it from the customer’s perspective.
That’s a key point to realize — for customers, journey includes a problem and a solution, it doesn’t necessarily include you as an endpoint.
Actually, SaaS customers are facing an unprecedented number of choices in platforms and tools. So how will you break through to gain their attention and make your prospective customers realize your SaaS is the one they are looking for?
Why is customer journey important for SaaS
Look at Gartner’s B2B SaaS customer journey we’ve left above. Customers have some jobs to be done to find a solution to their problem, but they don’t move gradually. They are looping around each step, bouncing from one to another, sometimes going backward. All because choosing software is anything but an easy decision.
SaaS market is a web version of an endless Turkish bazaar full of colorful noisy street sellers yelling at you. Choosing software tools is not exciting. It’s overwhelming. It’s confusing.
Maybe not for an industry insider, but for a person that just flipped through a dozen of SaaS landing pages, they all look the same, and they all say the same.
Moreover, there are thousands of possible options in each SaaS category, and the numbers are growing wild. To illustrate the point: 1 in 5 of the solutions on 2020’s MarTech landscape weren’t there one year before. The segment that consisted of 150 apps in 2011, had grown to 8,000 apps in nine years only.
It’s a matter of minutes to get buried under the information flow that all that thousands of companies produce.
People need some guidance. You’re an expert. Do you see the window of opportunity opening?
Buyers appreciate a helping hand as they navigate an overwhelming purchase process. In fact, customers who received content that helped them to move across their buying jobs were three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret.
For content to be helpful, it must be relevant. The way we treat the customer who’s unhappy with their team’s workflow, vs the one looking for project management apps vs the one who has signed up for trial will be hugely different.
That’s where we need a customer journey — it helps us to align our solutions with challenges your customers are facing. Looking at the entire experience from the user’s standpoint, we can make that experience more valuable.
How to map customer journey
To start working with a customer journey we need to break it into steps, visualize them and map our marketing messages to every step.
What stages does the journey consist of? Nobody knows. In fact, every customer has their unique stages, but we keep trying to summarize them to a single formula.
McKinsey consumer decision journey consists of initial consideration, active evaluation, closure and post-purchase. Gartner’s B2B buyer journey we’ve seen above splits into problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection, validation and consensus creation.
We at Eleken prefer the model developed by Eugene Schwartz in 1966 called “Stages of Awareness”. It divides the journey into five stages: unaware, problem-aware, solution-aware, product-aware and most aware.
With this map, we plan a series of touchpoints aimed to help potential customers in their journeys.
And you know what that means? The article you’re reading was designed to be a touchpoint of your journey. And given you’re halfway through the piece at the moment, high chances are everything goes as planned.
Want to see how it works? Let’s figure out how the customer journey framework can be used on the example of Eleken’s content marketing team — and how it can be adopted by SaaS companies.
1. Unaware stage
Thanks to keyword research, we know that our audience often googles “what is a customer journey map.” That’s an informational intent, we map it to an unaware stage of the customer's journey and write a corresponding article.
People with this request are at the very beginning of their journey. So even if we try to spread knowledge of our brand in the article, we don’t promote our design services.
What we need to do at the first awareness stage of the buyer's journey is to give comprehensive answers to readers' questions and thus, move readers from unaware to a problem-aware stage.
2. Problem-aware stage
When a person aims to create a SaaS customer journey map, they face a number of practical questions, or problems, that need to be clarified:
- What the hell is a SaaS customer journey I’m going to map? Why is customer journey mapping important? (you’re here)
- I need the best customer journey map example to see how other people make it work.
- Are there any customer journey mapping tools that can help me automate the process?
- Can I use a map in design for a better product value proposition?
If you look closely at the picture of our reader's journey map above, you’ll see that all those questions are covered by the topics mapped to the problem-aware stage.
Our unaware-stage article raises those questions and links to the articles that give the answers — thus, help readers to move to the next stage of their journeys.
3. Solution-aware stage
Why are you digging into the info on buyer journeys? Probably for using customer journey maps to improve your marketing or customer experience. And quite possibly, you want to redesign something or even design from scratch — in that case, you’re a potential Eleken’s client.
SaaS web app, or mobile app, or product webpage — no matter what you need, we want to be a shortlisted solution. So, we’ll prepare a bunch of content that lists the ways to design pages and apps with stellar customer experience.
Remember that customer journeys include a problem and a solution but don’t necessarily include you as an endpoint? The solution-aware stage is your chance to book a place among the solutions your customers consider.
At the solution-aware stage, the customer is much closer to a purchase than at the beginning of the journey, so helping them to see all solutions available you can show off a bit, proving that your solution is the most suitable — and redirect your reader to a page that speaks about you solely.
4. Product-aware stage
If you need UI/UX design and we did a good job describing our value proposition, you’ll probably click on a link that will bring you to our UI/UX design services landing page.
The product-aware stage is your selling content finest hour. Customers are already considering paying you money, so it’s high time to address your best convincing pillars. This could be case studies and testimonials that prove your words or earth-shattering offers that help potential customers decide on the step further.
Eleken’s earth-shattering offer is a free 3-days trial. It helps remove friction from the customer’s journey — no need to make a hard decision whether to buy or not a "cat in a bag." All doubts dispel as you get a chance to try our services and figure out if they’re going to fit you.
For SaaS companies, freemium pricing is usually used to remove barriers to product value. Users can try a product for free at a base level to feel the benefits it offers, and then the product sells itself, uncovering premium features that offer even more value.
But when you are relying on your product to do the heavy lifting of driving engagement and conversion, you should provide users with a truly superb experience. To ensure a consistent experience for all users, UX designers create their specialized customer journeys, a.k.a user flows, that visualize the path users take inside your product from an entry point through to the final interaction.
5. Most aware stage
The customer journey doesn’t end when the users find what they need, and it’s especially important for SaaS companies. A newcomer can easily top up your churn list given that your competitor offers a better product at a better price.
Changing suppliers is as simple as a few clicks for a customer, and is nothing less than a financial loss for a supplier. User acquisition expenses are front-loaded, but monthly per-user fees need time before they become profitable, so providers need to put the work in to make sure customers stick around.
Customer journey: a method to investigate user experience
Knowing what a person does, needs, and feels at each stage of awareness helps to build a cjm that becomes a real marketing tool, not just a pretty graph on the office whiteboard. A customer journey means users set in motion by a problem that moves them looking for a solution. Understanding that journeys can help SaaS companies to join consumers in their investigations and help to turn moments of frustration into moments of delight.
With such a human-centered approach, you can help customers figure out the crowded SaaS market to earn their trust and make the customer stick with you via human-centered design.