SaaS business

An Overlap! Or? Product Owner vs UX Designer


min to read

22 Jul



Table of contents

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. 

This scenario is not uncommon. In the dynamic world of product development, particularly within SaaS companies, the roles of product owners and UX designers often intersect, leading to potential overlap and tension. So, 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. 

Understanding the roles: 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 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.

What does a product owner do day to day?

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.

UX designer's responsibilities

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.

The collaboration between product owners and UX designers

Product owners and UX designers collaborate most often in the process of product development. And to be honest, one without another is not effective.   

The synergy between product owners and UX designers is crucial for the product's success. Both roles involve gathering and analyzing information about user needs to inform 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 owner and UX designer’s skill sets and scopes seems clear. However, in real life, the overlap happens all the time:

Identifying the overlap

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 overlap

 According to the Nielsen Norman research, the reasons for overlap in the roles 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

This overlap can lead to frustration and misunderstandings within the team, highlighting the need for clear role definitions.

How to deal with "product owner vs UX designer" overlap? Strategies for effective collaboration

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. 

Product owner vs designer roles: FAQ 

Have some questions left? Let's try to solve them together.

Can a product owner also be a UX designer?

While a product owner can have an understanding of UX design principles, it's generally more effective to have separate individuals or teams dedicated to these roles due to the specialized skills and focus each role requires. Collaboration between a product owner and a UX designer ensures that both the product's strategic vision and the user experience are optimally aligned.

How often should product owners and UX designers meet?

Product owners and UX designers should engage in regular communication, ideally participating in daily standups and weekly meetings to review progress, discuss new findings, and plan next steps. The frequency might increase during critical phases of the product development cycle or when addressing specific challenges.

What happens if the product owner and UX designer disagree on a design decision?

Disagreements should be resolved through data-driven discussions, incorporating user research, feedback, and testing outcomes. If necessary, seeking input from other team members, stakeholders, or conducting additional user testing can provide further clarity and guide the decision-making process.

Should the UX designer have input into the product backlog?

Yes, the UX designer should contribute insights and recommendations to the product backlog, especially regarding user experience improvements, design updates, and new features based on user research. The product owner manages the backlog, but collaboration ensures that UX considerations are integrated into the product development priorities.

How can we ensure effective collaboration between product owners and UX designers in a remote team?

Effective collaboration in a remote team requires clear communication channels, regular video meetings, shared project management tools, and establishing a strong culture of feedback and openness. Setting clear expectations, roles, and responsibilities from the start, and maintaining visibility of each other's work through shared documents and updates, also foster a collaborative remote environment.

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)!

Mariia Kasym

Writer at Eleken