UX Designer vs Product Manager: Typical Work Days
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Have you ever wondered how product team really works? Understanding product management lifecycle and UX design process is good, but getting more down-to-earth is necessary sometimes.
We are a UX design agency working on a retainer model. There is not a single product manager on our team, and we thought it would be fun to find out more about their daily work. Our user experience designers talk to product managers on the client side daily, but this time we decided to ask them something more personal.
So, let’s satisfy our curiosity and show what typical days of our designers look like, as well as typical days of product managers.
Roman, a designer at Eleken, started working just about a year ago. Yet he shows amazing levels of productivity and always wants to do more. Here is what his day looks like.
- Communication. The first thing he does after waking up is checking Slack for messages from clients. After that, he looks through emails and revises the calls that are planned for later and whether they need any preparation.
- Organization. Roman lists daily tasks in his Notion, prioritizing some of them.
- Work. Right now he is redesigning the user flow of creation a new model of machine learning. The second task is sidebar redesign. All the graphic work is done in Figma.
- Daily call with the client.
- Idle mode — that happy time when all the main tasks are done, but Roman can’t stop his perfectionist nature, so he starts working on a UX audit of the product, thinks of something that could be improved, and prepares ideas to present at the next meeting. Product design process requires some time for ideation and creativity.
Vadim, designer at Eleken, is now working on Bookkeep, software for managing appointments and booking for spas, beauty salons, and photographers. He is currently focused on two products: one for online booking, and another for analytics. To cope with his daily tasks, here’s how he plans his day.
- Start. Checking emails, going through new comments in work files in Figma, and answering questions.
- Organization. Checking tasks in Notion and getting in touch with the product manager in Slack. It always starts with a casual talk followed with work-related questions. In case there is a new task that requires a detailed explanation, they jump on a call to discuss it. If everything is clear, Vadym gets to work without a call.
- Work. The main task of Vadim today is to improve the user experience of the product. He analyzes the existing design and seeks ways of making it more usable that would not require developers to significantly change code.
- Questions. Vadim always has many questions that are paramount to understand the design logic of the app and find the pieces that need upgrades. There had been two other designers working on the product before, and the product manager is the connecting link that explains their ideas for Vadim.
If you want to know more about UX designer roles and responsibilities, read our article on what UX designers do.
Ibrahim is the manager of Bookpeep. It was the first time we asked our clients what their typical day looks like — and it was interesting. Ibrahim has a perfect product manager schedule.
- Start. Ibrahim dedicates 30 minutes every morning to read articles and follow up with tech trends out there while having a coffee.
- Prioritize the most strategically valuable feature ideas.
- Meeting with the customer success teams to brief them on functionality that will soon be released, explaining current limitations and what’s coming next.
- Write a formal or informal specification outlining the problem a feature will solve, the proposed solution, and other requirements for development like user stories, UI’s, and so on.
- Work with designers and the discovery team to complete a prototype that shows how the new feature will work.
- Hold a kickoff meeting with the dev team to ensure that everyone understands the user needs to be addressed, the business goals, and requirements.
- Meeting with a designer to review open questions that have arisen during development related to various edge cases.
- Sit down with technical writers to discuss the documentation for an upcoming feature
Here is another PM and her day
Zoe is a product manager of an analytics product. We asked her about her typical day, and the first answer was: meetings. So we asked more questions, and here is the result.
- Start. Checking emails and messages, preparing for the meetings.
- Stand-up call. Getting in touch with all the team members daily is a pleasant routine for Zoe. After hearing the updates from the team, she plans the following tasks and schedules new meetings if needed.
- Check-in with designers if needed. If the questions can’t be answered in Slack, a short meeting is scheduled to answer all the questions and sketch a direction for design.
- Customer call. Zoe admits it might feel a bit awkward talking about the product with people you don’t know, but the insights it brings are priceless.
- User testing analysis. Collecting data from usability tests and trying to find the weakest points in the user flow. This is a particularly exciting and creative part of work.
- More meetings… It can be engineers, design, customer success, sales, marketing team, CTO, or whoever turn it is. On average, there are 3 meetings in a day of a product manager.
Of course, there are hundreds of micro-tasks on schedules that we are not going to discuss in details. Instead, let’s see how the work process of product manager and designer differs in the main aspects.
As you have probably noticed, product managers dedicate most of their time to communicate with team members and external stakeholders. They are the cogs that make the team mechanism work correctly and efficiently.
Like in Ibrahim’s case, sometimes product managers have to connect not only current team members but also past team members with the current ones to ensure that product development goes uninterrupted even when team members come and leave. Apart from that, product manager's responsibilities include talking directly with the users.
This is not to say that designers are those stereotypical introvert nerds who only care about their screens in Figma. UX designer role is rather varied and graphic skills often are not the most important ones.
At Eleken, we believe that without communication, a designer can’t craft a good user experience. This includes communication with engineers, users, product managers, and fellow designers — within our team, designers share their knowledge with colleagues working on other projects with different clients.
Clearly, managers have the responsibility of organizing the work of team members and the whole product management process. While designers can have flexible schedules and follow their own pace, managers have constant meetings and often find it hard to focus for long when they have to work on a big task.
Product managers’ to-do list is full of tasks that depend on other people, and when one task is completed, two more come up. “Getting things done right at the right time” could be the shortest (and still precise) definition of product manager’s work.
Doing things and getting things done
Some people think that product managers are not really doing much. However, no one who has ever tried on the role of product manager would ever say that.
Product management tends to occupy as much time as possible. Marty Cagan, author of the book Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love, said that he knew few people who were able to do all their job in less than 60 hours a week. This is not to say that designers work fewer hours. Their workload can be different depending on the size of the team, product stage, and the organization style.
So, why is it so hard to get what product managers really do all this time? Because their main job is to get things done. There might be very few things that they get to create themselves, but without their lead, all the creative and tech parts of the team wouldn’t get the best results in the best terms.
At the same time, designers have to make sure they do their tasks at the right time. UX design work process is iterative, but the deadlines are still present.
UX designer/Product manager Ying Yang
I really like how Suelyn Yu, who has experience in both roles, explains the difference between product manager and UX designer.
The most effective product managers say “no” 10 times more often than they say “yes”.
It may not sound very optimistic, but she says that for product managers, “no” is the default option. It is essential to prioritize the work properly and make sure that the team is focusing on what is really important instead of adding unnecessary features and wasting time on questionable hypotheses.
On the contrary, designers are the “yes” people. A good user experience designer constantly comes up with new ideas that can improve the product. Just like Ying and Yang, in a team these “yes” and “no” make a perfect balance, where a designer is a creative force that wants to try more new things, and the product manager is the force that organizes the creative flux and chooses the ideas that will benefit the product most.
To sum up
What is the common thing in all these “typical days”? What we can say for sure is that all UX designers spend a large chunk of their work time speaking with product managers, and product managers — speaking with UX designers.
Only when both of them dedicate enough time to these conversations and manage to involve engineers as well, only then the product gets to that point when it is functional, usable, and commercially successful at the same time. Do you want to know more about how to get to this level of in-team communication? Read the insights from our design leader.