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How to work with designers (a PMs guide)

Product designers spend a lot of time working closely with product managers. Both roles are highly critical parts of the product development process. Yet many PMs need help understanding designers and efficiently working with them.

Alex Dovhyi
Alex Dovhyi
3 min read
How to work with designers (a PMs guide)

Product designers spend a lot of time working closely with product managers. Both roles are highly critical parts of the product development process. Yet many PMs need help understanding designers and efficiently working with them.

Most product designers come from various backgrounds. And because design encompasses many things, every designer would solve a problem differently. PMs must learn to speak the designer's language to avoid miscommunication or misunderstanding.

To speak product designer's language – talk about users, not metrics.

The truth is product designers should be involved in most of these activities as well. Instead of assigning them to tasks, make them co-captains of your ship. You'll see them contributing to the vision and helping tactically solve the problems.

Designers can help PMs determine how opportunities can turn into a product. Because working with a product designer is not only about creating screens but also understanding how to solve problems, design unique solutions, test those concepts, and collaborate with engineering.

How to work with designers for maximum output

Working with designers can be tricky sometimes. Here are a few things PMs should try to get the maximum out of working with product designers.

Involve designers from the start to gather information and help shape the product roadmap

It's important to loop designers in on critical decisions throughout the process. This way, the designer can understand the problem they're solving holistically and feel ownership of their work.

Collaborate with designers to maximize the company's investment in them. Present problems and work together to solve them.

It's also vital to help the designer sync with others so you're not wasting design cycles churning. From my experience, micromanaging the designer usually doesn't work for both sides. Instead, work with a designer in a collaborative model as it tends to work the best.

The magic behind Designer – PM collaboration
How successfully you cooperate with PMs will influence the quality you can deliver with your product.
✨ Based on your reading experience

Iteration is a crucial part of the design process. Allow time for 2–3 iterations to dig up the optimal path.

Designers know that the PMs job is to push features and roll out updates to improve the product. But it takes work to come up with the best possible solution in one take. Design is an iterative process requiring a few iterations to get things right.

One of design's competitive advantages is its ability to think boldly. When your ideas are too big, try asking "how might we get there?" instead of "isn't this out of scope?".

Designers are visual thinkers and always try to push boundaries of what's in scope to make the user's experience more pleasant. Instead of discarding all new ideas that are not in scope, try to figure together how to make them possible.

Design is more than just visuals. We are explorers. Use us for discovery, growth, and experimentation.

The discovery phase is typically where designers and PMs spend the most time together. Both sides play a very active role in this process. Use a designer's visual design and facilitation skills to help build shared knowledge in your team.

PMs and designers are great yin and yang. Your support amplifies the impact of the design function.

Designers sometimes should push back on a PMs assumptions and perspectives. PMs are driven by what they ship, product usage, etc. Collaboration becomes more effective when a designer aligns with PM on the product's goals and understands what both parts are working for.

Designers often have a unique, holistic view of the product due to contributing across teams. Lean on us for a macro perspective.

Bringing in context to designers should always include information about the big picture. Ideally, designers should have access to product strategy and roadmap and constantly refer to them when making decisions.

Conclusion

The quality of collaboration between PMs and product designers defines the quality of the product. Both sides must invest time and resources to build strong and mutually beneficial relationships.

Involve designers as early as possible, collaborate, and support them. In return, they will bring new perspectives, fresh ideas, and breakthrough innovations to the product.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

I always love hearing from people, and if you enjoyed this or have questions about the designer + PM collaboration, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @dovhyi.

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Career adviceProduct designProduct Management

Alex Dovhyi Twitter

Product designer giving unsolicited advice on design, freelancing, career and personal growth.

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