Designer Turned Product Manager? Why Not?

Let us assume the headline here is talking about a product designer turning into a product manager. It sounds more doable…because we are probably trained to think of technical or business professionals as better placed to make the switch to a management role, rather than an arts person. That’s not true actually. As Shayak Sen, Head of Design, Meesho, points out, “We have such examples of those with a design background who moved into product management.”

Anyway coming back to the career transition point. Why would a designer who is concerned with the visual language, the aesthetics of a product or the usability and consistency of user experience (UX) turn to vision, strategy, market research, planning , data analytics and launch?

One would think that after going through a UI UX design course, or a product design course, it would be enough for you to know and understand product design vs UX design. Instead you leave it all behind to try your hands at product roadmapping, conflict resolution, negotiation, leadership and what have you!

Product Managers Design & Develop Too

On second thoughts, a product manager does peep into product design and development too. She is equally engaged in product improvements and implementation, and in collecting and analyzing UX feedback. There may be many designers out there who are willing to step up to a more expansive role and so why not product management?

A very good example of a designer who made a successful transition to product manager is the oft-quoted story of Hrush Bhatt, co-founder of ClearTrip. He considers himself as having ‘matured” from being a lone designer to becoming someone who works exclusively with teams across multiple disciplines.The simplicity in design of ClearTrip has been attributed to his arts and design background, after which he took on the role of  product manager.

Says Sen, “You can see why ClearTrip design was so brilliant. It is a great thing. If a designer turns into a product manager, it is kind of a unicorn in the product design space. Because a product manager who has a design understanding is something to kill for.”

Managing Products with a Design Mindset

It is only in larger organizations that a product manager may strategize more and only supervise a team that does all the hands-on work. In smaller ones, she is more likely to get involved in:

  • Creating value to build and grow new, emerging products or services.
  • Taking charge of the life cycle of existing products 
  • Building strong demand from key customer audiences
  • Conducting user research and analysis

Functioning at the intersection of engineering (product development), business goals, and product design, the new age product manager can very well be drawn from the pool of designers at an enterprise. 
In fact, designers are already stepping up to take on many of the responsibilities of a product manager, in their existing role as US designer. For instance, they brainstorm potential improvements to the usability of a product that ultimately helps to boost the company’s growth strategy.  They create product launch plans, write customer communication strategies and draw up the metrics required to track whether the new features actually helped to improve the product.

Says Sen, “To the people who want to try it I would say go ahead and do it. If you think you have the calling, go ahead and make the transition.”

Some Return to Design 

According to Sen, many who moved from design to product management have also come back. So it is important for designers who decide to make the transition to product management to be equally aware of the difficult parts of being a product manager. 

So it is better not to make the move focussing only on the softer aspects of product management and later realize you cannot handle the complex responsibilities.

 Design Offers Career Transition Opportunities
Head of Design, Meesho, Shayak Sen

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