We're all Product Designers

The Imperative for Product Managers

I’ll never forget listening to AJ&Smart founder Jonathan Courtney on the much loved ‘Jake and Jonathan’ podcast (Previously known as The Product Breakfast Club) 

Being a founder, CEO, strategist and much more, Jonathan chose in one episode to simply state ‘we’re all product designers’ and this stuck with me. In product development one role stands as the linchpin between user needs and technological marvels: the Product Manager. Yet, amidst the fervour of methodologies and data-driven decision-making, there lies a critical oversight that many in this pivotal role often make: neglecting the profound impact of design. I’m from a design background so often take it for granted that I’m informed on the nuances of design and how important it is when building products.

A must-have or desirable skillset?

I decided to write this post because over the past year when I’ve been discussing hiring with candidates asking for advice or when hiring within an organisation design has come up many times. One CEO lamented the poor visual design of a prospective PM even though her creds were impressive. ‘How can we share her material with the board if it looks like that?’ was one comment. Another friend of mine missed out on a role because he hadn’t stressed his design creds as a PM – this was feedback from the organisation.

Product Managers – time to wise up! Your job isn’t just about orchestrating timelines or crunching numbers; it’s about crafting experiences that resonate, inspire, and ultimately, convert users into advocates. And guess what? Design is not a mere afterthought, it’s the heartbeat of product success.

UX Design

Often we are blinded by reality. The truth is, some of the best products are design-led in some form or another. Take Airbnb for example. What catapulted this modest startup into a global powerhouse wasn’t just its groundbreaking business model; it was the seamless, intuitive interface that beckoned travellers to explore, discover, and book their dream accommodations. Brian Chesky and his team didn’t just stumble upon this success; they meticulously crafted every pixel to evoke trust, delight, and a sense of belonging.

Now, some of you might be rolling your eyes, muttering about the plethora of design tools at your disposal. Sure, you can whip up wireframes and slap on some colours, but that’s like wielding a scalpel without understanding anatomy. True design mastery isn’t about pretty pixels; it’s about empathising with users, understanding their pain points, and orchestrating solutions that transcend mere functionality. As a PM don’t let your UX take sole responsibility – get into the reeds and make sure you understand how interviews with users are carried out, what jobs to be done is, what design patterns are and how they are evolving…there is a lot to absorb and learn.

Let’s delve into the infamous debacle of Google Wave. Remember that ambitious project? It had all the makings of a game-changer: collaborative editing, real-time communication, you name it. Yet, it crashed and burned faster than you can say “user adoption.” Why? Because it failed to grasp the fundamental principles of user experience. Despite its technological prowess, Wave left users bewildered, overwhelmed, and ultimately, disenchanted.

Visual design, emotion

It is not enough though to just work through the UX component of product design. Appreciation for the emotive aspect design in product was why I coined the phase ‘productmagic’ for my company. Good products combine many things to elicit a sort of magical emotion in their use. Take a look at Apple. From the revolutionary iPhone to the minimalist elegance of the MacBook, every product embodies the marriage of form and function. It’s not just about what it does; it’s about how it makes you feel. If you ‘get’ that then you’ll be able to start to understand key differentiators in product design. The crazy attention to detail that Steve Jobs attached to software and hardware is why Apple remains one of the truly great product companies today. Other companies don’t care so much for the aesthetic of their hardware or even the magic of their software. 

I firmly believe that by embracing and understanding design in all its forms is an essential ingredient of becoming a truly great product manager.