Are the roles of product designer and product manager interchangeable? Or is it challenging?

What are the chances that I can move from being a product designer to being a product manager in the future? Although I enjoy product management, my passion has always been for product design. I believe a startup is my best option, however I’m curious if big tech provides these transitions.

Is it generally simpler to move from Product Manager to Design than from Design to Product Manager?


Yes, it is possible to switch from a Product Manager role to a Product Designer role (and vice versa), although the difficulty of the switch can vary depending on individual circumstances.

For a Product Manager who wants to transition to Product Design, they may need to gain a deeper understanding of design principles, user-centered design methodologies, and design tools. They may also need to demonstrate a strong aptitude for creative problem-solving and a clear understanding of how design fits into the overall product development process.

For a Product Designer who wants to transition to Product Management, they may need to develop strong project management skills, including experience leading cross-functional teams, developing project plans and schedules, and managing budgets. They may also need to have a solid understanding of product development processes and the ability to prioritize and make decisions that align with the overall goals of the organization.

In both cases, gaining relevant experience and education through courses, workshops, or taking on additional responsibilities within your current role can be helpful. Building a strong network and seeking out mentorship from individuals in the desired field can also be beneficial.

It’s important to note that making a career switch can be challenging, but with determination and a willingness to continuously learn and grow, it can be a rewarding experience.


Beautiful classification and explanation @MichaelYoffe.

In my opinion, you can impart best practices, patterns, and many of the necessary skill sets for an effective PM. Great designers have an innate skill that is challenging to teach. It is possible to learn to execute at a high level visually, but it may take years to master.


Hard skills like data analysis, user research, and design are frequently used by PMs. It will always rely on what people have been exposed to throughout their careers, just like most things. You’ve likely done very little of what I’ve just said if you’re more of a scrum master or PO type. In my seven years in product, I and the other PMs I’ve worked with have acted more as the product architect, designing the user experience, data to be gathered, user flows, etc.

In light of this, I believe that switching between the two jobs is not difficult for anyone. These jobs, along with development, are not some sort of unlearnable dark magic. You will have a greater hill to climb than others if you have never worked for a product-driven software company or held a job.


If a person is first a “true” product designer, I agree that the transition from “true” product designer to “true” product manager is difficult. There are sacrifices made, typically to areas where individuals feel confident and strong, because there is only so much time and brain space available, and no one can personally cover all the components of product creation and management for a single product (overly generic example -designers towards UX vs. PMs towards data analysis).

That said, I think what people are talking about in the designer → PM threads - are more generalist PMs who do many of the activities / motions of product design (sketching, wire framing, etc.) moving more firmly into the product management discipline. I think the confusion is what “constitutes” product design - which is a spectrum like many thing.


You should have most of the skills and knowledge needed already, so a lot of it is about added responsibilities.

Going the other way, however, means you need to add a lot of skills in prototyping, sketching, user testing etc. etc. that you may not have as a PM.

It would be interesting to know why you want to switch from a PM to a PD? Depending on the setup in your company, you could be able to gain some influence over design decisions as a PM, so the biggest change of daily tasks might be had from going to a not-so-senior role in design. That would of course increase the need to learn new tools and you would see a significant drop in salary.


Difficult for two seemingly conflicting reasons.

Product design requires a “hard” skillset much like software or data engineering i.e. expertise in graphic design paradigms and tools like Figma (nurture)

That said excellent product designers often have an innate “intuition” that is difficult to teach and in many seems to originate in a life-long focus on design-centric processing of the world through art school, creative hobbies, etc. (nature)

Of course it’s not impossible and is case by case depending on the person and the needs of the role / company.


I do a lot of figma, photoshop, sketching, general design for fun in my free time - it’s a hobby of mine (similar to how people code for fun).

But I’ve never actually done enterprise level design. Do I stand a chance?


@FlaviaBergstein, why don’t you ask to act as a support designer on a project and see? You probably will need to offer to do this on top of / outside of your “normal” role and responsibilities but the only way to really know is to try - ideally as junior to or supporting a more senior product designer. Better yet - do you have any product designer friendlies you can offer to help on the side and not even run it up through management until you have a decent plan / idea?

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Product Management is a role of responsibilities at a company, while the roles falling under the umbrella of “UX design” is an entire field of study. So I would say no - it’s generally not a smooth transition necessarily from Product Management to UX design. Maybe in some UX roles it’s easier to map skills, but on the whole, probably not.

In my mind, it’s the same challenge that you would experience going from Product Manager → Software Developer (assuming you don’t already have a computer science / SWE background).

P.S. Agree with others that transitioning from UX to Product Management (or even developer to Product Management) is likely a smoother ride, assuming the person brings with them the soft skills necessary to be a PM.

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