Can you switch from PM to Product Design (and vice versa)? Or is it difficult?

If I’m currently a PM, what’s the likelihood I can make the transition to Product Design in the future? I like PM, but have always had a keen interest in Product Design. I’m assuming a startup is my best bet, but wondering if big tech offers such transitions.

In general is it easier to go from PM to Design versus Design to PM?


I would think it’s harder to go from PM to Design, than from Design to PM.
The reason: Because those doing Design will have had exposure to PMs, experience with development process, and their technical knowledge to bolster them while transitioning to PM.
Whereas PMs will likely have had little exposure to the actual design work, and far fewer transferable skills.


Depends on the org and how closely PMs are involved in the design process, but I see your point. If OP is regularly participating in user interviews, brainstorming, usability tests, etc. they may have a decent handle on the design process.

Generally though I agree: UX is more exposed to PM work than vise versa


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.


I was a PM for 2 years before transitioning into Product Design. I’ve been in design for about 5years now.

I made the transition at a tech focused F500 company. The company also had a lot of internal programs to help people shift careers (recruiter to developer for example).

It’s definitely a change because at the end of the day, a PM will have a more decision-making and strategy focused role (at least early career). Junior designers are often very tactically focused, and for good reason. As designers mature, they think about bigger patterns, systems, and how research influence strategy.


I’ve found the gradual shift from (initially industrial design, then) UX to product design to PO quite smooth. 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? 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.


Is design on a similar (or near similar) pay scale as PM? I’m very early in my PO/PM experience so hoping it wouldn’t be a big down level.

As to why, sketching and prototyping is where my true interest lies. I was a front end dev before and always like the design portions over the eng part. Have always had a natural knack for sketching and prototyping.


Ah ok, that background makes all the difference. You could easily find a split UX/FE dev role at a smaller company if that is an option?

I’m in Sweden, so salaries don’t translate well if you’re in the US. Here, it wouldn’t be that much of a change. Junior PM seems to be fairly level with mid level dev and UX. From what I understand PM seems to be quite a bit above the others in the US?


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.

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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?

I will be the odd person out here and say unequivocally, yes, this can be done. I have met a lot of PM’s that happen to be great designers (either as a UX or a visual designer), and have met a lot of designers that happen to be really great PM’s (they have a knack for business and building the right thing at the right time).

While there is a level of skill and experience that you need to build up and maintain in order to do either really well (think about the 10,000 hours argument here: Malcolm Gladwell on the 10,000 hour Rule - YouTube), it is very possible to be proficient at either one. Think about it, there are at least 16 hours in a day where you could be learning one or more crafts, which means you can log your 10,000 hours in as little as 2 years on a single topic, or on 2 topics in about 3 1/2 years.

I have worked at a lot of startups where designers and PM’s do a lot of different things and they are generally good at many things, and are often doing just that (learning and practicing multiple crafts at once) out of necessity.

I have also known PM’s and Designers and Engineers that have toggled back and forth between these roles depending on what company/product they were working on, and what they were passionate about.

So, yes, you can toggle back and forth or fully transition from one to the other.

I hope this helps.


Thanks a lot for the encouragement. I appreciate it.

It seems like I can map out the skills needed for each role to set realistic timeline to meet my goals. Going deep in one domain would take time and doing a broad role like PM has it’s own set of challenges.

It also seems like company size plays a big role in this decision making framework. I might be forced to specialize more at a big company compared to a small company.

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