user experience & design

The odd couple: How product owners and UX designers can work together

Gibson Toombs
April 21st, 2021

A design sprint is only as good as the people behind it. Product owners, UX strategists, UI designers, and subject matter experts (SMEs) must work together as a single unit to deliver results that meet client expectations, while remaining on time and on budget. 

But not all agencies can guarantee this level of service, due to a poorly structured UX design team and process, as well as a general lack of communication—both internally and externally. The main issue that design teams run into is a misunderstanding of a client’s needs and requirements. This results in imperfect wireframes, leading to misguided development and implementation, and even more serious problems with the finished product—such as bugs, defects, and security issues. 

When problems go overlooked in the design process, it can end up costing the client significant time, money, and resources later down the road. In fact, on average, bugs identified during the implementation process cost six times more to fix than those found during design—and 15 times more when found during the testing phase.

Again, expensive problems like these can be avoided by working with a solid design team. So when you’re vetting agencies for your company’s next big design project, what are the right qualities to look for? What questions should you ask? Beyond the most obvious things, like looking at past work samples, reading client testimonials, and so on, you can assess the credibility of a design team by looking at the relationship between its two leading roles: The product owner and the UX designer. 

How these two individuals collaborate will play a critical role in the success or failure of your design project. So it’s important to have a good understanding of who does what, why they do it, and how it informs the design sprint process from start to finish. 

Product owner and UX designer roles and responsibilities

The product owner and UX designer are each in charge of two different, yet equally important sides of the design process. They are both client-facing roles, meaning they must be proficient in speaking, listening, critical thinking, and adaptability. Let’s take a closer look at each role’s responsibilities.

The product owner—also referred to as the product manager—is the principal decision-maker of the group. If there are multiple opinions about the design, such as where a certain feature or piece of content should be located on a page, the product owner will have the final say. This helps ensure that the design sprint keeps moving forward at a good pace and that the team stays focused on higher-priority objectives. The product owner is also responsible for gathering, interpreting, and communicating the client’s technical requirements. This includes having a full grasp of:

  • The back-end programming language and database supporting the digital product
  • Any third-party applications or services involved in the project’s design and development
  • The breakdown of costs for time, labor, and resources
  • Any additional materials the design team needs from the SME to ensure success

The UX designer—also referred to as the UX strategist or lead—focuses on the big picture, rather than the nitty-gritty technical details. It’s their job to understand the client’s vision for the project, what purpose the end product will serve, who will be using it, and so on. In other words, they need to fully grasp the client’s problem, then come up with the most effective solution possible. 

For example, let’s say the client is a law firm, and the end product is a digital form for prospective clients to submit. In this case, the UX designer may ask the SME:

  • What is the significance of this form? 
  • Who is the target audience, or the people that will be filling out this form?
  • What is the user journey like up until this point, and what’s the next stage after the form is submitted? 
  • Where should the information go once it has been submitted by the user? 
  • Are there certain fields on the form that are more important than others? 

If the product owner is the president, then the UX designer is their chief of staff, providing crucial information—from both the client’s and end user’s perspective—so the product owner can make the best decisions possible throughout the process. 

The value of a solid product owner-UX designer relationship 

As mentioned above, the cost of missing or misinterpreting a client’s requirements during the design phase can be devastating—causing projects to go over budget and product launch dates to be postponed. 

Imagine you are remodeling your kitchen. Construction is already underway, but then the workers discover an error with the dimensions in the floor design, making it impossible to move forward as scheduled. With better organization and communication early on, this problem could have amounted to making a simple change in the blueprints. But now, fixing the problem will likely require additional expenses and days of work. This is essentially the same situation that design teams find themselves in when the product owner and UX designer don’t work well together. 

Simply put, if the product owner and UX designer are not 100% aligned, the project is in trouble. While they each have their own areas of focus, both team members must have a shared understanding of the client’s requirements—which can only be accomplished through constant and effective communication. If there is too much separation between the work each of them is doing, there are bound to be errors in the wireframe, which can lead to even more serious issues later on. Since the beginning days of software development, inefficient gathering and interpreting of the client’s requirements has been an issue that’s plagued design teams everywhere. 

Plus, if there are regular arguments between the product owner and UX designer, that tension will trickle down to the rest of the design team, contributing to an unhealthy and unproductive work environment. Unfortunately, many design teams understand this reality all too well. 

Codal’s unique approach to UX design 

Here at Codal, communication is the key driver behind our UX design process. Whether we’re building a website, application, or other digital product, every design sprint is a heavily collaborative 10-day process—led by expert product owners and UX designers. The first five days are dedicated to clarifying the client’s requirements, while the second half focuses on usability testing and refinement.

Most agencies believe that the project requirements inform the design. In other words, they have an initial meeting where the client hands off a checklist of requirements, then the design team gets to work on the wireframe. However, in many cases, once the wireframe is presented to the client, only about 50% of the requirements are accounted for—due to a variety of factors, such as the client not fully understanding the complexity of the product, or miscommunication between team members. 

Codal, on the other hand, believes that design actually informs requirements. After our initial requirements workshop with the client on day one, we put together a wireframe and present it to them on day three. At this point, the client usually identifies things that were overlooked or misinterpreted from the first meeting, enabling us to generate an updated, more accurate list of requirements. The product owner and UX designer work closely with the client—and each other—to make sure the entire process stays on track. 

In preparation for every design project, our first goal is to put together a good team. Our product owners and UX designers—each bringing years of experience to the table—understand the importance of solid communication, as well as the consequences of misguided requirements. They know how to ask the right questions, provide helpful feedback to one another, stay on top of tasks, and look at problems from varying perspectives. 

Plus, even when there are disagreements, our product owners and UX designers leave no room for negativity. The work environment is always warm, professional, and forward-thinking. And over the years, many of our product owners and UX designers have become great friends, both inside and outside the office.  

Team up with Codal for your next design project

Codal offers the best product owners and UX designers that the industry has to offer. This—along with our unique approach to design sprints—allows us to exceed our clients’ expectations, prevent additional unplanned work, and remain within budget for every project we take on. 
Are you looking to redesign your website? Build an internal platform for your business? Develop a mobile application? Whatever the project may be, our award-winning team would love to help. To learn more about how Codal can help elevate your business, reach out to us today!

Gibson Toombs

Gibson Toombs

Gibson Toombs is a Technical Content Writer at Codal. His writing career began in 2015 after graduating from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Since then, he has worked on many projects, covering a wide range of technical topics, from solar energy to cybersecurity. When he’s not taking complex ideas and turning them into easily-digestible pieces of content, Gibson can be found playing guitar and writing songs at his apartment in Chicago.


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