When Product Management Clashes With UX

Jason Alba
Jan 11, 2018 · 3 min read

I’ve been involved in a number of development projects where someone has excitedly claimed something like “we are changing all the colors!” Or fonts, or icons, or the general look and feel of the site.

I’m talking about some serious excitement. Like changing the fonts or colors is going to change the revenue projections. New customers, signups will actually become users, the business will explode.

Like these UX things have been holding us back and now that we are changing from one shade of red to another we’ll finally see the success we should have seen all along!

I’ve seen this excitement level and heard about how life-changing it would be, watched the launch and marketing, and witnessed exactly zero change in any of the metrics.

All of the hoped for and promised results proved to be empty.

I’m at the pragmatic point where I, as a product manager, think “sure, we could change this… and maybe we should change this, but it’s not necessarily going to get us more {fill in the blank results}.”

I’m the pessimist when it comes to “let’s make X UX change and then we’ll get Y results!” Been there, done that.

However…

I’ve also managed JibberJobber for almost 12 years now. Nobody I knew was saying “UX” when we started. Worse, every designer I could find was focused more on color coordination and rounded corners than on the user’s experience. Worse than that, my site was developed by engineers, not designers. So we looked bad to begin with.

The problem I’m talking about really becomes a problem of prioritization. When do you say “let’s hold on to these features for a few months just so we can make our site look prettier”? On the one hand you have users who want the feature but you have prospects (and prospective partners) who want your site to not look like Fred Flinstone designed it.

Priorities.

Limited resources and competing projects.

When does it make sense to focus on the UX over the functionality?

I’ve seen at least a half a dozen of my competitors come and go within a year of launching. Sometimes I heard about them when someone signed up, then a few days later deleted their accounts and said “Such-and-such Competitor is way better looking than you are.” Ouch.

But a few weeks later they users come back and say “they are prettier, but they aren’t functional. You can’t even do the basics there!”

We focused on functionality over design, and it kind of paid off.

Today, though, we launched new icons site-wide. It was a massive and a touchy project. When you have to touch every single page of a highly functional app that was architected twelve years ago you have to be careful. It took a while to spec out, a while to work on, and a while to test. But we did it, and it looks a lot better.

WHY did we spend time on it?

Because we got to the point where having outdated looking icons was causing problems. Like I said: 12 years, multiple developers and designers. Can you imagine the standardization issues we’ve had? So we clean that up, make things consistent, make them look like they are updated… what are the measurable results?

How do you measure “help users feel good about our site” or “help users not feel like we are outdated”?

I know this project will not be The Thing to launch us to a new level of success. But it will help reduce the number of complaints about not looking old. And since people aren’t focusing on that (and really, losing trust in our system), they can focus on what they need to do, and benefit from the years we put into breadth and depth.

Prioritization with limited resources. This is one point where product manager clashes with UX. And, it’s one of the reasons why the product manager role is so important.

Jason Alba

Written by

CEO of JibberJobber.com. Organize and manage your job search and networking.