The Relationship between designer and project manager

From my years of working in both advertising and SaaS (Software as a service) , the communication between the designer and the project manager can easily go from friendly to frenemy.

First, let’s talk about what these two roles are:

The Project Manager (PM)

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Sits in meetings with clients or higher level management on the needs that for the client company. The PM listens to theses needs and synthesizes this information onto a document detailing goals and requirements. They get face time with the client and should have a deep understanding of client’s business infrastructure and that of your own company’s capabilities. That face time tells a story that doesn’t go into the project document but should be related to the design team. Their major responsibility to the design and dev team is to keep all the legal and higher ups off the project teams’ back so they can do the job.

The Designer

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Receives an ask or (project sheet) from the PM detailing what the goals and requirements are for this project. The designers are really the hands on the ground crew. If the ask isn’t clear enough it affects their ability to complete the project. A lot of questions and issues come up in the design phase that PMs usually never think of… like always. I have never seen a small to large scale project go on without a hiccup in the design phase. It’s like a force of nature. So usually these issues can also come up in development (if you’re doing web or software work). I see it as the designers responsibility to fix the problem until they themselves can’t fix it. At which time they run the to the PM, who in turn has to help find a solution.

At this point is where the saying two heads are better than one comes to mind. The problem is never handed off to either one. Its shared through the project team to find the best solution. The burden has to be shared or friction will become a side effect to this relationship.

I have to point out that the best projects I’ve worked on have a ‘Partners in Crime’ kind of relationship between the PM and the Designer. In that, we both know the higher ups just want the project done and delivered and sometimes have no idea the ramifications of the work they’ve tasked us with. So you get to be a brothers (or sisters) in arms kind of, because you both will catch hell of you don’t deliver.

So hang out at your PM’s desk, ask some questions. Get to know them. You don’t have to be soul partners but remember that person is the one that can watch your back on a project.