My personal story: Why I decided to blend Product Design and Product Management?

In this article, PM Alum Anna Hall talks about her experience merging her two expertise: Product Design & Product Management, and leverage each other to get ahead her career and expand her network.

Anna Maria Hall
April 12, 2024

Have you ever wondered how to differentiate yourself in your career and how you can merge two paths that are related yet so different, making them interesting? That’s where I found myself a few years back, staring at the ceiling and asking myself how I could blend Product Design and Product Management, and more importantly, how this blend could help me stand out from others in the industry.

If you're thinking about pivoting into Product Design and/or Product Management, continue reading. I will take you through my journey to Product and share how this blend has helped me shape my career, grow my network, and create impact with my designs.

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Pivot into Product Design: The Journey Begins

Imagine this: A Modern Languages grad who loved designing but thought the only way to be a designer was to know how to draw and use complex tools like Illustrator. That was me before pivoting into Product Design a while back, thinking that apps and websites were only created by developers.

I never thought there was an area called “UI/UX or Product Design” until I started learning more about it. I realised that all the apps and websites I was using had something unique that made me use them all the time. Understanding how the user was going to use an app or navigate a website along with the beautiful interfaces that offer an intuitive and smooth interface. That’s exactly what I wanted to do; being able to continue helping people connect, but instead of translating their communication using languages, I wanted to create products that would not only meet their current needs but also create a connection between a business and a user.

When I finally pivoted into Product Design, I understood that Design was more than a job and doing more than beautiful interfaces; it was a way of seeing the world and understanding human behaviour, their needs, and translating all this information into tangible solutions. However, as I delved deeper into projects, a curiosity about the 'why' behind my designs began to take root. Why does one feature take precedence over another? How do my design choices align with the business goals? This curiosity led me to the strategic world of Product Management.


A Moment of Realisation: The Essence of Digital Products 

Working as a design consultant can be tedious; you need to manage everything at the same time: client management, user research, market research, design wireframes, and testing (if possible). While working in my design consultancy, I realised that if I wanted to convince my clients how my design decisions helped their business grow and scale, I needed to gear up in my knowledge and experience.

That’s why I started learning how product and design were connected. How the current products that we love and use keep us “hooked” and engaged. This way, I was able to connect the business goals that my clients wanted to achieve with my design decisions while communicating to them that not only were nice and beautiful interfaces going to create the expected experience for their users, but knowing their behaviour patterns, needs, expectations, and prioritising accordingly were going to help achieve their goals and a product that people would love.

While working with other companies, my curiosity about Product Management grew, particularly how understanding this discipline would enable me to better communicate with my PMs and Engineers. By 'speaking their language,' I could inform my design decisions more effectively and have a greater influence on product decisions. This realisation encouraged my next pivot: Product Management.


The Blend of Two Worlds: Co.Lab Product Management Bootcamp

Embracing both product design and product management was no small feat. It required me to step out of my comfort zone and dive into areas like market analysis, strategic planning, and understanding more about technology. The way I decided that I wanted to gain experience was actually by being a Product Manager. I know it sounds weird, but I love learning by doing and getting my hands on the job. That is why I decided to take the Product Management Bootcamp at Co.Lab.

My experience during the 8-week fast-paced bootcamp was a time and experience that I will always treasure. Being able to lead a team and build a product that could positively impact people was an amazing experience. I learned about the importance of doing trade-offs with the development team,  and crafting JTBD (Jobs to be Done) in a way that everybody knew “why” we were designing and building our product - Jobline, a software communication tool for job seekers and recruiters.

One pivotal lesson I learned as a Product Manager is the critical role of guiding your team towards the vision you've set for the product.  Therefore, it’s essential to learn how to communicate clearly with your team, allow them to share any doubts and questions they have so everybody is aligned, and everything is built with a purpose. The best way that I could learn this was to seek mentorship from seasoned product managers to hear how they work within their team, read more about product management, and leadership. The learning curve was steep, but every new skill acquired was a piece of the puzzle that made me a more holistic thinker.

Source: Jobline team meeting - Co.Lab PM bootcamp 

Challenges and Rewards: Mastering a new set of skills 

Balancing the intuitive, creative process of design with the analytical, structured world of product management came with its set of challenges. There were moments of doubt, where I questioned my ability to bridge these seemingly disparate fields. Yet, with every accomplishment in the projects that I was working on, I found myself more confident in speaking both languages—translating user insights into design improvements and strategic objectives into actionable design tasks.

Going through this part of my journey led me to become a mentor not only in design within the design community but in product management as well with Co.Lab. Helping aspiring PMs to understand the importance of leveraging their current skills and that there’s always a way to pivot into Product if that’s what they really like and where they want to create a lot of impact.

Tip: During my job hunting, I realised that some people were not going to understand why I decided to blend design with product management, but I believed that others were going to see my potential and what I could bring to the team and company. Therefore, as I embarked on this journey, I made sure to communicate in my portfolio and resume what made me unique from others in the field and how I was currently applying my new set of skills to the work that I was doing.

Source: Diverse Tech Talent Product Management Program (DTTP) Co.Lab Mentor session

Am I at the end of my journey? Buckle Up—The Journey Continues!

While applying and interviewing for jobs was tough, I never gave up and always showed confidence in my set of skills and knowledge. Looking back, all the decisions that I’ve taken have purpose, and this journey has taught me the importance of taking risks. Nothing is black and white, and that’s why the journey has been fun!

Embracing both product design and product management has not only enhanced my ability to develop products but also my understanding of the intricate balance between meeting user needs and achieving business objectives. This dual perspective has become my greatest asset, allowing me to land a job where I see myself creating a lot of positive impacts by building features that matter for users and the business, working with a very cross-functional team, and having the confidence to communicate my design rationale aligned with the business goals while navigating the complexities of the end-to-end product development process.

Source: Guest speaker for a Design class at CICCC - Cornerstone International Community College of Canada

Don’t be afraid to stand out; blend disciplines that will elevate your career.

If you made it to the end of this blog post, thank you so much for reading! This journey has taught me that the best products are born from teams who understand not just the 'how' and 'what', but the 'why' behind every decision. To those curious about walking this path, I say: don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone, whether you are thinking of pivoting into product design and/or product management or both! It’s here that you’ll find the most innovative solutions and make the most significant impact.


Are you an aspiring Product Manager? The Co.Lab program is the perfect place to gain real-world, cross-functional experience that you wouldn’t get anywhere else because you’re going to be owning a product life cycle . Follow us on on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn for the latest updates.

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