Why do Product Managers get paid more than Designers? UX Question #67

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Rachel from Austin, Texas, asks: Why do Product Managers get to have more influence and get paid more than designers?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Rachel. This is UX Question number 67 and I am Ben Judy.

Why do Product Managers get paid more than Designers? Well, Rachel, I think you’re right—in most organizations, product managers do hold higher positional authority, as well as more real influence, than designers.

And yes, on average, PM’s command bigger salaries than designers. Survey data shows product managers earning about 10 to 15 percent more than product designers, even when they have similar years of experience in those respective roles.

One reason for this is simply because the product manager role is more closely tied to the ROI of the product. PM’s are often held accountable by business leaders for all product decisions made and the results of those decisions, while designers are responsible for the design and user experience of the product.

PM’s frankly have a broader scope of responsibility. Their purview includes the product vision, the product team, and the business model. The Chief Financial Officer of a business isn’t going to ask a product designer or design manager to account for how much revenue the product is bringing in—they’re going to ask the PM to explain the balance sheet.

And we have to look at the realities of how businesses operate. The people closer to the money generally get paid more.

Now, I’ll stop short of saying that PM’s will always have more influence over the business success of a product. We all know that a great user experience can, depending on the circumstances, exponentially increase the profitability of a product—whereas bad design can tank it.

I’ve also been in toxic business environments where PM’s were quick to throw designers under the bus when things didn’t go well, and just as quick to take all the credit when revenue was up—even if it was demonstrably true that improved design was the reason for the uptick in metrics. Naturally, I got out of those environments pretty quickly.

The healthiest environment is one in which designers, product leaders, and technologists form a balanced team, where accountability is shared, and all team members are respected for the skills they bring to the table.

But even in a healthy, balanced team, you’re probably going to find that product leaders earn a bigger paycheck than the designers. If you’re chasing a bigger paycheck, you might consider shifting your career path toward product management. Your mileage may vary from org to org but, in general, those PM roles are going to be viewed as more accountable by business leaders—and thus, get rewarded with higher salaries.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: What’s the difference between Enterprise UX and Consumer UX?

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