The challenges & benefits of the developer/designer relationship

This is a guest post for the Computer Weekly Developer Network written by Nate Clinton, Designit executive director. 

Designit offers integrated strategic design and innovation services, including product designservice design, and experience design, with an emphasis on mobile and digital media. The company recently expanded its services to include consulting in business design.

Clinton writes…

Digital-first businesses are 64% more likely to have significantly achieved their top business goals, making digital design and development crucial components of success.

Yet with designers and developers on different sides of product creation, collaboration isn’t always smooth sailing. It’s no wonder that the exciting, grand vision behind a product can crack, crumble and disappear into dust when designers and developers aren’t aligned.

Understanding the problem

Imagine a team of designers and developers creating a new house. As part of the whole house, the designers want a spiral staircase and marble countertops.

It’s the developers’ job to turn that vision into reality.

It’s on the developers to start manually laying the foundations with tools and materials, so that the features will come together to complete the house.

Yet as the developers start creating the spiral staircase, they realise that they simply don’t have the right tools and materials for the job, sparking a dilemma as the designers’ vision seems to fall apart and the developers feel forced to reach for the impractical or impossible.

Meanwhile, the developers successfully build marble countertops, but as they never saw the whole blueprint, the countertops don’t fit into the overall architectural structure of the house.

Same same concept

It’s the same concept for digital product design. The designer identifies a need, imagines a solution, then turns to the developer to code that solution into existence. But when development reality clashes with design vision, or when developers get lost in individual task silos because they can’t see the full picture, product creation and team cohesion break down.

Product managers should bring developers into the room during the design research and planning phase so that developers can also gain an understanding of the vision and overall direction of the product. With developers in the loop from the start, they’ll not only feel more valued, but they’ll also bring new perspectives, providing balance and practicality.

When designers are insisting on their spiral staircase, they need to communicate the user and business value of the feature. Providing a rationale that gives context may spark a new workaround for the developers, turning the previously impossible demand into a possible opportunity.

Narrative visualisations

Designers also carry a unique position as a bridge between product strategy and the end user. They can maximise that role by taking feedback from the market, synthesising it and then translating it to developers and product managers so they have good decision-making tools. They can also use narrative visualisations, like personas, journey maps, storyboards and service blueprints, to build and enhance iterative processes that foster balanced and effective teams.

Designers and developers may hold contrasting approaches, personalities, and ways of seeing the world, but these can be overcome by greater transparency, communication and partnership. This in turn enables the delivery of a complete, customer-centric product, built off the strengths of all sides of the team.

When designers and developers click, a house turns into a mansion.

< class="wp-caption-text">Clinton: No spiral staircases unless they have business value, please.

Data Center
Data Management