Welcome to our Design Talks series, dedicated to sharing ideas from thought leaders and key individuals involved in design from around the world. We interview professionals who work with design in different contexts, with different goals and through different approaches. In this series, we hope to bring intellectual and creative inspiration to all of our readers.
Designers often find it difficult to work with developers and vice versa. Teams on both sides can learn a lot from each other, but resistance remains. This week's guest is Aaron Walter, Vice President of Design Education atIn VisionAnd let's talk about collaboration between designers and developers.
Aaron brings 15 years of experience leading product teams and teaching design to help organizations adopt design best practices. He founded the UX practice atMailChimpNombreand helped grow the product from a few thousand users to over 10 million.
His design consulting has served the White House, the US State Department, and dozens of large corporations, startups, and venture capital firms. He is the author of the bestsellerDesign for Emotionsfrom a separate book. you will find@aronShare design ideas on Twitter and learn more about Aaron ataarronwalter.com.
noCreate a better podcastHosts Aaron Walter and Eli Woolery interview leading designers and influencers as they share problem-solving stories and their careers. guests belongDavid Kelly(Co-founder of IDEO and founder of Stanford d.school),Julie Zhuo(Vice President of Product and Design at Facebook) andjake scarce(Bestselling author ofThe race) among other.
Hi Aaron, nice to have you on the Toptal design blog. Are developers from Mars and designers from Venus?
In my experience, designers and developers probably have more in common than they realize, but there are definitely some distinct differences in the way we think about things. Designers like to think about design systems and developers like to think about maintainable modular code. But the way we deal with it can be a little different.
Developers have found ways to break down their work into smaller pieces andDesignerThey tend to think of everything as the "whole pie" and how we eat the whole pie.
This is a point where they start to collide. Engineers want to be able to ship code in small increments and do something very quickly as part of the process.agile methodology🇧🇷 Designers usually want to take a big step forward in a holistic way: they want to provide a consistent experience. This can be a point of contention for these two groups.
What can designers do to bring developers closer to our perspective? How do designers get developers to understand that every little feature released is also about the experience?
Both sides have the opportunity to intervene here. Sometimes designers try to convince a developer that we should wait and build everything and then deliver it as a complete, beautiful experience.
However, if the construction cycle is too long, there is a risk of products dying. People start to lose interest. You might say, “Does this really add value to the business? We invest a lot of time, energy and resources, why is it taking so long? Designers need to think more about the business cycle.
If Apple ships a phone or piece of hardware with a problem, it could cost billions of dollars, but if the software ships and there's a problem, we can fix it, fix it, and send it back. Approaching the process this way allows us to re-hook the development workflow more gracefully.
Designers can also try to bridge the gap between the two groups by involving engineers early in the design process so that they feel involved in the early design phase and not just in the final phase. Designers can say, "We had this brilliant idea, make it for us!" and this makes developers feel like they are not part of the ideation process. They are just hands and someone else is brains.
The most dysfunctional relationship betweenDesignerand developers it happens when there is another division of labor. The more they mix and these teams work together, the better. As a result, there would be multiple perspectives and shared responsibility, which is really important for designers and developers to work together effectively.
Understand each other's space better...
What can teams do to better understand each other's space? Should designers know about development and vice versa?
First, designers and developers could talk more with customers and learn more about the problem area.together🇧🇷 You could chat with three or four customers over coffee in the morning; everyone was able to learn very quickly and come to a common understanding of the concerns.
Second, in terms of the work process, it's important that designers and developers may not understand each other's language fluently, but they do. I'm not saying that a designer needs to know how to code or that developers need to be fluent in typography, but at least there is a common understanding.
If designers could phrase things in language developers would understand—"this and that doesn't work and it's bad for business"—then developers would be quick to pick up on the problem. This doesn't come naturally to designers, but they need to improve to communicate the value of their work.quantitatively, not onlyqualitative🇧🇷 The sales team, the marketing team, the engineering, the product, the executives, all these people speak in numbers, they speakquantitatively.
Still, I believe that design brings something very valuable, that there are things that count, things that cannot be counted. The customer experience, the joy, the love for the product is very valuable and that is difficult to quantify.
As quantifiable as it may be, this quality component will bring a measurable ROI in the future.
Yes, we can reduce customer support costs with design, we can reduce churn, we can increase integration speed. When you have metrics like these to define your vision, design helps align your efforts with business goals. the more thisDesignercan, the more is understood. The more this design is valued in the company as a competitive advantage, the greater the potential for further investment.
About the dangers of collaboration between designers and developers...
What are some of the biggest barriers to designers and developers collaborating?
One of the biggest pitfalls is not having a common language, common goals, and very disproportionate shares. Sometimes there are cross-functional teams with one designer and 75 engineers. That sounds crazy, but it's quite common.
The vast majority of these situations are not good. This lonely designer is an expat. They are strangers in a strange land where they never quite fit into the culture... and their value system is different from the value system of others.
In this environment, it's extremely difficult for a designer to commit to a UX feature: "We should have this animation in the product because it creates a more compelling experience..." when 75 engineers say, "That's 250 more lines of code and two." extra days off work. Is it really worth it?" And probably not at sea. It will look like "crane" to them. But these animated micro-interactions to oneUser-Experience-DesignerThey really shape the customer experience. They are not the only thing, but they are important.
When you have these unequal relationships between designers and developers, it becomes really problematic. However, there are solutions. companies likefree daysolve this problem with "matched layout". If one team has one designer for every 10 engineers and another team has the same ratio, then these individual designers spend about eight hours a week collaborating and presenting solutions to each other: "This is how I solve this problem, does it make sense?" ? " to you? Is there a better way to do this?" You can help each other unravel and it doesn't feel like you're on an island.
About designers conveying the importance of UX...
How can designers emphasize the importance of Human Centered Design to developers who don't really understand HCD? For example, how do designers convey that adding features doesn't necessarily benefit the customer, that the experience of using the product is more important than its features?
There are some effective ways to do this. Most designers have probably done this ineffectively, saying directly to the developers, "Hey, adding more features doesn't make the experience any better. People say they want it, but it really just makes the product more complicated," and the developers will likely reply, "I don't think you're right, just an opinion. That's what we hear from our customers, so we have to follow them."
Better not to attack from the front, but from the side and say, “Let's understand the problem space better together.” I bought lunch for us tomorrow and wanted to show you five of our customers who use our product.
I've seen engineers squirm in their seats when they see a customer using the product and say, "We built something that's really hard to use and people are frustrated by it." Engineers want to do a good job, just likeDesigner🇧🇷 Often they just don't get a chance to see the result of their work.
You've probably heardJeff Gothelfpreach that we should focus on "results, not products". This is another way of restating our thinking that aSalidareads: "We have filed five further appeals" against aResult:"We've reduced abandonment by 10%."
On the future of collaboration between designers and developers...
You talk to a lot of companies and you see a lot of design teams and developers working together. Tools, environments and methods change. What does the future hold for the designer/developer relationship?
Brackish water is developed when saltwater and freshwater mix, engineering and design tools merge. Instead of a process that looks like a delivery where all the design is here and all the engineering is there, they start shuffling.
In that respect we seeDesignerspend a lot of time with itSim, think in user stories and start thinking with a technical mindset as well. And conversely, we see engineers using tools likeinspect inspection, where they can see the specs and breakdown of a design system and understand the components, how it all fits together. Through these tools and a combination of disciplines, a common understanding develops.
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Further reading in the Toptal Design Blog:
- How to approach design for developers
- Design Talks: Research in action with UX researcher Caitria O'Neill
- Design Lectures: Emotionally Intelligent Design mit Pamela Pavliscak
- Design Talks: The Pursuit of Values-Based Design with Nick Disabato
- How to make the transition from UX designer to UX consultant