Fact: the rise or fall of great product concepts depends on the happy marriage of design and development.
Hurrah! Everybody agrees enthusiastically. Marriage of design and development is the slogan of the year for everyone! Wedding bells are ringing in many companies!
But what happens when the party is over and the reality of everyday life sets in?
I’m a designer and this is my second marriage with developers. I can honestly tell you that marriage takes more than just breathtaking wedding vows and enthusiastic people throwing rice. Just like real marriages, it takes A LOT of work. The newlyweds need to readjust their previous habits and beliefs in order to stick together. Everybody needs to give up on something and be open to changes. Good coffee also helps.
My relationship advice is fairly straightforward:
- Designers must learn to share
- Developers must learn to share
- Both must make time for the relationship
Designers must learn to share
If the designer is used to flying solo with his headphones on, if he has never let anybody even glimpse at a piece of unfinished design, well, he is in for a surprise. Forget Hero Design. For this relationship to work, the designer must open the doors to his design studio/cock-pit and let the developer mess with his ideas from Day 1.
Why on earth, you may ask? Is the designer not the expert in all things “design”? Why should I give up anything?
Well, here are a couple of reasons:
- The developer possesses valuable info that the designer doesn’t (especially, but not limited to tech feasibility.)
- He has ideas and isn’t afraid to implement them (even if it means going rogue.) In other words, he owns the code, which means he owns the end result.
- He has GOOD ideas that you are going to want to hear.
- Tit for tat: if the designer doesn’t want to share, the developer won’t either (which brings us back to the 2nd point.)
- In the absence of communication, he will review your design (and believe me, it’s better to work together.)
It is amazing how many misunderstandings and unnecessary exchanges can be avoided when designers learn to share. I won’t even mention the obvious bit about avoiding handovers. As for myself, many bright developers have made my day by coming up with brilliant solutions to my design dilemmas!
Instead of solo flying sessions, the work of the designer must be about arranging meetings, chatting, facilitating workshops, co-creating, sharing work that isn’t even close to ready, and mostly just about talking. Not just to the developer either. A lot of folks. This should be at least 50% of all the work.
I have seen too many products fail just because nobody makes all the stakeholders see the common goal (and the consumer insight behind it.) Too often, all stakeholders start inputting their own ideas at every opportunity and the end result is a motley mash-up.
Developers must learn to share
The designer is not the only one used to being a solo pilot. The developer also appreciates the fact that he has the power to conjure up the UI by himself. There is no such thing as “absence of design”. Even if you are the first designer in an IT company, you need to understand that the design is getting done by the developers.
Just imagine the frustration of the front-end coder who has been the master of his universe, when the designer walks in and sticks his flag in the UI turf. Rest assured, he is not entirely pleased. I have witnessed this myself. You’d be surprised, how many developers actually love the design bit of their work. They are not going to give it up entirely.
Pleased or not, for the good of the product, the developer must also learn to share. In practice, this means following the UI designs that have been created and approaching the designer, whenever there is a need to change from plan A to a plan that works.
But why? Why can’t the developer just figure out the details by himself?
- Because the devil IS in the details! Details determine the perceived quality of the product.
- The designer has usually gone through a lot of trouble to find out the product’s vision. His job is to make sure it does not get eroded along the way.
- He has ways to find out important facts about the real end user and his context (and if he is any good, he continues doing this whenever he sees a weak hypothesis.) These facts should guide all design work, not opinions.
- If the developer does not share his work with the designer, the product’s cohesion, vision and quality is at stake.
A lot of unnecessary iterations (= loss of money) can be avoided, when the designs are created together, UI designs are followed through, and the developer is committed to breathing life into the shared vision.
Both must make time for their relationship
Perhaps the #1 enemy to any co-operative effort is time. The minute time becomes a problem, it’s usually “every man for himself”. There comes a time in each project, when this thought starts to guide the work:
“I’ll do it faster, if I’ll just do it by myself”
Maybe you know the feeling. I know I do. This is precisely NOT the time to launch a solo career. This is the time to step up the communication, and here is why:
- When time is critical, it is absolutely necessary to avoid iterations. Iterations are avoided when you ensure that you are doing the right thing in the right way. A poor man can’t afford to buy a cheap product and a busy man can’t afford to do things twice. Get it right the first time by coordinating your work with others.
- Reviews are a waste – working together is productive and takes less time. A 30 minute joint design session beats a 1 hour review + 3 hours of making corrections.
Person to person communications are the most effective way to get things sorted and done right. Anything else just wastes time. Fight the impulse to focus on yourself and on your own work. At the end, this is really just up to you. I know how hard it can be to get up from your workstation, even if the developer is in the same room, but it really is worth it.
In my experience
Any marriage is based on seeing and believing that everything can be better together. Seeing the reasons to give up certain things in order to gain more important ones.
Another factor is free will. The only thing standing in between a successful marriage and one headed for divorce, is the conscious decision to do things in co-operation. A heartfelt will to make it work. This desire can overcome any project challenge, any time constraint and any budget cut. These are just excuses to revert to old habits.
Personally, my thirst for success stories is greater than my desire to rent a condo in the ivory tower. I believe in this marriage. I believe in my wingmen.