How to Improve Collaboration Between Developers & Designers

In our latest workshop series called Introduction to Web Development we have discussed and learned about the challenges and opportunities when designers and developers collaborate more closely.

The following blog article summarizes the key take-aways of the discussion around collaboration between developers and designers led by Marie-Aude Ramos. Marie-Aude is a UX Researcher and the founder of User Wizard, a mentoring program for career transitioners into UX.

Empathy 101

When designers and developers are working on a common project, e.g. a website or a web application, it can sometimes feel like these two groups are speaking two different languages. Whereas designers tend to interpret from a perspective of a user, developers judge requirements from a technical perspective.

In order to collaborate effectively, it is important to be aware of these two perspectives and to be able to translate between them. Building empathy for the other perspective is just as important.

As a designer, it might be worth learning about components and libraries that are already in use by the development team. As a developer, knowing about user stories is important to understand underlying assumptions.

When communicating and delivering results, there should be little to no uncertainty. Being clear about the expected behavior avoids misunderstandings and eventually saves time for everybody.

Be Agile

Defining a new feature should be kicked off by sketching out a user story. A user story is the explanation of a software feature written from the perspective of the end user.

However, user stories can easily become horror stories. This happens when they try to cover too many requirements at once, or are focused on software system requirements.

User stories are a few sentences in simple language that outline the desired outcome. More details are added later, once agreed upon by the team.

The DNA of a good user story allows the team to define when a feature is done, outlines subtasks and has a defined time scope. For all of these elements, it is important to estimate together with the engineering team. This builds a common understanding of the effort and risks that go into delivering the feature.

Repeat After Me

“Can’t you just add or change this?” is a question that developers get a lot from their designer or product-focused colleagues. Most of the time, changes are not as simple as they might seem from the outside. If anything, this question will signal a developer, that the complexity of her/his work is being underestimated.

Instead, it’s better to ask the development team for an estimate on the time effort and also the potential risks of adding or changing something.

Also note that developers benefit from understanding why something needs to be added or changed as well. The user perspective shouldn’t only be taken into consideration for the design, but should be understood by developers too.

Integrate Early

The earlier developers are getting exposed to the user perspective, the easier the collaboration will be. If the engineering team knows about potential challenges early on, they can plan ahead and don’t get caught by surprise.

Integrating the development team early and at every stage of the design process benefits the whole team. To be aligned on the goals and find a common ground should be a key focus when trying to improve the collaboration between developers and designers.

Let us know about your experiences collaborating with designers and/or developers in the comments! 😎

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who participated in the workshop series. A big shoutout also to Marie-Aude Ramos from User Wizard and Corina Schedler from Code Excursion for the great collaboration. 🚀

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Author: Lisa Stähli

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