One of the bigger questions faced with any designer is how do you effectively communicate and collaborate with other stakeholders. This can be with your design team, marketing team, or your product manager. One specific challenge that you might face is explaining how you work with developers or engineers. I’ll discuss the importance of collaboration while giving my insights on working with developers.
No one works alone
A collaborative work environment should be a key part of a company’s culture. This would include strong feedback cycles combined with honesty throughout the team, along with managers that run transparent and regular feedback sessions with their teams. Collaboration using an agile development method is a great way to do this. Utilizing weekly or bi-weekly sprints with constant feedback captures the iterative approach to problem-solving.
My personal collaborative process is to include everyone early and often. This is established with each morning’s daily stand up to get a sense of where everyone is at. As a designer, it is critical to receive feedback and bounce off ideas so I typically set up weekly or bi-weekly meetings and workshops with fellow designers and other stakeholders. It’s important to remember that no one works alone and each member is a key part of making a successful product. In my own practice and when I’m researching companies I want to work for, I encourage a team environment that connects daily as well as weekly for larger scope items. Involve early and often!
How working with a factory-prepared me for developers
When working with developers, I’ll admit that “technically” I don’t have the extensive experience that most UX/UI and Product Designers have. However, I do have a great deal of similar experience in my previous careers as an industrial product designer on the manufacturing end. Much like a developer, a company’s manufacturer is producing your product, so it’s very similar to a designer and developer relationship. I was successful at designing carpets, toys, and riding gear because I did the following with the factories I worked with:
- I built a strong relationship with them - I found out how they work, what are they good at, and what are their needs in order to be successful.
- I provided them guidance - I gave them complete and detailed technical packages along with prototypes and samples that best represent my vision.
- I include them - I involved them in every part of my process to not only get ideas but to ensure that the product vision can be made.
- I ensured quality - I took the time during QA to cross-check the developed products vs my handed off designer before production to ensure quality and find any inconsistencies.
If you work on digital products, this founds familiar right? What I learned on how to make a successful product with manufacturing has carried over to my UX/UI skills.
Communication = collaboration = communication
As I continue to express, I think it is important to identify both that early and often communication is good- But communication isn’t the only thing. Collaboration is the other part that is often forgotten. I asked a developer colleague Nico Roulston how often do you feel design and devs should meet a week?
Nico: I like the idea of sitting with a designer once a week and pair programming. Some great ideas can come to play when a designer is making things on the fly and the developer can be implementing them. This style of work also gets both parties on the same page as to what will work, and what won’t work translating the design to code.
Nico is addressing two great points. By having your developer involved early, they’re more excited about the project because they are feeling more part of the process and team. Being upfront with developers right away when you have a vision in mind will help to eliminate any hiccups later on. To do this, you need to ensure there are proper checkpoints in the roadmap for developer insights. Ultimately, they should be included before each design decision is developed to a higher level. Understand what they do day in and day out while finding out what they want with you and realize that developers are people and we all work differently. Much like what I did with factories, I would reach out to devs and show them quick designs or sketches…maybe a wireframe and ask “What is the feasibility of this? Have you made this before, is there a better way?” As soon as I have a direction and a clear “why?” as to what I’m designing I would involve them.
“They are thinking about design all the time and should be looked at as valuable and experienced professionals in your design process.”
The other important message Nico touches on is an important one. Developers and engineers often have great design insight! They are thinking about design all the time and should be looked at as valuable and experienced professionals in your design process. Many of whom I’ve been talking to are incredibly creative people and by giving them the opportunity to express their opinion you will have a better design and product that the entire team is proud of.
Whether you are just starting out in your design career or have years of experience, collaboration is key to a successful product and business. One thing I’ve learned is that this applies to any industry and regardless of where you learned it, this is a valuable skill to have as a product designer.