Have you ever been around a group of creative types when the conversation turns to what coders don’t do and don’t understand? It happens more often and more casually than I’d like to admit. It’s nonsense, and I don’t stand for such talk in the name of shooting the breeze.
Engineers think and work differently than creatives, so wasting time dismissing them only subverts your role in the product development process. We all share in the success or the failure of our work together.
Great engineers are practiced craftspeople just like designers, researchers, and strategists.
If designers on your team are treating your devs like hired help, chances are you’re setting yourself up for a very bumpy, contentious, and unpleasant product development process. As a designer, engineers are your collaborators, your editors, and your partners. A good relationship with engineering is the key to not only executing your vision — but often making the end result way better than you are capable of alone.
I’ve found that what engineers want in a UX designer is really very simple:
- Someone who listens
- Someone who really understands what they do
- Someone who is flexible
- Someone who advocates for them
- Someone as focused on results as they are
The best part is that your openness and respect pays dividends. A friendly team of engineers is the best asset a UX designer can have in their workplace.
Here are three simple steps that foster collaboration in Nonfiction’s design process and can help you improve yours:
1. Align to how engineers think
Guess what? Most engineers don’t think like you do — their strengths come from the differences in how they analyze and execute on problems. Take the time to understand how they work. Ask questions. Be prepared to zoom in from the big picture. If you’re not familiar with the principles of Agile methodology, get familiar! Engineers are used to flying the plane while they build it, and you’ll need to adapt to that way of thinking, too.
- Learn to speak a common language.
- Establish a shared understanding of what you do and what they do.
- Don’t stay at 30,000 feet, move from the big picture to manageable pieces and phased work.
- Think modularly.
- Listen to their feedback on the impact of your design choices.
2. Align to how engineers work
Engineers work systematically. They see the whole as a collection of interdependent parts. While we design holistically, an engineer will help you disassemble a design as a collection of components. See the pattern?
When you create your work, understand how your engineers will consume it. Organize your designs systematically and deliver them in a modular manner.
A few minor adjustments up front will save everyone time and trouble in the long run.
- Create the big picture, but don’t just toss it over the fence and think you’re done.
- Deconstruct your designs – apply the principles of atomic design.
- Be systematic, purposeful, and organized.
- Don’t dictate!
3. Align your engineers with the broader team
If you want the engineering team to become advocates for the designs, give them what their organizations don’t always provide: a seat at the table. Designers can get caught up with our business stakeholder clients and our user research and treat the tech stack that powers the product as an afterthought. Engineering is then left to somehow rig impossible designs, causing frustration and expense overruns that could have been avoided by upfront communication.
A designer needs to take it upon themselves to understand the product’s technical infrastructure to deliver designs that are not just usable, but feasible.
Bring engineering into the process earlier, give them a voice, and advocate for their views, and everyone will benefit.
- Advocate for the engineering process.
- Facilitate their seat at the table early in the design process.
- Collaborate with them and be truly open to feedback.
- Anticipate their concerns and the impact of design on their work.
- Balance business goals with technical constraints before you design.
And There You Have It
It’s not a rigid process, it’s a mindset of mutual respect. Be the designer who cares and takes the time to really work alongside the engineers and you’ll earn trust that makes for a healthy, productive team.