Devs x Designers: Communication Wars

Devs x Designers: Communication Wars

Steve Jobs
Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.Steve Jobs, entrepreneur

In an ideal world, developers and designers would work together side by side, unanimously brainstorming the best possible solutions, being 100% committed to coming up with an eye-catching design that is also functional and page responsive. However, in real world this collaboration functions within a slightly different framework. Both sides can become really frustrated and triggered by the lack of understanding, so the focus gets drawn to fighting tooth and nail for implementing personal ideas instead of thinking about the shared goal – user experience. It’s a lot like marriage actually: sometimes they feel like they want to bite each other’s heads off – but the truth is, they’re bound together and function best in unity.

Some say that designers who are also developers are unicorn-rare and cannot be found freely wandering through the IT fields. This is explained through the left-brain and right-brain division and associating the predominantly used brain side to career choice and personal talent. Although it is scientifically debatable whether or not this brain division is real, developers and designers typically have different mindsets, which is why misunderstandings frequently occur. Exposing the reasons of poor communication between developers and designers is certainly useful in order to create a strategy for eliminating the negative vibe within this relationship and figuring out how the two sides can work together as a team. Here are the most common problems, along with practical ways to overcome them.

devs and developers

There Are Badly Positioned Expectations

Flexibility, empathy, and tolerance are the three hinges of successful cooperation.

Developers and designers need to learn their differences in order to get a clearer sense of what they have in common. Too often, they don’t have insights on the everyday challenges each side faces. A certain amount of interpersonal skills is needed to get a fuller understanding of other’s position. However, it is a two-way street and the two sides should treat each other as equals – without implying any hierarchy and demanding that one adapts to another. Flexibility, empathy, and tolerance are the three hinges of successful cooperation and they require effort from both sides.

Here are some simple guidelines for designing with having the developer in mind:

  • Learn the basics of Javascript, HTML, and CSS: gaining a fuller understanding of how front-end development works will help you get a clearer picture of the possibilities and limitations. You can take a free crash course at Codeacademy that will guide you through the basics while providing you with task projects, so you can test your knowledge practically.
  • Broaden your vocabulary: learn new terms typical for dev’s dictionary in order to ensure more effective communication.
  • Be flexible: while you’re probably prone to thinking big under the creativity rush, understand that not all concepts can function in reality. Learn to compromise.

There are challenges for developers, too. Here’s how to bridge the void separating you from designers:

  • Learn the basics of design, so you can be more innovative with coming up with alternative solutions for implementation.
  • Underline the needs and limitations of your medium.
  • Nurture empathy: although the nature of your niche forces you to be exact, understand that designers are motivated by innovation and aesthetically appealing solutions.
  • Try meeting each other half way: explain in a calm matter why a certain design simply cannot be implemented the way it’s imagined. Alterations are a normal part of every working process.

Simply by focusing on a human side of this professional relationship between developers and designers instead on the technical one, a person can contribute to a more pleasant and smoother communication, which will ensure a better end product.

developers and designers

The Two Sides Wait Too Long to Start Cooperating

Too often we witness the following scenario: the developer is completely excluded from the creative process of coming up with a certain design, then he gets a PSD file for handoff and is expected to bring the design to life.

A different set of skills, experiences, and personal traits create a much-needed diversity that will bring the joined efforts to best results
The first hiccups initiate communication and from that point – it can get pretty ugly. The problem lies within the unnatural way of solving issues: it’s dealt with retroactively instead of proactively. This is exactly what causes frustration: a designer might think that the developer is incapable of doing his job properly, and vice versa. However, this can be prevented by making the two different minds work together from the start. A different set of skills, experiences, and personal traits create a much-needed diversity that will bring the joined efforts to best results.

Meetings from day one are crucial for a stress-free project that both parties will enjoy, here’s why:

  • Developers are involved from the start, so they can openly say what visual solutions will not work with UX.
  • Designers can share their ideas and explain their aesthetic, while working together with developers, so to find something that can truly translate to the web.
  • When the two sides are united, specific details can be discussed in advance without any fuss, so that nothing is overlooked (e.g. animations, hover styles, page navigation, clickable elements, grids, etc.)

Although nothing beats face-to-face communication, the age of technology we live in provides you with tools that can help you stay connected with the person you’re collaborating with.

Specifically made platform with the goal of bringing developers and designers together is the BuildItWith.Me communication platform. It is a great, completely free “discovery” tool that helps you with finding a like-minded partner to build the desired app with. BuildItWith.Me is a great place for building meaningful business relationships and inviting new people to contribute to the creative process of perfecting one idea and bringing it to life.

There is a lack of communication regarding what’s needed

Active listening and clearly defining what is doable and what is out of the question are the fundamentals of effective communication. Let’s observe this on the example of mockups.

Every visual designer loves showing at least 3 concepts to the client and those solutions demonstrate the key parts of the website. However, if it is done without the knowledge of the developer – it may result in unresponsive design. Some designers choose to show several flat mockups to clients via email, but in this way their functionality and effects cannot be experienced. A better way to display concepts is to cooperate with a developer in order to build an online presentation where the basic motion can be seen (e.g. hover effects or transitions). This is achievable with intermediate front-end development skills, but you can go even a step further: include creating live prototypes, so that interactivity is completely brought to life.

This way, the client gets the chance to experience the actual look of the website in a browser. If you’re working with a low budget, you may want to avoid the last option since it requires a great deal of coding and time investment. If you’re a designer, you need to discuss if your design is responsive and you need to do it before presenting the possible visuals. Developers, on the other hand, need to be specific with what can and cannot be done, while considering the deadlines, budget, type of website, etc.

There are two great ways that ensure the clarity of the final design concept:

  • Making a folder of important notes for the developer: these can even include suggested plugins for certain visual effects or guidelines given by the client; doing so doesn’t mean you’re trying to tell a developer how to do their job, but rather help them get a clearer idea of the final look.
  • Creating a style guide: it’s a designer’s job to ensure all the necessary information, so that their design is transferred to the web page accurately; a style guide can be a simple Photoshop or Illustrator document that has the info about typography (e.g. line and letter spacing, colors), images, and every part of visuals that are to be found on the page.

developers and designers

There Is a Lack of Will to Teach and Learn

The egos of developers and designers are another obstacle for effective collaboration. While both sides claim they are not trying to be difficult – the stubbornness is often something that is omnipresent. The truth is somewhere in the middle of this communication war: designers truly aren’t only focused on the form, but they care about the function too. They are focused on the UX, but are also driven to make it aesthetically appealing.

While designers were trained to think outside the box, developers usually work within a fixed frame.

Developers are not some mean minds that are looking to demolish the design in the name of functionality: they care about the final product as much as the designers. The solution lies in the possibility of teaching and learning from one another, since both sides have the missing pieces of knowledge. While designers were trained to think outside of the box, developers usually work within a fixed frame, but this shouldn’t be the reason for confrontations. For example, it could be useful for designers to understand the difference between crafting a wonderful web page on the desktop and making it functional online.

The groundless animosity between the worlds of designers and developers can be overcome with strengthening their social intelligence, all with raising the awareness that they work towards the same goal. This can be done with:

  • Team building exercises
  • Open dialogues and addressing issues directly when they occur.
  • Learning to respect each other’s niche and mindset.
  • Learning the skills of active listening and assertive communication.
  • Separating emotions from business.
  • Learning to deal with self-pride and ego.

The world of developers and designers undeniably overlap. Both sides are prone to creative problem solving and analytic reasoning while using their skills. Imagine what results we could have if they agreed to work together from day one: they would be an unstoppable creative force, indeed.


Sarah Green

Sarah Green explores the latest web trends and covers stories related to technology, startups and digital life in general. Writing professionally since 2012, she has developed a sixth sense for trending topics in these fields.

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