5 Tips Designers Can Learn From Developers

Design and development are by no means mutually exclusive. Although each role can be clearly defined by specific expertise and approach, when all is said and done, it’s by working together that we create a successful end product that adheres to the many and varied needs of the client.

As the old adage goes, two heads are better than one. So instead of dwelling on our differences, perhaps it’s time to put them behind us, and see what we can learn from developers and their ways of working.

So, after much critical observation of developers, here are five tips to be learned from their ways of working that can help us improve our own.

1. Continuous Integration

Continuous integration is something that you may have heard of, yet might not completely understand. So what is it? And how can it improve your workflow?

Continuous integrationhas benefited software development teams for over a decade now, but it doesn’t have to be limited to coding. Basically, continuous integration in design terms means adopting an incremental approach towards completing a larger more complex task, presenting ‘deliverables’ often, discovering problems when they arise, and changing and adapting where necessary.

It’s an agile approach to website design that sees results quickly. Instead of a traditional ‘waterfall’ method of working, which relies on a more regimented flow of development (think planning, design, development, launch and post-launch), continuous integration sees individual elements of a site created by working through this model in a cyclical fashion, with a new element created, tested and fed back on during each cycle (or sprint).

It may seem alien at first, but working like this means that problems can be discovered and dealt with as they arise – before they become a considerable issue.

2. Think ‘Problem-Solving’

Web developers are keen to look at things from a problem-solving perspective, an approach that perhaps as designers we’re unfamiliar with taking.

As important as style is, good web design is not just about a visual flourish here or an innovative use of typography there. Good web design is about solving problems, creating remarkable interfaces and intuitive user experience that our clients will love.

Think logically (and laterally) about solving problems, and you’re likely to come up with something truly innovative instead of rehashing the same old design clichés.

If problem-solving isn’t something that you’re used to, then try and approach it in this way:

  1. Identify and understand your problem
  2. Devise a plan to fix it
  3. Implement your solution
  4. Review its success – experiment and if it doesn’t work, try something else!

Remember, innovation won’t happen overnight, problem-solving is a process that involves user testing, multiple iterations, and constant client input (which we’ll touch upon later), but if this is the price to be truly great, isn’t it worth it?

3. Understand What Is Possible

Keeping up to date with the latest innovations in web development can help you come up with inspirational design. It’ll help you realize your design dreams, instead of having them squashed.

Staying abreast of developments doesn’t have to mean being completely code literate, but it helps. Having a decent understanding of HTML/CSS/Javascript/PHP coding means you’re able to do far more than simply creating ‘pictures’ of websites, you’ll be able to understand both the limitations imposed by coding, and more importantly, the possibilities.

It’s all about understanding your medium in order to improve the usability of the end product, allowing for consistency throughout the site.

It’s understandable however, that not all designers want to immerse themselves in code and master it completely. What’s important then is to remain in constant conversation with the developers that do, in order not to underestimate their abilities.

4. Throw out Upfront Design

It may seem completely counter intuitive, but when attempting to produce the ‘small iterations’ mentioned in tip one, large, upfront design proposals may be more of a hindrance than a help.

Completing a painstaking design at the beginning of a project, does, at times, seem ludicrous. It involves ‘hedging our bets’ very early on, before any development or usability testing has taken place, leaving little room for changes later on in the project.

Any one of the other disciplines involved in the creation of a website could throw a spanner into the works of your design, so it seems ridiculous to work in a vacuum. Producing an upfront design could, ultimately lead to considerable waste.

Developers don’t make decisions by themselves, and neither should designers. This is where we can learn from the rapid prototyping of web development, where ‘just enough’ design is produced at the beginning of each iteration. It allows for consistent conversation between all stakeholders and is the only way of maintaining a cohesive understanding of a project.

As previously mentioned, the ‘small iterations’ of continuous integration includes using smaller, more basic designs. Think pen and paper and lo-fi representations rather than pixel perfect PSD mockups, getting your designs in browser quickly so that you can get the feedback you need to improve them.

5. Communicate

Harking back again to agile philosophy and continuous integration, the final tip to be gleaned from developers is all about communication.

By considering your client a member of your team and feeding back to them often, you will be able to maintain a bigger picture of the project. As well as discovering any problems, as was mentioned above, clients will be able to give feedback on your work and tell you if you’re going off on a tangent or not quite getting their original vision.

This consistent feedback, or ‘feedback loop,’ means that you will never go too far in the wrong direction, and time won’t be wasted on perfecting elements of a site that will eventually be thrown out. Consistent communication helps you to gain valuable insight into how your designs are being interpreted, what worked well and how they can be improved, all of which will ultimately make you a better designer.

And finally…

All in all, there is plenty to be learned from our developer counterparts, and it’s important to respect them and their work.

Working in any multidisciplinary environment gives us a unique opportunity to learn from those around us, their ideas, their theories and their practices. So take heed, and we’ll be one step closer to seamless collaboration and the spectacular websites we all dream of creating.

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