A round up from interviews on how product designers collaborate with developers
Products revolve around people and even on the development front, a major part of a product designer’s workflow is collaborating with people, especially developers. Whether it is discussing features, or brainstorming on design, or providing feedback on prototypes — productive collaboration is a key ingredient for a successful development and design team. To create a successful product, the entire team has to be on the same page and in sync.
There are many tools — some visual based, others task based — also dedicated to design collaboration such as zipBoard, InVision, Slack and Zeplin. In light of this, we spoke to some product designers about what their collaboration cycle with developers is like.
How do you collaborate with developers?
Ben Peck is product design director and has worked with brands like Nike, Needle, The North Face, Oakley and Adidas. He is also the co-founder of Front Conference, a product design and management conference held in Utah.
“We sit with all our developers and talk with them everyday. We’re constantly working together as we design to gauge technical feasibility, timelines, capabilities and to stay up on the latest technological advancements. After designing, prototyping and testing solutions we’ll have a more official review with all the dev leads as a final sign off before it gets into development so everyone is on the same page. We do a pretty good job not having too many group meetings to stay as productive as possible. We have as many over the shoulder conversations as we can unless we see that it’s necessary to bring everyone together.
We invite our developers to sit in on user testing and hear user feedback and if they can’t make it to the actual test they have access to all the videos to watch when they have the time. We also send them clips of important feedback as well so that their time isn’t too consumed by unhelpful feedback.
When designs have been tested and approved we use a tool called Zeplin to hand over the designs to the developers. It’s a simple tool to allow developers to pull all the assets and specs for the design without needing to ask us a lot of questions, need documentation or own Sketch. Our developers have found it very useful in getting what they need with the least friction.”
Matej Latin is lead UX/UI designer at Auto Trader. He is also involved with projects such as Better Web Type and Gutenberg — A Web Typography Starter Kit.
“I find collaboration with developers daunting and exciting at the same time. My first official job was at a bank in a very corporate working environment. There I’d be told by someone what needs to be done and I had to get it done with the IT department. But 9 times out of 10, I was rejected and told that it couldn’t be done. I soon learned that developers don’t like to be told what to do and how exactly to do it. Later I took my coding skills to the next level and it helped me a lot in improving my communication with developers. Now I prefer to work very closely with developers. Whatever company I work for, I always advocate for lean and agile methodologies.”
I believe that tightly-knit, small, cross-functional teams have a much better chance of delivering value and delight to users.
Dan Saffer is a product design leader. He has worked with Mayfield Robotics, Jawbone and Smart Design. He is also the author of four books on design.
“Extremely closely. We have developers and engineers going out with us when doing user research.
We sit in on sprint planning and help write Jira tickets so that the right features get built in the right order, the right way.
We’re constantly going back and forth on Slack to discuss features and implementation.”
Phillipe Hong is a UI/UX designer, Art Director and Front-developer. He has worked with brands across the board like L’Oreal, Nespresso, Michelin and Schneider Electrics.
“I like to work with devs, and as a designer, I think it’s essential to be able to communicate with devs when you’re designing.”
I use Zeplin to send my design to devs, but I’m still struggling to find a way to give feedback to them. May be zipBoard can solve this problem for us.
Faruk Ates is a product designer at Quantifind and has previously worked at Apple, Edyt and Apture. He is also the creator of the open source tool Modernizr.
“It’s a really great collaboration for me because I’m a former back– and front-end developer myself, so we speak the same “language” when we discuss concerns like performance, features, ideas, technology stacks, and so forth.
I’ve always advocated for designers to understand at least enough about the technology stack they’re designing; for that they can have clear and useful discussions with developers about all the aspects of the product.
Every day in my own job, I’m reminded of the tremendous added value it brings.”
Gabor Lenard is a Digital Product Designer, currently building Zenvite — a platform to create smart invitation pages.
“We discuss ideas at the whiteboard. Then we need to elaborate and formalize the results. Developers expect clarity, thoroughness and a coherent vision from me. So I have the responsibility to think through the problems and special cases before delivering user stories, wireframes or mockups.”
I always put a lot of effort into coming up with good drawings, even for purely conceptual ideas because they are powerful and people tend to refer to pictures even if there’s a text with more details. Another good method is formulating everything from the user’s perspective in “first-person” narrative: this makes it easier to understand the people, the product is made for.
Michael Lee is a Product Designer at Sunrun. He has also worked as Design Producer at Google and Product Designer at Chatous & BayLaunch.
I collaborate with developers by clearly communicating my designs through words and via software such as Zeplin and by making prototypes the developers can access and see my designs in motion.
“I also do regular checkins and design reviews to make sure everything is going according to plan.”
Nikkel Blaase is a digital product designer at Xing. He is the founder of Design Made For You studio and has also created Unstuck Map.
“First of all, I consider user experience design as the responsibility of the whole product team, not only the designer. This is why I think designers are also enablers for design.
Usually, product becomes more successful when developers work with the user’s experience in mind.
Besides that, I prefer to sit closely to the developers, so that we can easily discuss layouts and technical restrictions, or can make fast decisions. Communication is a key factor when it comes to collaboration with developers.”
Arlo Jamrog is a Senior product designer at Strava, a social network for athletes. With fifteen years of experience Arlo has worked with different teams on design and development of projects ranging from record labels to architecture firms to leading advertising agencies.
“It depends on the developer, but the thing I think what matters the most as a designer working with developers is being able to articulate why your design decisions are made.
If as a designer you don’t understand your own process and aren’t able to communicate it, you won’t be able to rally anyone around your thinking and a lot will get lost in translation.
Another thing I like to do is ask developers to review my design work while it’s in progress. Oftentimes they’ll have a better understanding of data, edge cases and a familiarity with other parts of the system that I may have missed.”
A Product Designer is the champion of users and their needs. Working effectively with developers and the entire team is extremely important to ensure a smooth and cohesive development process. Whatever tools a product designer may use to work with developers, the entire team has the responsibility of working in tandem and this can be ensured by the product manager. The key is clear communication and building a coherent philosophy about the product that everyone on the team understands.
These excerpts are part of an ongoing series to interview designers and product people. Check out the latest interviews with Laura Klein and Jane Portman!