Why Every Designer Should Make Friends With Developers


I have worked pretty closely with developers since I graduated from The School of Advertising Art and started my first job as a web designer. Collaborating with developers has taught me a lot, but I’ve noticed that some designers shy away from working closely with devs.

While it’s true that designers and developers do drastically different work, there’s still plenty to learn – especially in that gray area where design and development meet. At Gaslight, I sit near several developers and work with them formally and informally throughout the day.

Here are just a few things I’ve gained by making friends with developers:

Developers can help you learn to think simpler

Developers have experience you don’t; they actually build what you’re designing. As a creative, it’s easy to overthink or over analyze our work. One way to simplify? Try collaborating with developers earlier in your process to create the best user experience. They might point out a better way to build a feature or help you blend your design vision with the right implementation.

When brainstorming about adding new items to a user’s account settings for an app, I immediately started thinking about how to fit everything on one page. My developer friend pointed out that it doesn’t have to be on the same page, and this helped me realize that account settings and profile settings were clearly different things.

Developers tend to have a more structured process

A lot of developers have a formal methodology, such as agile or kanban, that they follow for their development process. These provide guidelines for organizing work, breaking into manageable pieces and moving it from idea to completion. As designers, we tend to be more free-flowing and creative types. We’re thinking about 100 things at once ant trying to put all those scattered bits together in something that’s going to be a good experience for users.

The early phases of design should include a loose, exploratory process without any rigid restrictions. But exploring and adopting some parts of those developer methods can help you improve your overall process and productivity. At Gaslight, we use a kanban board that features what we call the “design sandwich.” We move individual features from UI planning to development then to a design review. In the UI planning phase, I can give the developer enough to build, but I’ll still get it back to make final design review tweaks as the feature moves along our board.

They can teach you awesome command line things!

You may be avoiding the command line like the plague, but not everything has a beautiful graphic user interface. If you embrace the command line, developers can help you prevent repeated development problems. Let’s say you forget the specifics behind some git actions. Your developer friend can help you make an alias or command line shortcut to help you avoid any mistakes.

My developer co-worker, Joel Turnbull, showed me that when I open a new terminal window I can set iTerm to reuse my previous sessions directory or set it to default to my sites directory. These little tricks really add up when working in the terminal.

Working with a developer is a partnership and should be beneficial to both of you and the project. Learn to appreciate what the people you work with do and your work will be better, too. Go make friends with some devs, ask questions, pick your developer’s brain or just go grab a beer!

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