Software Success Through Teamwork: Managing the Designer-Developer Relationship

In this presentation, projekt202 Senior User Experience (UX) Designer Lan Nguyen discusses the relationship between UX designers and developers, a vital factor in the success of a software project.

Lan outlines key recommendations for involving everyone from the start -- before they invest their talents and time -- and setting expectations that ensure communication and success.

A transcript of Lan's presentation follows.


Hi, my name is Lan. I'm a senior user experience designer for projekt202. I wanted to talk about the relationship between UX designers and developers.

I find that this relationship is very important, a lot in part because that's where we take the concept into a reality. Unfortunately, there's this friction between technology and design. There's a lot of confusion, a lot of unrealistic expectations and a lack of communications. It's like this dysfunctional marriage, but it's fixable.

The relationship is also important because it's part of what makes a product successful. When a project usually starts, it's with business and UX. Development is left out of it, which means we're only getting half the value of development. Even if we do include development, it's usually someone higher up, someone that oversees the actual team, not one of the team members, which means we're losing part of their expertise, part of who we need to communicate to the rest of the team.

On the reverse side of that, if we leave UX out, then we also lose part of the user experience and then what are we really left with? We start all over again.

An easy way to start the relationship right is to make sure we include everyone from the start. Everyone is important and they should feel that way from the start. They're investing a part of their talents and their time into creating your product.

“The decisions and understanding of the product should be agreed upon and understood throughout the team, throughout the process, so that we’re not playing the development version of telephone ...”

Another reason why the relationship is important is because when there is an actual problem, whether we like it or not, it's everyone's problem.

Sometimes, you hear things like, "It just needs to be built this way. Development needs to figure it out," which is an unrealistic expectation because that means the technical considerations weren't taken into account. You don't have a solution, you have a concept.

On the reverse side of that, you hear things like, "Just make it pretty," which, as a designer, is so terrible to hear because that means someone, somewhere -- or maybe the entire team -- doesn't understand the value in user experience.

It's not about one single practice or one is more important than the other. Everyone should have equal say.

Another reason why the relationship is important is because the decisions and understanding of the product should be agreed upon and understood throughout the team, throughout the process, so that we're not playing the development version of telephone where we have these core values that aren't trickling down until the message is lost. We want those core values to be translated throughout the entire process.

Everyone should really be invested. It's their baby. They should care about what we're building.

Another way to make sure the relationship starts on a good foot is to make sure that we set expectations. If we're designing the solution together, then we should understand what is expected from each practice. If development needs certain assets from UX, then that needs to be communicated.

This isn't a single practice effort. If there's a gap or a problem, then it's everybody's problem.

Another reason that makes this relationship so important is because this is a team effort. No matter where you are in your project, you can still course-correct if there is something wrong. It's just a matter of sitting down and figuring out the solution.

For example, one project I worked on, we came in during the development phase. Another team had taken care of the design part and so we're coming at this kind of blindly. This is the client's first time building a product with UX and UI in mind, and, almost immediately, there was friction. The developers just weren't trusting us. There's a lot of animosity and it just wasn't comfortable for anyone.

The obvious solution is to sit down and figure it out. Once we did that, we discovered that not everyone was getting what they needed from us. Even if they were, it wasn't being explained to them correctly. Easily enough, we provided what they needed, made sure they had what they needed for their current user stories and future, and then eventually made sure they understood what we were providing.

From that, we created a process where we could avoid that situation in the future. After all that was said and done, the anxiety and resentment immediately disappeared.

That is another solution that you can implement in your teams, is that if there is a problem, use the time during retrospective to actually fix the problems and make sure that someone is taking care to make sure those resolutions are being carried out. As a team, if we can function better, then the process overall is better.

Product success suffers greatly when we create these imaginary silos between the practices. It shouldn't be that way. If it currently is, then it needs to be fixed. When we don't fix those issues, they poison our product. When we have a healthy partnership between the practices, the process is so much easier and the product success increases.

Everyone is important and everyone should feel important. You can't just slap lipstick on a pig and call it a product. The team has to be invested in the product equally.


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