Working with a cross-functional product team necessitates collaboration with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds, with different skills, and different goals.
As a designer, collaborating with developers is an essential skill. Since you quite literally build a product together, the product is only as good as your collaboration.
But collaboration comes with its obstacles.
Designers and developers need to unlock collaboration and communication in order to work as an effective team and produce an excellent outcome for both the user and the business.
Keys to collaborating with developers
- Building a relationship and maintaining transparency
- Communication and setting expectations
- Syncing with vision and feedback
- Pragmatism and snuffing out ambiguity
Building a relationship and maintaining transparency
As with any partnership, people work better together when they are continuously building deeper relationships.
Designers and developers who work together should get to know each other outside of project particulars. In order to really understand each other’s work, process, and personality, it is imperative to invest time and energy.
On a deeper level, transparency allows for better trust and better cooperation when completing tasks and working on projects where success and failure impact both parties. People tend to work harder and care more when they are a trusted partner and consulted on a shared vision.
Transparency, especially when asking for advice or candid critique, creates necessary space for collaboration and a confidence that you will have each others back when the time comes.
Application: Spend time outside of your tasks and functional meetings to grow your relationship by getting coffee, asking about other projects, and simply getting to know each other better.
Communication and setting expectations
Perhaps the main tenet of collaboration is communication. In order to collaborate effectively, designers and developers need to articulate their ideas and their work effectively and in a way that leads to progress for the team.
Understanding an individual and team communication style is critical to getting on the same page when translating ideas from design to code, and vice versus. This is because the roles of a designer and a developer require distinct languages.
For instance, developers rely heavily on logic when exploring the capabilities and limitations of code, while designers often employ story and emotion when translating user experiences.
In this area of communication, setting expectations for what a designer and developer can do together goes a long way to producing an outcome that is conducive to both the capabilities and constraints of code and design.
As people work together, they gain an intuition for what to expect from one another, which allows for higher efficiency and increased efficacy in collaboration.
Application: Learn each other’s language. The more you know about code as a designer and the more you know about design as a developer, the better your communication will be and the more accurate your expectations will become.
Syncing with vision and feedback
As a designer, the more touch points you have with a developer, the more chances you will have to offer input and receive constructive criticism to your design.
Taking the time to sync and provide a constant loop of feedback will create the ability to nip problems in the bud.
This avoids wasting time and energy on components of a design that were either misunderstood in the hand-off or technically problematic.
Offering feedback is an opportunity to receive feedback. The more opportunities to give and receive strengthen the design and its development.
Application: Get in the habit of checking in every now and again to understand progress and head off issues that may arise. However, take care to approach with curiosity, lest feedback decays into micro managing and nagging.
Pragmatism and snuffing out ambiguity
It may seem like common sense, but collaboration often relies on being pragmatic and the elimination of ambiguity or variable interpretations.
While team chemistry can boost a team’s creative potential and use ambiguity as an advantage for innovation, communication without chemistry can lead to misunderstanding, even on the smallest level.
Sometimes, it is best to be painfully clear about specs, goals, and dynamics. While over communication can seem like a lack of trust, it is actually helpful safeguard against reworking.
Instead of “measure twice cut once”, the saying for designers and developers is “over communicate once and develop once.” The sentiment is the same. Where people delete ambiguity, the result is likely be better the first time around.
Application: Over communicate until a substantial amount of chemistry is established and leverage assets such as prototypes to visually communicate dynamic and intended designs.
Working as a close knit team is essential as a designer and developer. Both bring essential skills and critical perspectives to the process of building a product.
In order to cooperate as an effective team, it is important to prioritize healthy collaboration.