The line between UI/UX designer and developer grows blurrier each year. Every day, more designers are leaning into software development and learning to code. This has led to a new class of "full-stack designers." The Flatiron School describes a full-stack designer as one with the ability to "single-handedly tackle every layer of software development." With the ability to produce and communicate with both technical and non-technical stakeholders, full-stack designers are exceptionally valuable for cross-functional teams.
Similarly, design-literacy has become table stakes for many developers. Most UI/UX developers work closely with designers, and a certain aesthetic sensibility is required to produce polished UI/UX work. So it's no surprise that many UI/UX developers find themselves picking up tools and skills that are more typically associated with designers in the course of their regular work. Additionally, smaller teams lacking available design resources may turn to frontend developers, or even product managers, to take on additional design responsibilities in support of existing projects.
Job roles will continue to blend, and UI/UX developers will require new tools to better collaborate with increasingly cross-functional teams. There will always be a need for practical tools that make the act of coding easier, but it's a new class of social, collaborative developer tools that promise to play an outsized role in the workplace of the future.
In the past five or so years, we've seen an explosion of collaboration tools to support professional teams. While the list of collaboration tools may be endless, when it comes to UI/UX teams, they all boil down into four basic categories:
Communication tools 📺
Not much is getting done if your team can't communicate. Out of sheer necessity, most teams already have this category squared away, for better or worse. These are your big names like Zoom and Slack, but there are also some smaller startups like Loom, Tandem, and others making moves in the team communication space.
You can check out this blog post, if you'd like to learn more about our thoughts on some of the leading communication apps available to development teams today.
Project management tools 📊
Project management software helps to ensure that requirements are clearly communicated and contributors stay on top of their tasks. Project or product managers are responsible for aligning stakeholders so that designers and developers can focus on executing the project objectives.
Whichever tools you choose, the point of adopting project management software is to facilitate the design and implementation conversations that happen as a product is being developed. There are a ton of great options to choose from like Clubhouse, Trello, Monday.com, Basecamp, Asana, and JIRA.
Before investing time in a new project management solution, consider choosing one that integrates with any important internal tools to minimize headaches down the road.
Design collaboration tools 🎨
Not until the last few years have a crop of upstarts begun to unseat the incumbent Adobe, for the hearts and minds of designers. Today, there is a triumph of options when it comes to collaborative design software and they all have their unique offerings.
Designer-centric tools like Figma, Sketch, InVision, Adobe XD, and Balsamiq all go various lengths to make wireframes and other handoffs tolerable for UI/UX developers. Handoff tools like Zeplin make it easy for developers to interpret wireframes and must straddle both the design and development worlds.
Developer collaboration tools 💻
The universe of devtools is myriad and comes with all sorts of solutions for problems that developers may face in the course of their work. But for collaborating with a team, there aren't as many options as you'd think.
Version management platforms have achieved outsized importance in developer life. GitHub, and to somewhat lesser degrees, GitLab, Bitbucket, and others are the de facto public forums for software collaboration. Organizations large and small rely on these platforms to organize and document their software code.
Then comes the challenge of previewing, and more importantly collaborating on, still-in-development projects. Some web platforms like Netlify offer deployment previews, but there's no way to collaborate or leave feedback in context, within the preview itself. That's left to Slack, Zoom calls, or email.
Team-focused tools like FeaturePeek prioritize the collaboration aspect and make it easy to review and leave feedback on deployment previews. Reviewers can record screens, annotate screenshots, and even review responsive layouts on multiple devices.
With so many tools, and so much cross-pollination occurring between developers and designers today, it's difficult to determine which tools your UI/UX team really needs to communicate and collaborate together.
In a design process, it's often the handoff points where team communication can breakdown. Consider:
- What are your handoff points during the product design and development cycle?
- What tools do you use to facilitate collaboration during these handoffs?
- What are the potential communication gaps during your handoffs?
By identifying the handoff points between different roles on your team, you can begin targeting the tools necessary to keep your team on track. Remember, the initial exchange of wireframes isn't your only handoff. Designs and prototype versions are constantly being handed off between team members for development, review, and QA. While some handoffs may already have established tools and processes (ex. handing-off wireframes), others may lack an established process or tool (ex. doing visual QA for pull requests).
Design handoff tools are great, but why aren't we talking about developer handoffs? Tools like Zeplin are great for ensuring developers have convenient access to the information within wireframes. But how do non-engineers engage with pull requests, and collaborate as a team on constantly changing code previews?
There are many good solutions if your end goal is simply the deployment preview itself. For example, if you're a Netlify user, they have a reasonable deploy preview tool. Similarly, there are available tools like Tugboat, and a few others. If all you want is a staging environment for your pull requests, then most solutions are essentially equal.
But the reality is that real people are collaborating on this deployment preview, and they need to do more than just look at it. That's why the actual deployment preview itself isn't the point. It's the collaboration that matters.
Like Slack, GitHub, Zoom, and Clubhouse, it's the tools that change the way we communicate our thoughts and ideas with others that change the ways we work. Each of these applications helps us communicate and organize with our own teams. But none of these tools extends fully into the world of software development. As developers become a larger demographic in the workplace, collaboration tools that enable the way developers work, and make that workflow accessible to others will find eager adoption.
This is why developer-focused collaboration tools like FeaturePeek are so unique and exciting. Developer collaboration tools bridge the world of pull requests and GitHub into an experience that is accessible for all (especially non-engineering) users, and ultimately into a more social context altogether. Just like design handoff software does for designers, and project management software does for product managers, developers also need their own tool to present pull requests in an accessible hub for the rest of the UI/UX team.
There's an elegant simplicity to focusing on pull requests as the final handoff of the UIUX process. By taking a basic developer action (creating a deployment preview for a pull request), and turning that step into a collaborative effort, every pull request becomes an opportunity for a just-in-time iteration or optimization. It's a more efficient way of working for UI/UX and serves to reinforce a notion that developers long ago intuited: Pull requests are the new design handoff.