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Discussion on: Dev and Designer Communication

peter profile image
Peter Kim Frank • Edited on

I'll give my perspective as a less-technical team member who frequently collaborates with the technical members of our team. I think it will be relevant to this specific Designer/Dev dispute.

I think that most disagreements are caused by a lack of empathy for the "other side." In this instance, I'll imagine that the designer happens to be non-technical.

The Designer probably thinks: I'm just trying to do my job, and I need the Dev's help to get this coded up.

The Dev probably thinks: I'm buried in work, the specs are constantly shifting, and this won't even matter ("it's a waste of our time.")

I think that having more empathy on both sides is important — and that starts with making a concerted effort to facilitate productive dialogues where both sides can stretch themselves to see the other person's point of view.

The designer has to recognize how frustrating it can be to have requirements change, and to receive time-consuming requests pitched as small adjustments. The dev has to realize that estimating as a non-technical participant can be difficult, and that this person is simply trying to do their job, and needs their help.

In terms of specific tactics, I think that this looks like:

  • having more cross-team meetings (for instance, everyone on our team joins sprint planning so that we all have more shared context)
  • more 1:1s to discuss work and share what we're doing
  • explicit judgment-free opportunities to discuss technical requirements and ask questions
  • opportunities for the Devs to weigh in on creative decisions and provide feedback on designs

That way, there can be more natural and healthy conversations like this —

Designer: "Hey Dev, I am thinking through some design changes, can I get your feedback on how it will be implemented?"

Dev: "Sure — I like this look, but you should understand that accomplishing this specific effect here will be really technically challenging because of the way the elements are laid out on the page. Is there a way we can capture the spirit of your design without introducing that complexity?"

Instead of:

Designer: "It needs to look like this."

Dev: "Well that's a huge waste of our time!"

obligatory xkcd comic about birds

cat profile image
Cat Author

One of my first meetings at work made me realize the dev-designer dynamic, and it's a shock to me that there isn't as much coordination as I thought there would be.

Beginning the new project, I asked the designer, "How is the process getting your design to production?"

"Well, I just hand them the specs and that's it."

Then after the push the designer is pissed because the result looks nothing like the mock. There was no communication whatsoever between the handing off of the spec until push.
There was maybe one introductory component proposal meeting, but that's it.

Designers and devs live in such different worlds.

It seems like trying to change the current dynamic to a more cohesive and harmonious one poses an ultimately huge overhaul of the system.

Thank you for sharing your experience and insight!

eli profile image
Eli Bierman

I think having a dedicated project manager can really help in situations like these. Good project managers are really skilled at finding common ground between all participants by getting everyone on the same page with the project's motivations. And sometimes people hear things better from a person they perceive as a neutral party. In my experience many designers are really good at project management also, but since developers sometimes view designers as "the person making things pretty," they don't always feel trusting enough to let them take on the project management role when they feel like the lines of responsibility have changed under their feet.