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How to Work With a Developer as a Designer: Best Practices to Collaborate Effectively

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When you are a tech founder launching a SaaS product, collaborating with software engineers and developers is essential to transform your vision into a successful product. Still, designers and developers have different priorities. In the end, designers have to focus on aesthetics and user experience, while developers concentrate on technical performance. So, establishing a strong designer-developer tandem is crucial to ensure the design is turned into a functional and high-quality SaaS product with no issues. 

Eleken's UI/UX designers have vast experience of collaborating with developers on complicated and demanding products. In this blog post, we'll walk you through some challenges designer-developers teams face, but most importantly, we'll share tips and best practices on how to make this collaboration as smooth as possible. Let's get started!

Challenges in designer-developer collaboration

As you might have guessed, collaborating with developers as a designer in the SaaS industry comes with its fair share of challenges. Let's take a closer look at some common hurdles:

Technical limitations

As a designer, you might have grand ideas for incorporating complex animations or design elements into your product. However, it's crucial to remember that certain platforms or technologies may have limitations that can impact your vision. By recognizing these limitations, you can work closely with developers to propose alternative solutions that will help you achieve the intended user experience while staying within technical boundaries.

Knowledge gap

Designers may not always possess an in-depth understanding of technical requirements, such as responsive design principles. This can result in designs that don't function optimally across different devices. So, better bridge the knowledge gap through effective communication and continuous learning. 

Miscommunication 

This problem is not exclusive for designer-developer teams only, but is no less painful still. Lack of clear communication can lead to misunderstandings and delays in the development process. It's essential for designers and developers to establish effective communication channels, use a shared vocabulary (understand the tech jargon), and actively listen to each other's perspectives to ensure effective collaboration.

Figma collaboration screenshot
Source

Time and resources constraints

Designers and developers often work within specific time and resource constraints. Design iterations, technical challenges, or unforeseen issues can affect the project's timeline. 

For example, when our designers were working on Astraea, they created a stellar redesign that met all the client's requirements. But it would've taken too long to actually implement all the features technically, while the client needed the redesign ASAP to be able to demonstrate the product to potential investors and clients. 

So, our designers concentrated on smaller changes which will be quicker to implement instead of diving all-in. Knowing when to choose a humbler design to adhere to time and resource constraints is an issue designers have to keep in mind.

Before the redesign:

Astraea screenshot before redesign

After the redesign:

Astraea screenshot after redesign

What can a designer do to cooperate with developers more efficiently?

Now that we’re done with the challenges, what are the best tips and practices to make sure you and a developer are on the same page? FInd them down below.

Communicate with the development team regularly

Communication is key throughout the entire project. Establish open and ongoing communication channels with developers. Keep in touch regularly, clarify any doubts, and have discussions about progress, challenges, and potential improvements. Check on the progress of the development work. This helps you ensure that everything is on track and aligning with the designs you provided. If there are any hiccups or discrepancies, address them promptly to maintain the desired outcome and avoid unnecessary rework.

Here’s what Eleken's Head of Design, Maksym, says:

"When it's possible, I advise all our designers to communicate with the developers directly. This way, from your side, you can explain your decision. Or, if you're not sure, you can check whether this or that decision is possible to implement technically in a given timeframe. If implementation will take longer than the client needs, the developer can take it up to their team-lead to set up the long-term goals, while for the time we concentrate on smaller, or simpler changes. From their side, developers should be able to ask questions if they're not understanding the design fully as well."

Get a grasp of coding basics

It's super helpful to have an understanding of coding principles, at the very least in theory. This knowledge makes it easier for you to communicate effectively with developers. When your design ideas can be implemented within technical constraints, it leads to a smoother development process.

HTML simple example
Github

Here are a few coding languages that can be valuable for UI/UX designers to get acquainted  with:

  1. HTML is the backbone of web pages. Understanding HTML allows you to have a clear understanding of the structure and hierarchy of web elements, which helps in creating designs that are easy to implement on the web.
  2. CSS is used for styling web pages. Having a grasp of CSS enables you to better communicate your design intentions and understand how to create visually appealing and consistent user interfaces.
Mr Robot meme about knowing CSS
  1. JavaScript is a versatile programming language commonly used for adding interactivity and dynamic elements to web pages. Knowing JavaScript basics can help you understand the possibilities and limitations of adding interactive features to your designs.
  2. While not mandatory, getting to know scripting languages specific to UX design can be advantageous. For example, tools like Framer or Proto.io utilize their own scripting languages that allow for more complex interactions and animations within design prototypes.

About our team, let’s hear what Maksym says: 

"Our designers work with Webflow, through it they get a grasp of basic front-end principles, so most of them know at least some HTML and CSS. Some of them either have previous technical background or just did some digging for themselves, so they'll be more coding-proficient."

Embrace collaborative design tools

InVision collaboration example

Take advantage of collaborative design tools like Figma, Sketch, or InVision. These tools are a game-changer for seamless collaboration between designers and developers. They make sharing designs, managing versions, and providing real-time feedback a breeze.

According to Maksym, Slack is actually the turtle which bears on its back the heaviest load of designers-developers communication. However, developers also have access to all design files. Most of the time, designers will share their Figma files. If you're not sure how to prepare for the Figma developer handoff, check our article! 

Slack screenshot

Pro tip: If an issue arises that requires a more step-by-step walkthrough but different time zones prevent you from scheduling a video call, you can always use tools like Loom to demonstrate your screen recording which the devs will be able to watch when they have time. 

Give clear instructions

When you're conveying design requirements to developers, be crystal clear and concise. Provide detailed specifications, share necessary assets, and add annotations as needed. Clear instructions leave no room for misunderstandings, resulting in a much faster implementation process.

Designers-developers-users meme

Embrace developer feedback

Developers bring their technical expertise to the table, and their feedback can be incredibly valuable to the design process. Be open and receptive to their insights. Encourage them to share feedback on design feasibility, performance optimizations, or alternative solutions.

"If we are just moving a button which was already in use, it's simple enough and doesn't require much of developers' input," Maksym comments. "But if a new button triggers some complicated process, we need to ensure the backend for that is in place, and we have to constantly stay in touch with the development team."

Document design decisions and guidelines

Designers and developers meme

Create a shared documentation system or style guide that outlines all the important design decisions, components, and guidelines. This serves as a handy reference for developers, ensuring consistency in the implementation and long-term maintenance of the design. It's like having a roadmap for everyone involved.

Final thoughts

As you might have noticed, I quite enjoyed googling designer-developer memes while researching this article. And let me tell you, the internet is full of jokes about designers, front-end and back-end developers being the three chaotic beasts pulling the product in different directions. However, according to Maksym, the dramatism of developer-designer collaboration is overhyped, and there's no such issue that cannot be tackled with proper communication.

If, as a startup founder, you don't feel you have the necessary kind of experience, skills, or simply don't want to deal with all this chaos, at Eleken we're always ready to have your back. Contact us to make sure your vision is translated into a great UI/UX design that is actually feasible to implement.

Stan Murash

Author

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