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Successful Collaboration Between Designers and Developers
Portrait of Andy Leverenz
Andy Leverenz

August 15, 2015

Last updated November 5, 2023

Successful Collaboration Between Designers and Developers

Designers and developers are very different breeds of workers. Both types of individuals harness similar characteristics in terms of working ethic but are also very unlike each other in that same regard. Once in a while, you come across, what we call in the industry, a unicorn, which is a designer who can code. What kind of term is that? I have no idea...Anyway, modern designers are expected to know at least the basics of building a website or prototype for an app they may be designed in order to be considered good (not sure if I agree with this wholeheartedly but I can't argue too much as I know how to code). Developers luck out, as they don't necessarily need to know how to design but it really does help improve communication barriers during the extensive working relationship.

If you're not a unicorn, you'll need to be awesome at communicating your design and ideas to a developer (or team of developers) who will be translating your work into code. If you are a developer the same rules apply if you're working with a designer or group of designers. This article discusses some tips to keep in mind as you and your team keep collaboration on track and working relationships in order.

Communication is Key

It's fairly obvious that a successful working relationship, or any relationship for that matter, requires excellent communication. If communication is poor between a designer and a developer then deadlines will be missed, errors will be made, and plenty of time will be wasted. Even if communication is great, you still need to be committed to the task at hand.

Sometimes good friends or siblings, for instance, are terrible people to work with. Why is this? siblings or really good friends know too much information about each other and, as a result, are more susceptible to not be focused on making progress. While it can surely work, there is more potential for wandering off course. Laziness, boredom, and lack of drive are other types of factors that can really affect a working relationship between designers and developers. Of course, there are numerous other factors, but what I'm trying to say is that it all boils down to good communication. Bear in mind, these factors are all common things that affect anyone, not just those of us in the web/tech industry.

Using a pre-defined communication method that works for your team can be a learning process, but when established it will help keep you on the right path to getting work completed in the most efficient way possible. For example, say you're working on a SaaS platform and what to introduce a new feature.

What do you do to start the process?

Typically the feature needs to be discussed internally first even if it is a customer-driven request.

How do you go about discussing it internally?

This is why so many meetings take place. While we all love to hate them, they do establish a good foundation for an issue such as a new feature. Discussion, brainstorming, technical stuff and more are all things considered during this time. Before any work is to be done you'll want to chat with your team to be certain all the work you could potentially have to do is really worthwhile.

What if you aren't in the same place to discuss?

Technology is a hell of a thing these days. There are so many ways to communicate now that there's really no reason to skip this step. Voice calling, Screen Sharing sessions, conference calls, email, and more are great ways to compensate for not having a face-to-face session. Many companies are going to the remote working path. With these new technologies, they are able to do what any company can do in person. Keep your cubicle! We don't need it!

A Designer's Perspective

designer-perspective |

Designers have quite the stereotype of being super trendy nerds who use nothing but products from Apple and dress like hipsters. Did I take that too far? Being more of a designer myself (though I do code, so you can call me a unicorn as I've explained earlier), I will say that this stereotype is a load of crap. Yes, I do own more products from Apple than your average Joe, but I do make mega use of them for the work I do. They are better geared toward a designer like myself and that is why I chose them out of the plethora of computers and devices out there.

Our Role In The Web World

Designers don't just make things look pretty. We work to develop platforms, libraries, standards, patterns, user interfaces, and more in which developers then translate to code. Our job is to solve problems and to make users not have to think. We define the experience and guide you through your process on a website or application rather than make you find your own way. If we didn't you would tear your hair out. No joke.

The Way We Think

Designers are critical thinkers. We like to do things differently each time and/or find new ways to solve problems. We are also very picky. If something isn't coded up to our spec you can bet you're going to hear about it. Being different sets us apart and makes us feel authentic which is what we strive for. Why is this? I'm not so sure. But I think that strive is what makes us designers and not someone else. The feeling of creating something that makes an impact on something is the driving force for most of us. People like to feel good when using a product or experiencing branding and if our design produces that feeling, then our job as a designer has been done correctly.

How We Compose Ourselves

A lot of designers are quiet souls. We play the introverted card and are completely content with being independent and free to do our own thing. While this makes our creativity soar, it also decreases optimal communication with others.

My name is Andy Leverenz, and I am an introvert. Yes, it's true, I would much rather hang out alone or with my significant other rather than go to a party or big event and socialize. That's just who I am. You may be different and that's okay. The key thing I had to learn to do was perfect my ability to explain my ideas verbally as well as talk to potential clients. People don't always understand the things you create and in doing so you need to guide them through your work to open their ideas to your idea. After many tries, failures, and a few successes you learn to find your own way of communicating that you can be satisfied with.

As the web world continues to grow, more and more different types of designers are coming out to play. These days, there are extroverts, introverts, and anything in between in charge of design for major corporations, startups and many (more than ever) even working for themselves.

A Developer's Perspective


A developer loves to build things. Assembling and dismantling until they find their own efficient way to complete a task is their typical drive. My own experience in the development world has taught me that quality counts. If your code is shit then you can bet the work you get will be shit.

Developers are also critical thinkers though they aren't so much concerned with aesthetics or user experience as designers. Their focus is more on the technical aspect of a website or application. Things such as code languages, rendering time, efficiency, tools, task-runners, and more are a common subject matter to any given developer.

Our Role In The Web World

Developers make things work. Back in the day, a developers main role was to take static designs, slice them up and code them into HTML-based web pages. These days, there are many new languages at hand as well as many devices to consider as they build so developers look to designers more for style guides and user experience recommendations than actual tangible Photoshop based documents to slice and dice.

Keep in mind that every developer is different. One may know technology like Ruby On Rails while another may be a Node guru. With this in mind, developers often work in teams to achieve better results and share knowledge with one another. Some teams work in an agile setting where smaller sprints of tasks are to be done on a week to week basis for example. This paradigm is often beneficial in SaaS types of products available on the web today as frequent updates are crucial to any platform using that model. If you have Facebook on your phone you may notice they update the app every two weeks.

The Way We Think

I admit, I'm more of a designer, but I do play the developer role very often. In that mindset, I'll say that as a developer I tend to think in a way that is more cautious to change but also very critical. While I'm all for pushing the limit with technology I always try to remember that I am building a website or app which has to keep universal characteristics. That means it has to work only practically any newer device and browser out there today. Some things I always try to optimize and ask myself about any given project are:

  • What technology or languages are being utilized here?
  • Is the site responsive and/or does it have a mobile-based website?
  • How does it look in Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, and yes Internet Explorer?
  • How is page speed?
  • How many requests are being made to resources around the web? Can we cut down on them?
  • Is the production code minified and optimized to the full potential?
  • Are the images being optimized?
  • Is the site or app setup for Retina devices?

Developers are critical thinkers like designers, but we also are a little lazy when it comes to perfect styles. I myself am a perfectionist in this department and like to make sure my designs are accurately built, but I have come across some developers who make an interface look like it was made in under 5 minutes flat. Paying attention to detail isn't always a strong quite for us developers as we are typically more worried about function than form.

How We Compose Ourselves

Developers come in many breeds. Some are just plain whiz kids while others seem to possess the natural ability to write code like it's their native tongue. Then there are those of us who didn't know we could code and came to be by chance or just wanted to learn bad enough that it all just finally fell into place.

Many developers I've met are opinionated but also open to new ideas. Some will only utilize certain technology and be content with doing so while others strive to know about the latest and greatest things out there. These types of developers won't stop until they are competing with the best.

We get the common nerd or geek stereotype but as the world is being taken over by tech companies and entrepreneurs, more and more people are transitioning into developers as the web or app is their means of making money. What was once a hobby or idea for most became a full-time position at a great company for many. To put it into perspective, this is basically how Facebook was born.

How Designers and Developers can Work Together

As I mentioned earlier both designers and developers are critical thinkers. Combining forces can lead to great results that really push the limits of today's web or app world. Designers can come up with a plan of attack and consult with developers to make sure their ideas can come to life. Developers can keep a designer grounded and educated on the technology in place which will help them provide the best experience possible. When all things align there is a constant stream of design and code that mold together a new creation that sometimes amazes ourselves.

This team is a strong one. Even if you are both a designer and developer you can use your knowledge and expertise to craft something great. As with anything, you get better with practice. If your team is new to each other there will be some growing pains, but once you find the right fit there's no telling the boundaries you can push.

Do you work as a designer or developer? What's your experience working in a team setting or do you work on your own as a unicorn? Let us know in the comments!

Image(s) credit Startup Stock Photos

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