Designers and developers need to make code not war

Like each other or not, designers and developers need to get along; here’s some advice from those who’ve made it work on how to do that

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If these two can get along, surely designers and developers can too

Image credit: flickr/normanack

For as long as designers and developers have been working together, they’ve been trying to figure out how to get along. For the most part, it’s been like making cats and dogs or oil and water or the coyote and roadrunner work together, closely, on a daily basis. Achieving a lasting peace between these two disparate groups seems about as likely as attaining long term peace in the middle east.

Still, it’s a topic that both sides tackle frequently in an effort to bridge the gap. Of course, there are designers and developers who do get along and work well together. While the keys to these successful collaborations aren’t really Earth-shattering, they’re worth revisiting once in a while to remind everyone that it can be done. 

Based on my own (generally really good) experiences as a developer working with designers, and based on what others have shared, here are some keys to making the designer/developer relationship work. 

Frequent communication

Like any relationship, the more communication you have the better. Letting each other know what you’re working on, what problems you’re having and what is or isn’t working will let both sides feel informed, interested and valued. Also, asking each other for their input on problems, even in your discipline, can be beneficial to everyone.

Try taking your project counterpart to lunch some time. Trade war stories about hard-to-find memory allocation bugs or the perils of writing CSS for Internet Explorer. You might find that you learn something from one another and that your project team will be stronger because of it.
Andy Lester

I don’t know how often programmers would go to a designer for help solving a problem or the other way around, but it’s actually pretty beneficial.... Asking someone outside the area of expertise will certainly yield answers you would never think of.
Dave Stein

Understand what the other does

Many people recommend each side spend some time actually learning some of the other’s skills. If designers can learn about writing code and developers can learn something about design (and information architecture and user experience, for that matter), it will be easier to speak each other’s language and understand all the issues. 

If you’re working with a designer or engineer, it would be nice to at least have a basic — even just surface — understanding of what is involved in their work. Ask questions, do some research, try to find out more. Everyone will get along a little better.
Joshua Gross

Even learning the basics of HTML and CSS ... would be a step in the right direction and foster empathy towards the work that developers do. Again, looking at the opposite, I believe that developers should also take one or two design classes.
Jesse Synder

Figure out the best way to work together

The line of demarcation between job responsibilities of designers and developers (particularly in web development) has become increasingly blurred. Some designers like doing HTML or CSS markup and some don’t. Some developers prefer to cut up images themselves, others don’t want to bother. Find out what works best between you, given your interests and skills and try to make each other’s job easier.

Slice up your own artwork. Some developers prefer to do this on their own, but you may find that if you do it well and understand what they need, this could be a hugely beneficial addition to your process.
Brent LaRue

...the easier you make your developer’s job, the easier he or she will make yours.
Mel Woodward

Have patience

Another generally good rule for any relationship is being patient. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s good to remind yourself of this often. 

Avoiding mistakes is impossible – skip being mad and just find the solution together.
Dave Stein

Communication, mutual respect and empathy go a long way towards fixing this problem.
Art Duszynski

Simple, right? Now go out there and get along!

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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