Think of developers as users too

UX designers are skilled at designing for the user’s needs; at empathising with them and testing to ensure that things really work. We’re also good at understanding business objectives and marrying them with those user goals when planning digital products. But occasionally I come across UX designers who don’t make so much of an effort to understand the development team that they are going to pass wireframes and visual designs on to. This can result in all sorts of issues; in the worst cases the designs can be badly degraded or even abandoned altogether if they don’t work for the backend team. Luckily we are really well placed to deal with this situation. All it takes is to re-focus some of the user-facing skills we practice at the research phase and train them on the development team instead.

So here are some things we can do:

  • Meet face-to-face early on and listen to the developers. What are their pain points and concerns?
  • If possible, try to meet developers in their place of work or in an informal setting. Sitting round a boardroom table can reinforce the ‘us and them’ feeling and people can clam up.
  • Sometimes clients or partners will send a ‘Technical Director’ to project meetings. But it is important to meet with the developers who will actually be doing the coding. A visit to the development team’s offices may help overcome this.
  • Send early sketches or prototypes to developers as soon as possible and ask for their views. This avoids last minute surprises.
  • Include developers in sketching workshops or other stakeholder meetings
  • Be open-minded and listen to developers just as you would listen to users or to the client CEO. They may have a great idea about how to solve a UI problem. Sometimes just listening to their views can re-assure them.
  • Include developers in user testing sessions. Just as it is for high-level client stakeholders, this can be massively powerful.

Remember, developers are generally just as interested in designing stuff that works as we are. Actually, the rise of UX design should help to bring designers closer to developers. In my experience development teams respond really well to the research and interaction design part of the process, perhaps more so than branding or purely aesthetic issues.

When we work in separate teams, developers are the real ‘users’ of our designs in a very real sense. So we should practice user-centered design on them too!

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