When it comes to designer-developer collaboration, these are 3 of the biggest issues:
Lack of alignment
Designers and developers need to be on the same page from day one—that includes naming conventions, tools, and processes. When designers do things one way and developers do things their own way, projects take longer, people get frustrated, and the end result is never as good as it could have been.
Bottlenecks in delivery
A lack of synchronization between teams can lead to inefficiencies in allocation of time and resources. Before each development sprint, designers have to create mockups, collect user feedback, revise their designs, and then share designs with the developers.
Once developers start coding it, designers have to wait until the dev team creates the actual interface, and then work through the feedback. This means designers not only have to work one sprint ahead, they need to simultaneously sort issues in backlog designs while creating new ones. It creates a system where one stakeholder is constantly waiting for the other and inadvertently leads to an “us versus them” attitude.
“Designers and developers need to be on the same page from day one.”
No central hub
Tracking changes in design and code over multiple communication channels creates an ineffective system. It can be difficult for designers and developers to be on the same page if they have to keep referring to each other’s deployments on different tools and then pushing notifications to each other for tracking activity. The lack of a central system hurts productivity on both sides.
One of the easiest solutions is to just have everybody sit together, but that’s not exactly possible when you’re a remote worker. With more and more companies going fully remote or giving employees the option to work remotely, it’s not uncommon for design and engineering teams to be located across different time zones.
So, let’s get to it: here are 4 ways for remote designers and developers to close in on better collaboration.
1. Communicate early and often—in fact, over-communicate
The greatest challenge of working remotely? Communication!
Think about all the back and forth that happens during IRL meetings—you’re able to see people’s faces, their reactions, and hear their tone of voice. It’s tough to replicate that when you’re not in the same room.
That’s why communication tools are key for remote teams. For meetings, choose a tool you can rely on like Google Hangouts or Zoom—and then encourage everyone on the call to turn on their video, not just audio, so people can get more context by seeing faces and reactions. Make sure everybody—especially anyone who’s shy or quiet—has a chance to give feedback, share info, and ask questions.
“When in doubt, over-communicate.”
For designing and developing, tools like InVision, Dropbox Paper, and zipBoard allow teams to get context and background information regarding mockups, prototypes, and finished products. Being able to converse in real time and exchange feedback quickly results in better collaboration.
Find tools your whole team can agree on—and then use them.
2. Make things accessible for the whole team
It’s no secret that the best teams in the world use design systems. If you don’t have a design system in place, your team probably isn’t on the same page. You may even already have one in place without knowing it, though.
Investing in a design system helps in both the short and long term. In the short term, teams have one single place where they can go to for all their design elements and style guides. Designers can store all the elements—buttons, fonts, UI components, etc.—in a single location, simplifying handoffs. Changes are reflected clearly and developers can see all the assets they need to implement.
“Design systems help shape the vision of your product.”
In the long term, design systems help with maintainability, organization, and scalability. They help shape the vision of your product and create a distinct visual identity. Yours should include things like the consistent color patterns that accentuate elements in your product, or the typeface combinations implemented across the platform.
3. Keep the user in mind
Designers and developers should always work with their users in mind.
A user-centric design process makes it easier to resolve ambiguity and keeps the process focused. If there’s a doubt about features that have to be implemented or what should be prioritized, the user’s voice serves as the ideal way to sort out differences. While this is true for teams whether they’re remote or co-located, how can teams get users to come in for user tests when they aren’t even in the same place themselves? Teams can still invest in collecting user feedback and monitoring behavior through remote tests, heatmaps, session recordings, and surveys. Hotjar and CrazyEgg are great options.
Zapier, which is a fully remote company, exemplifies this approach. Everyone—including developers, designers, data scientists, and marketing folks—at Zapier participates in customer support. By interacting one-on-one with their users, every team member empathizes with how the product directly impacts their needs.
“Never forget that we’re trying to make the user’s life easier.”
4. Include active stakeholders in meetings
For the sake of people’s time and productivity, teams should only invite active stakeholders to meetings. Too many cooks in the kitchen isn’t a good thing, even when it comes to building products.
The result of carefully choosing who goes to meetings results in faster feedback loops, and faster feedback loops lead to quicker action and facilitate a lean setup.
Companies like Basecamp, that are almost entirely remote, go one step further by having cross-functional teams of only 2–3 people. This can include a developer and a designer, or 2 developers and 1 designer. That’s it.
Now go and embrace remote collaboration
As operations scale and products reach a global audience, teams have become more distributed, requiring them to adapt the way they work so they can be just as effective as if they were in the same room. Having a setup in place that allows everyone to collaborate and communicate effectively will not only boost productivity but also allow ideas and perspectives to come in from a broader canvas.