The most common mistake engineers make during the designer-developer handoff

4 min read
Ben Nadel  •  Jan 8, 2020
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In my tenure as an engineer at InVision, I’ve seen many mistakes made throughout the development process (some of them my own.) Usually, though, the worst mistakes happen during the designer-developer handoff. While I’d love to believe a prototype ensures success (especially as an InVision employee), this isn’t always the case. We often forget that designing a prototype is just one step in the process. There’s no doubt that it’s an invaluable step, but it’s important to remember it’s just one of many. Here’s why:

Handoffs aren’t a moment in time, but a process

In the engineering world, we often talk about prototypes as being “passed over the wall,” the handoff metaphorically positioned as a singular event marking the end of the “design process” and the beginning of the “engineering process.” The problem with this mindset is that product creation is not an assembly line, but a collaboration. When engineers and designers don’t have the opportunity to continually bring their different skills and perspectives to the table, it jeopardizes a product.

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We all work for the user

While designers and engineers may work on different teams with differing day-to-day objectives, we must remember who all products are really for: the user. Everyone must work and advocate for them. Performance is just as important to a user as any feature on a prototype, and engineers must remember their insights are just as important as designers.

Many times, I’ve seen engineers stick to a design, even when it hinders a product’s performance, because they think a prototype is “Absolute Truth.” Or, even when they deviate from the design, they don’t explain the changes to designers. These missed collaborations translate into missed edge-cases, ignored empty states, and unnecessary or impossible features making it into final products.

All information is valid and needed

Engineers must remember that, although designers may have robust thought processes and intense familiarity with a product, they’re only human and can’t possibly know everything. Some important information may only come about during implementation. Engineers need to feel empowered to make the necessary changes only they can make.

Collaboration starts early and often

Many times, this stepping-on-toes feeling stems from collaboration not being baked into the design process. Ideally, engineers are involved early—to provide sanity checks and additional perspectives—and continues often. Unfortunately, though, engineers don’t usually have control over early involvement (if they even know that ideation is taking place).

As such, engineers must be diligent about promoting collaboration on their end of the product life-cycle: After receiving the design assets, they must feel free to go back to designers for more information and clarifying details.

It all boils down to this: If there’s something you don’t understand: Ask. If there’s something you think may be a mistake: Flag it. There’s no such thing as having “too much clarity.” Your users will appreciate it.

[Loved this post? Read the unabridged version “Common Mistakes That Engineers Make During The Designer-Developer Hand-Off” on Ben’s blog.