Bridging the Divide

There is occasionally a divide that separates designers and developers, and it can be the source of friction during a project. Inevitably, it results in a ‘us versus them’ mentality originating from a lack of knowledge, failure to communicate, or lack of collaboration. To exacerbate matters, design and development teams are often segregated to opposing sides of the office or even by geographical location. We can effectively bridge this divide to not only improve the experience of working together but to produce better work.

Knowledge

Knowledge is key to understanding. An increase in knowledge directly affects how designers and developers communicate, and in turn how effectively we collaborate.

Obtain an Overlap

An effective method for bridging the divide between design and development teams is to have an overlap of knowledge. This doesn’t mean as a designer you must also be a skilled front-end developer, but understanding the principles will help to inform our work and how it will eventually be developed. Likewise, a developer doesn’t need to be a skilled user interface designer, but a working knowledge of the fundamentals like typography or design principles can provide helpful insight into why designers request specific features and functionality.

A knowledge overlap will help us anticipate questions and provide solutions in advance, communicate in terminology that each team members understands, and ultimately strengthens our work by allowing us to work more efficiently. The end result is we free up time to focus on the details that improve the overall user experience.

Communication

Communication is the most vital component of any team. Effective communication will help to ensure that design and development team members are sharing knowledge and that collaboration is efficient.

Define Goals and Process

Without proper planning, it can take a team well into a project before they find a process that works for everyone. Unfortunately this means that up until that point, the efficiency of the team wasn’t optimal. Details like project goals, principles, and specifications pertaining to deliverables such as file handoff and interaction states are prime examples of things to define early between design and development team members. The earlier your team can align on an agreed upon set of project goals and process, the quicker it can avoid miscommunication and be productive.

Fortunately, we work in a time when there are many tools available to help streamline our workflows and how designers and developers work together. Tools such as Invision provide the ability to quickly prototype and demonstrate project flow, while tools like Zeplin can be of tremendous value for documenting the finer details of designs. When paired with programs like Sketch, these tools integrate seamlessly and make the project documentation effortless.

Create Communication Channels

Opening the channel for direct communication not only eliminates work for project managers, but allows for design and development team members to resolve issues more efficiently. What’s the best way to enable direction communication amongst team members? This is achievable by having daily team meetings in the form of stand-ups or scrum meetings, opening a dedicated channel with tools like Slack, and fostering a culture of open communication by encouraging team members to engage with others directly.

Review Periodically

All too often, quality assurance doesn’t happen until the end, which leads to the development team most likely becoming overwhelmed with bug fixes and task in the backlog due to a shortage of time. A much wiser approach to reviewing a product is to test quality early and often, where items can be addressed sooner and the snowball affect mitigated or avoided altogether. Instead of waiting for one large QA at the end of development, try quality reviews after each sprint or page is completed. This will ensure that reviews are less overwhelming, and can have the return effect of reducing total QA items over time by addressing issues early that otherwise would snowball into larger ones.

Collaboration

Collaboration is the cornerstone to a successful team. Through collaboration, designers and developers work together to ensure the final product is the best possible quality.

Get Involved

Perhaps the most effective method in closing the divide between design and development teams is to simply involve the developers in the design process as early as possible. If discovery whiteboard sessions are part of your process, then development team members should be in room. When your team reviews wireframes, sitemaps or design mockups, then developers should be right there in the mix. And finally, when anything is being shown to the client, the development team should be represented.

The reason for this is because the insight that developers will provide is invaluable for how design on the project will evolve. Their knowledge can and should help shape the experience, and it also serves as a check and balance measure to ensure that ideas are aligned with technical limitations. It is a mutual beneficial method of inclusion that developers appreciate, and will help to ensure that the transition from pixels to code is smooth.

Make a Style Guide

A style guide can provide many benefits for a team, including a means of documenting established design patterns in order to remain consistent and systematic, making testing easier, and providing a foundation for future growth. Perhaps most importantly, style guides help to align design and development team members on a common design language by isolating the elements that make up the interface in a central location. It is a check and balance measure that is mutually beneficial and one that promotes an understanding of each other’s discipline. In turn, design will stay grounded in the patterns that have been established and reduce design fragmentation, therefore reducing development time and making the end user experience more consistent.

Be Flexible

Last but certainly not least, it is important to be flexible. This means being open to other opinions, even if those opinions differ from your own. Being flexible doesn’t mean that design should be compromised: compromising design quality should never happen, but finding middle ground on how to approach a problem is vital for a successful end product. Being respectful and considerate to those whom have a different perspective will not only strengthen the end product, but will promote collaboration and flexibility from other team members as well.


We’ve looked at the three factors behind the designer/developer divide: lack of knowledge, failure to communicate, and lack of collaboration. These factors have a dynamic relationship and by improving one, you can have an affect on the others. Likewise, a failure in one factor can have an adverse effect to them all. By balancing all three through the strategies we’ve outlined, the divide that separates designers and developers can be effectively bridged, resulting in an improved working relationship and better end results.