Why Designers need Developers, and vice-versa


I read a biographical interview today on a popular design blog with a Senior User Experience Designer at Google. Google is a pretty big deal, as you know. They reported over $10B in profit last year. The people that work there know what they are doing.
So this very well paid, very highly skilled designer gives an interview about his immersion in Human-Computer Interaction from a very young age (he watched his father repair arcade machines in Poland as a child) and how he came to this top position in the industry. And then says something very unique:

“For me, a lot of the day is spent staring at a computer.”

Well, that was standard for web designers, the next part is not.

“In my case, it’s a lot of HTML5, so some kind of text editor is in front of me — or, in some cases, Photoshop. I’ve spent so much time in HTML5 that it’s actually easy for me to just treat it as a design tool.”

Usually there is a stark division between Photoshop workers and coders, and the individuals with both really are delicate snowflakes and special talents. Failing to be a web wunderkind or prodigy, most people have to settle into expertise in one role or the other. But even the most secluded programmer should have a sense of the importance of design, just as any designer worth his salt will recognize the challenge and triumph of really good code.

Some designers think that they can operate ex nihilo, creating from nothing based on their own style and taste, and then throw the design over the proverbial wall to a nameless “programmer”. That programmer must then decipher and imagine without support how that image is supposed to operate as a interactive webpage. Some programmers prefer to not interact with projects in the design phase, thinking it’s out of their expertise.

The client and the users are the victims in this type of interaction. They suffer from the arrogance and ignorance of both, and the website is less educational, informational, and sales converting than it could have been or should have been.

This problem is one reason we work in cross disciplinary teams. And why designers need to be immersed in the web to be effective. And why developers need exposure to good design to stay sharp. I’ll say with certainty: final products improve when the people building them have breadth of expertise and depth in their field.

We have worked with outside designers most successfully when we come in early as developers, and most successful with developers when we involve them in design. Doing both in-house makes this process even easier. As we grow, our teams shift and change, but we should never lose sight of the fact that what you learned in grade school is still true: two heads are better than one.