A business partner quipped this on a recent phone call, and he was spot on. SOMEONE has to decide where things go on the screen. Is it the software developer, product manager, the CEO, or a designer?
Out of necessity, sometimes team members are asked to wear different hats beyond what they were hired to do. We’ve all been in that situation where we’re winging it and doing the best we can. However, when is the hat important enough that only someone qualified to do it, should?
I have two engineering degrees with a solid software, IT, and hardware background, and have been coding since I was a kid in the 1980’s. In various professional roles, software development has been an aspect of my responsibilities. Even with my technical experience, I can’t pretend to hold a candle to software developers who develop day-in, day-out. Technologies change so quickly, the state of the art practices continue to be upgraded…I am in no position to wear that hat – not without a lot of training and experience. I am liable to cause more harm than good in that role.
Why developers shouldn’t design…
“Someone’s gonna decide where to put that button.”Joe A.
Many companies who develop software ask developers to wear the UX/UI designer hat. It may not be an explicit request, but decisions about user workflows, screen layouts, styling, etc. are left with the last team holding the baton – the development team. Here’s why this is a bad idea:
1. You’ll get dev-centered design, by default
In the field of UX design, there’s a concept of human-centered design, where the experience of the user…the person, is the primary experience designed for. However, when developers make user experience decisions, they err towards whatever is the most efficient to implement in the code. After all, developers are pressured to get features out the door. You can’t blame them one bit.
2. It slows down development
When a developer has to stop developing to instead decide how a feature should look in the UI, a workflow should function, or even what color elements should be, that’s time not spent developing. Even worse, this detour takes them out of their flow – their groove, which requires time to return to. The cost of context switches adds up.
3. It makes developers unhappy
Every developer I’ve ever spoken with – and I know many – are most fulfilled when developing. Most other job activities cause work stress and anxiety. Why? Because developers are always the last ones before features are out the door. They are constantly hounded with the question, “when is feature X going to be done?” So forcing extra duties upon them, such as UI/UX design decisions – isn’t what they’re trained for, and slows them down from delivering.
Why designers should design…
By contrast, when companies engage UI/UX designers in the product development process, design just doesn’t “happen”, but is intentional and creates a host of benefits to the product and team. Here’s why having UX/UI designers design your software is a great idea:
1. It’s what they do all day long
It’s not a side-gig or a hobby; UI/UX design is what designers do all day long, and great ones are very robust. In a fraction of the time it will take a developer to figure out how to layout the page, the designer has already evaluated various options for web and mobile responsiveness, ensured the page adheres to modern design patterns and usability practices, and planned for future extensibility so entire screens won’t have to be reworked when anticipated features are eventually built.
2. Development and QA will speed up
When developers and QA receive detailed high-fidelity UI/UX designs (and better yet, accompanied by user stories and test cases), developing the code and testing the features are the only work remaining. No need to pause for design decisions or stall for user workflow questions which were already worked out in UX. Developers can just develop, and QA will have the final designs and tests in hand to check the implementation against.
3. Your customer experience is always front and center
Today’s UI/UX designers are tasked with balancing many goals, including addressing business-oriented objectives or KPIs, handling technology restrictions, and more. However, the user’s experience – likely a dominant facet of your customer’s experience, will always remain paramount. After all, the designer, similar to your product manager, is foremost the advocate for the needs of the user / customer.
When it comes to software product development, these two statements remain true:
- Design will happen.
- The design will affect your customer experience, and reflect on your brand.
So in your organization, consider if design is a hat left to someone to manage, or an intentional effort that brings clarity to your customer’s experience and efficiency to your team.