Aug 18, 2018

3 min read

The Rise of User/Design-Centric Developers.

If my one year as a Product Designer has taught me anything, it's how to fight (not physically, more like a quarrel really) with developers. I was taught to be very assertive about my design and never to let the monsters (that is the devs) change my design because devs can be very cunning and they are known for cutting corners. Unfortunately for me, my role in this project is what we at Slalom call a “Solution Owner”. A Solution Owner is simply one that owns the solution. I know what’s going on in your head right now — “Dami, are you going to give me more than that” — stay with me, I got you.

A Solution Owner is what we call a “Purple Unicorn”. S/he owns the solution (which in this case is a software product) by wearing many hats. The three major hats the Solution Owner (SO) wears is that of a Project Manager, a Scrum Master and a Business Analyst. They actually do more than that but this is a quick explanation of what the SO does. So for the past 11 weeks, I’ve been leading/managing a team of interns, who are predominantly developers. We were tasked with a project that required us to build a product from ground up, but that’s not the focus of this post.

“Dami, can you get to the point?”, I’m almost there just stay with me. So the reason why I decided to write this post is because I saw something really important that is not all that common. I was made to believe that devs are very logical people and that’s why a large percentage of them cannot design to save their lives. Devs are very popular for challenging designs because “The action is very intuitive, and the user should know what they are doing”, or at least that’s what I was taught and had experienced with older devs.

What struck me was that while building the product, the devs would occasionally call my attention to design mistakes — affordances, signifiers, constraints and feedback that they believed was omitted, and mapping that wasn’t done properly — the devs were using proper design principles and they didn’t even know it. The devs were challenging the UI/UX designer and they mostly won. At the end of the day, the product was truly remarkable and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if they hadn’t brought these issues up.

What amazed me the most was the way they phrased the challenges, “If I were the user, I wouldn’t know how to use this….”, “I don’t think the user will be able to see this properly…”, etc. It was truly amazing to me, so much so that I had to bring it to their attention. I then discovered that they had never taken a design class in their lives, and that was what was even more amazing. “Okay Dami, what should I do with this now?”, learn from it my dear devs and to my fellow designers, don’t fight your devs. It was a beautiful experience and I think everyone needs to experience it at some point, really.

In summary:

  • Dear devs, it is possible for you to be designed/user-centric when writing code, and I encourage you to try it out. It’s really important for you guys to understand design because there is high demand for design/user-centric developers and there will continue to be one (at least for the next 10 years).
  • Dear devs, the design of a product is as important as the product itself so work with your designers to make it amazing.
  • Dear devs, the point of you building a product is for it to be used, so don’t assume that the user knows things/ is as logical as you because they really aren’t.
  • Dear designer, work with your devs, beautiful things happen when you work in harmony with them and receive the criticisms well. This honestly changed my perspective to things and I just thought to share it with you guys. I hope you learnt something from it.

Emotionally touchy user researcher that likes to blog about her experiences and how to make the most of life.

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