Sep 17, 2018

How to Foster Collaboration Between Designers and Developers

The traditional web agency workflow has been defined by handoffs – the project manager hands off the design brief to the designer, who hands that off to the developers, who hand it back to the project manager, who presents it to the client, who have changes and edits; then the whole cycle starts over again. This cycle is reliable, predictable, and it makes sense to everyone involved. Everyone knows their place and when they would be working on a given project. What doesn’t work in this traditional approach to building a website is precisely what made it desirable - the siloing of duties, the reliable nature of knowing what you’re responsible for and only what you’re responsible for. By following this approach you create an environment where designers and developers are only responsible for the execution of a product rather than equal stakeholders in the project; these people should be seen as equals on the project and included from the start. This creates an environment of shared understanding across the project team and fosters a collaborative environment where the entire project team is working together to accomplish the client’s goals.

Fostering a collaborative environment:

If siloing project responsibilities isn’t what we want, then what is? Creating a project structure that fosters collaboration, where all departments involved on a project have detailed knowledge of the client, the project, and the goals. Ideally you’ll want all project team members collaborating from the start, everyone on the project team should have input on the project itself. Questions like: “What’s the best solution for this visual component”, or “How should this aspect of the site be programmed” and “How does this functionality affect what is designed” can all be addressed immediately in the process of creation and not after the fact once decisions have been made and approved. Sussing out these problems early and often creates efficiencies that do not always exist if your departments aren’t communicating with one another.

Designers that are developers?

Why not? Your designers don’t need to be programmers but having designers that know how a website is constructed with HTML, CSS & Javascript is a benefit that is hard to ignore. If a designer has an idea that might be difficult to execute or explain with only a design tool, they can build it, test it and work with the dev to see if it’s feasible within the parameters of the project. All of this can happen before a client sees the proposed design, and what’s better than proposing a design that looks great? A design that looks great, works well, and can actually be coded, because you’ve already solved the problem.

The more you collaborate in the creation of the product the better it will turn out. Start by collaborating on small things – doing this frequently makes it easier to collaborate on everything else. Anticipating and mitigating potential issues ahead of time leads to better outcomes because you are problem solving in the moment.

More meetings?

An important aspect to achieving a more collaborative workflow is to meet frequently. You don’t have to gather the whole team to talk about how a button should animate, but a quick 5 minute discussion sitting next to one another can make a big difference. If you’ve got bigger questions to answer, you can quickly create an environment for knowledge sharing between the team and your client by using User Story Mapping. User story mapping focuses on the end user experience of how someone will use your product as opposed to how it’s built, it’s a collaborative environment that allows everyone to provide insight into how the product can be built in the most lean and efficient way.

Dedicated Teams

Working in dedicated teams can also help. If your teams are created by project and change on a regular basis, consider that creating dedicated teams of project managers, designers, developers, and digital marketers can really make a difference. Working in a dedicated team structure creates efficiencies and makes collaborating easier – you are constantly working with the same people and on the same projects. It creates predictability and reliability for your projects because over time collaboration becomes second nature. It also creates predictability and reliability for your clients because they know they will be talking to and collaborating with the same group of people every time they talk.

Tools to help your team foster collaboration between design and development: