A couple of weeks ago, a series of talks inside Futurice called
Friendship without limits – UX <3 Frontend
that led on to hands-on workshops, were arranged, in turn, by front-end developers and designers. The idea of realising these workshops had been around for quite some time; an opportunity to learn from each other in order to become better professionals. And while these workshops were great for enhancing cross-disciplinary expertise and breaking out of professional boundaries, they have also once more fueled a debate that has been going on for years: generalists versus specialists.
I am writing these following thoughts from the perspective of a UX designer who has come to believe that designers that know how to code and developers who accumulate some design knowledge will communicate effectively and hence work more efficiently.
Generalists versus Specialists
Considering the debate in general, it is fair to say that this debate is nothing new and has been actively discussed for years. Whereas specialization is arguably beneficial in developing one’s own professional core expertise (like the designer’s drive for true innovation and making the user central by identifying and solving user’s needs), designers and developers will face contradictions and conflicts in finding satisfactory, balanced compromises and solutions. A designer, whilst keeping a holistic project view, aims at creating proposals that consider usability and interaction constraints while being detached from solely technical ones. A seasoned UX designer should understand the intersection of these interdisciplinary elements and consider the bigger picture, looking after the users needs and wants at the same time. Actively and effectively working on resolving those possible conflicts is the way forward for efficient and successful collaboration.
So when it comes to UX designers, knowing what code does and knowing how to code are two very different things. Rather, we should consider that designers must know the capabilities and limits of the media they are designing for (Davide Casali). Knowing how to code certainly helps to build that knowledge. As designs go beyond static images and have functionality and multi-faceted responses and interactions built into them, current debates around responsive workflows (Stephen Hay) and the living web (Dan Chan) show that communication tools are outdated, often leaving developers confused about the designers’ original intentions. And while ‘Designers are not programmers’ (Lukas Mathis), building interfaces instead of just picturing and explaining them – and hence stepping closer towards each other through knowledge and skills enabling code-based prototypes – will improve communication and ensure better overall results from the development effort.
Collaboration between smart people
Designers who, by wanting to learn about code, have a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the media designed for, will more often than not make smarter choices. Front-end developers who seek a sensitivity and talent for crafting highly usable user interfaces and have a declared interest in creating a good user experience and learning about the work that goes ahead of the UI will also make smarter decisions. We believe the best results come from the friction of achieving complementary goals and the synergy of bringing those disciplines together effectively. At the end of the day, there are different layers of user experience, that sit on a continuum between the pixel and the person (Leisa Reichelt).
What it really comes down to is effective communication and collaboration. The goal is to have smart people effectively communicating with and understanding each other to produce a much better final product (Colin Barrett). Designers should be able to use code to communicate their designs and intentions in order to better collaborate with the people who build it.
So whether it’s for the love of pixels or the love of code, for designer and developers to know more about each other is necessary to make their individual contributions work together in magical ways. We believe in collaboration between smart people. We have a lot more work to do as there is a huge demand for even smarter collaboration between designers and developers, so we’ll keep on sharing the love. Will you?