Effective Collaboration for Agile Development Teams: UIUX Designers & Developers
There was a time in all our lives when projects held a very different priority than they do now. Turn back the clock a bit, tumble down the rabbit hole, and remember what things were like back in middle school, high school, elementary. Your grades were on the line, sure, but in the grand scheme of your experience this group project about a handful of selected Founding Fathers would be nothing more than a blip on your radar.
In hindsight, there was never a sincere direness to whether you completed your portion of the project or not. You could let the smart kid handle all the work, or maybe you were the smart kid saddled with pulling your classmate’s weight, and every now and then you could actually wind up with a group that shared the burden. One way or another, single-handedly or not, the project would get done.
Now fast forward, back to the present, where everything changes and stays exactly the same. You’ve traded up from projects on the solar system and now focus on software development. Your grade may no longer be in jeopardy, but this is a field you’ve chosen to specialize in, you’re expected to do your job and do it well. Plus, you’re getting paid for it, that didn’t happen back in junior high.
Learning how to work in a team, to be a part of a larger whole, is not actually something that’s ever taught in school to any meaningful degree. You’re more or less tossed in the water for a decade and eventually you’ll find your floaties. While being a contributing member of any team may seem candid at face value, fully grasping how to effectively collaborate between two different teams is a different story.
See, building a team that works harmoniously together across different disciplines like design and development can be… challenging. The process is usually a bumpy one because the two departments are, at some level, disconnected. They don’t speak the same language (sometimes literally), they have different educational backgrounds, they simply do and believe things differently, and so on so forth.
Collaboration is a learned skill. Communicating, developing, and working with people from different disciplines is a vital part of what makes the company’s clock tick. In order to deliver great software and amazing products, multidisciplinary software development teams must take part in effective communication amongst each other.
The Difference Between Design & Development
On any given software development project, you’re gonna find it split between two camps: designers and developers, both contributing to the UIUX whole. UI stands for User Interface; they provide the structure, look, and visuals your users will be interacting with. UX stands for User Experience; they provide the functionality, feedback, and experience of the project.
We’ll start with what makes UIUX designers important to the process. An easy parallel to compare the designer camp to is the architect of the app: they won’t do the actual building, but they’ll make the blueprints necessary to carry it to completion.
UIUX designers are charged with creating the look and feel of the project by extracting the idea and user requirements and translating them into wireframes (the aforementioned blueprint). It’s the base responsibility, but there’s more to it than that, as you’ll find that UIUX designers work primarily on digital products. Ultimately, they are there to ensure that the final product is functional while giving users a seamless experience, always prioritizing the needs, problems, and emotions of the end users.
Your design engineers may specialize in UI, UX, or both, but they’re critical to designing the structure, functionality, and experience of your app. It’s all only on paper, however, until the product can be put into the hands of those who breathe life into it: developers.
If UIUX designers are the architects of a project, then the developers are the construction workers that put in the legwork bringing the vision to fruition. Developers are tasked to convert the wireframes created by the design team and turn them into real products. Instead of focusing on user experience or interface, developers concern themselves with what makes sense for the computer. The raw code itself needs to actually work in practice.
You can’t build a house without a plan of action, and any laid plan will remain on paper without the means to execute it. In the end, reality is one team cannot survive without the other - designers need developers as much as developers need designers. Their responsibilities may be different, but neither are greater than the other.
Tips for Effective Collaboration Between Designers & Developers
With a team comprised of two groups from different worlds, finding a way to mold a feasible work routine together may seem alien. The easiest thing to do is resort back to high school thinking, divvy up the work evenly, and let everyone do their work on their own time. It was a simple solution, and it might have worked then, but it definitely won’t cut it now.
We want to help. Like the title says, this is a guide to help these two separate camps mesh into a cohesive Agile software development team that prioritizes effective collaboration for a greater final product. The ideas pitched here may seem like common sense, but when have people ever been known to actively use common sense on a whim? Sometimes your mind slips a bit when you don’t have a handy online article to help organize your efforts.
Working Together From The Beginning
Can you imagine starting a project, only to realize that your partners are already five steps ahead of you? There’s no way that progress will go smoothly with your teams split from the start. The key you’ll find consistent throughout any project you work on is an open willingness to collaborate together from the very beginning. Bring the teams together and establish a baseline.
It’s imperative to learn the overall scope of the project and that each element of the team understands what is expected from them, as well as gauge the strength of each other’s capabilities. You can’t afford to be strangers working together, there’s no course but south that way. Collaboration between development and design since the project’s early stage and design process smoothes up the development process itself.
With an early start to collaboration, you’ll have more readily available opportunities to smooth wrinkles and exact input between both the developers and designers. For instance, developers can help designers know early on which parts of the design are feasible and which elements need to change or improve. Since there was early interaction between the two camps, these issues can be caught and resolved early before future time and energy is wasted.
Frequently pairing work together (working on the same element at the same time) will ensure everyone is on the same page and avoid further challenges along the way. It’s simple efficiency while providing avenues for smoother communication and closer knit relationships between team members.
Speaking of, relationships are an unavoidable and inextricable part of your project. Humans are a social species, we perform our best when we construct relationships with each other and unite for a common goal. The lone wolf stuff stays behind, can’t afford it.
Communication between designers and developers should not be limited to the realm of the project. Think about it, who did you work best with: your friends or the people you vaguely know from a grade below you? We’re not saying you’re required to establish friendships with your coworkers, but you need to establish something. You work better with people you know than people you don’t.
Essentially, you’re tasked with creating a culture of understanding amongst each other. This means you can’t be all business, you have to be social with your fellow team members: get acquainted, spend time together, invest time and effort to learn more about what your counterpart does. This will build trust and confidence among team members, and prevent unnecessary clashing whenever issues arise.
Giving Feedback The Right Way
Given the wrong perspective or approach, feedback can be a bit of a sensitive area. It makes sense to a degree, no one likes being corrected on what they’re doing wrong and what they should do to fix it. Everyone has an ego, and no one likes it being bruised.
But that’s the thing: that’s not the right perspective. Criticism and feedback are two concepts that are virtually indistinct from each other except in one way: when it’s solicited. Without getting too deep into semantics, getting feedback is of critical importance to finding out what is and isn’t working. When approached properly, feedback is fundamentally a positive force for any project, because every iota of information you receive as feedback can generate a new, better version of your project.
You can’t and shouldn’t be afraid of feedback, giving or receiving it. Rather than cringe and wait with anticipation for scathing reviews, engage your teammates and ask for their feedback. This will build camaraderie and reduce tension when conflicts arise. When you ask for feedback, not only are you giving your teammates an outlet to voice their opinions, it tells them that you respect them for their contribution.
It’s important to know how to provide feedback for both developers and designers. For developers, avoid vagueness and be precise about how things should be and function, as opposed to how things should look. You’re not describing how an art piece should look, you’re detailing how the machinations of a watch should function, essentially. Mechanics over appearance. When giving feedback to a designer, you should do the opposite and make things visual. They’re the graphics people, which means what the eyes can see is paramount to how they’re able to understand and implement what needs to be changed.
Learning Each Other’s Language
Every field of work develops its own special language, unique in their own microcosm within the broader spectrum of human language. Doctors, lawyers, software engineers, everyone has knowledge that can only be fully appreciated by those who share the same dictionary. That same rule of law comes into play between designers and developers: they’re all software engineers, but they speak different languages.
You can’t really play in your own space and expect the other side to come to you. Teamwork meets halfway. To make communication more efficient, it’s suggested that all software development team members learn a bit from the other in order to develop shared knowledge and understanding. You aren’t expected to become an expert in a new field, but you should at least be able to read along. It can be useful for designers to learn something about code, and likewise for developers to learn something of design.
Respecting Each Other
It’s easy to get swept up in your own world. Our individual perspectives are defined by Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.” There is no guarantee that there is anything beyond us, but it’s equally important that we remember that people’s lives exist outside our own. Your team members are people just as much as you, and they deserve to be treated with the same respect you would expect for yourself.
It all comes down to respecting your colleague’s craft. Everyone needs to keep in mind that, although different team members bring different skill sets and ideas to the table, all have the same goals: create the best outcome for the project. The door of respectful communication must be kept open at all times, since designers and developers will always see things differently as a result of their individual skill sets, talents, and strengths. It’s only together that an Agile software development team can achieve its full ambition.
When UIUX designers and developers communicate effectively and collaborate efficiently, the potential for creativity and amazing tech innovation goes through the roof. Magic can happen. At the end of the day, both parties want the same outcome: delivering great, highly functional digital products that delight its users while exceeding clients’ expectations.
The five tips we outline here are simple to learn but take effort to obey. Some will come more naturally than others, some will take some commitment to stand by. The best way to get your UIUX designers and developers to collaborate is to work together from the beginning, build relationships, give feedback correctly and well, learn each other’s language, and most importantly respect each other.
More to this point, iTexico wants to help you with your team building. We offer different teaming models with Nearshore talent and end-to-end skills, all capable of solving specific business problems. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to reach us at our contact page.
About the Author
Mariana García de Alba is an integral designer, specialized in UI / UX / E-commerce related projects since 2015. She's passionate, determined and skillful; loves working with high standards and always acting with intention.