We all know that collaboration is essential to all project management, especially the application development process. Designers, developers, and engineers need to work in conjunction with each other throughout the prototyping and production phases in order to deliver a product that is both true to the designer’s visual intent and ensures an optimal user experience. But for developers and designers alike, frequently there can be nothing more frustrating than reaching a standstill in the production process while waiting for feedback or deliverables from another member of the team. So how can development teams establish a workflow that allows them to engage in this collaborative process without sacrificing productivity? Here are three essential tips to helping developers and designers work together to more effectively build better software:
- Choose tools that promote a fully integrated workflow.
When it comes to creating an optimal workflow, not all development and design tools are created equal. Many programs lack integration functionality, which creates a bottleneck in the workflow when converting from design software to development tools. For example, developers using Adobe Flash Catalyst can import Photoshop or Illustrator assets via files or by using the copy/paste function, but the file will need to be broken into components before the developer can work with it easily. Applications like Microsoft Expression Blend on the other hand, can support more seamless integration with corresponding design tools. Expression does, however, have a steep learning curve. Of course, all development tools have pros and cons, so it’s important to research the available tools and choose technology that will be most effective for your team’s workflow.
- Establish and maintain a style guide.
The user interface style guide is a document that describes established design features in order to ensure consistency across the product. Style guides commonly cover such specifics as the layout, usage of color, font styles and sizes, margin widths, and countless other design features. Of course, many of these elements can change as the product design evolves, so it is important that the style guide is regularly updated and maintained accordingly. Especially for workflows in which designer deliverables will routinely arrive in formats that don’t easily integrate with development tools, taking the time to create a style guide is almost essential. Without it, developers can be left guessing at design specifics based on sight alone, leaving a huge margin of error in the implementation of the design.
- Invest in cross-disciplinary training.
In order to create successful products, developers and designers have increasing need to work more closely together, employing integration tools between their two mediums and having an in depth understanding of one-another’s worlds. Designers need to understand component models and the importance of producing compositions with smaller parts for a solid code base. Similarly, the developers need to understand the significance of user experience and go the extra mile to preserve the visual integrity of the creative team’s design. Where possible, basic training in the various design and development tools used across all divisions of the team is ideal for optimizing communication and workflow. But cross-disciplinary training can also be as simple as having the designers and the engineers sit together for a few days during the early stages of a new project. Giving different team members a more concrete vision of just what exactly their collaborators do fosters respect among the team, making everyone more willing to work together. The more designers can experience the common pitfalls developers come across when they try to implement a design, the more prepared they will be to avoid design elements and miscommunications that can lead to the problems that developers most commonly experience.
BONUS TIP: Assign an integrator. Another strategy effective for some development workflows is assigning one team member with the role of integrator. This individual can be either a developer or a designer, but will ideally know both enough about the design tools to apply vector and raster art to the product, while also having the software development skills necessary to componentize the application so that a developer can work with it easily. Ideally, everyone on the team should feel comfortable enough with the basics of both the development and design roles to act as an integrator. But for teams where such an investment in extensive cross-disciplinary education simply isn’t possible, having at least one team member who can facilitate cross over can be helpful for smoothing hiccups in the development workflow.
photo courtesy of wikimedia.