There’s an adage about service delivery that rings true more often than not: Your options are good, fast, and cheap — pick two. One of the rare birds capable of delivering two and a half is the elusive “designoper” — a developer with design knowledge. These all-stars are able to make complex decisions from both an aesthetic and a practical point of view, striking the balance between code-heavy visuals, simplicity, and time sensitivity; all of which are important qualities in the development of software.
Developers and designers often have a yin- and yang-like approach to the development process, but it doesn’t mean they’re incapable of seeing things from one another’s point of view. And as a company, you should be encouraging a cross-pollination of skills, to get more staff members into a place where they’re delivering two and a half.
To speed you along, here are four ways you can help developers unleash their inner designers:
1. Encourage collaboration between designers and developers. You don’t need to send your developers back to school to take a course in design to get them equipped with the basics. Instead, encourage your developers to collaborate with your designers. Put their desks next to one another so they can directly collaborate on a couple of projects. The education your developers will garner from this arrangement will be more timely and practical, and it will enhance camaraderie.
When decisions are being made about a website’s layout or a new site design, invite developers to those initial planning meetings. Listen to their opinions, and acknowledge their feedback. By allowing more of your team members to have a say in the appearance of your business’s image, they’ll be more invested in the process and you’ll have inspiration and passion driving the execution of your vision, not just a paycheck.
2. Create a space where developers can express themselves. Allowing developers (and all employees) a space inside the office where they can express themselves and pitch random ideas is an excellent way to foster creativity as well as a sense of teamwork. It will also give you a better sense of what makes your developers tick. When you look around the UE team, our developers and QA team maintain some of the most decorated workspaces, featuring everything from makeshift tents over desks to self-made meme posters on the walls. It’s fun to walk around and see how your employees have decked out their environment, as a team, to optimize their experience.
3. Relate design to everyday life. The best way to introduce people to the field of design is to make the craft applicable to their lives. Most developers will have had some experience with design applications, and getting your design team to give a fun presentation using Photoshop and Illustrator is a good way to introduce them to more design tools. Moreover, hosting employee presentations gives people insight into the different tasks happening under the same roof.
You could expand on this by hosting an in-house contest to design a new poster for the office or a blog, offering the winners anything from gift cards to nights out. People are more creative than they let on, and contests that gamify the process make it easier for them to tap into that creativity.
4. Give them the right tools. The best way to learn the craft of design is to get your hands dirty. Make sure your developers have access to basic design tools (Illustrator and Photoshop, for example), so that they can play and experiment.
A developer with design skills doesn’t have to be such a rarity; it certainly isn’t at UE. Our team has a great eye for aesthetic, especially as it relates to UI. After all, it’s a developer’s job to create the means by which users interact with a website or app — good design is in our best interest.
Not everyone has the eye or patience to become a rock star designer, but most developers can at least pick up enough design acumen and skills to help them make better product decisions. By using these methods to encourage and educate developers, you could be unlocking a hidden talent and increase the value of an employee in ways that they didn’t even know about.