Why should we involve developers early in the design process?

Collaboration between UXers and engineers has traditionally been challenging, to say the least. We may be all in the same boat, but we often don’t “speak” the same language. That’s why it was easy to fall into situations where we designed some ambitious and fancy-looking screens and developers freaked out and labelled them as impossible. In the last years, we have implemented mature UX processes and collaborative design techniques that significantly improved our workflow with the engineering team. But even to this day, I still have people asking me: why on earth would you include engineers in your ideation process? Well, in my personal experience great ideas always emerge when you do so. But there are other benefits as well.

During my career as a UX professional, I’ve learned that my technical peers are creative people too. If you think about it, they use their creativity every day to design data structures, solve complex problems, or develop new systems. They need to use their imagination to think outside the box and come out with alternative solutions, just as designers do.

When you, as a UXer, choose to include software engineers in your ideation process, you are doing something beneficial for the entire team. It empowers each team member to take ownership, contribute to decisions, and shape the direction of the project. As a result, team collaboration and involvement massively improve.

I believe every designer has felt frustrated at least once by the extensive amount of time spent designing infeasible solutions. By collaborating more closely with developers, we become aware of technical limitations early in the process. Some might see this as a problem that limits their creativity. I for one believe the problem is an opportunity, for what is a designer if not a creative problem solver?

Start with research

I like to include my engineering peers in the research phase so they can better empathize with the users’ needs. Big pitfall engineers (and companies in general) are sometimes losing sight of who we’re designing or developing for. As UXers, it is our duty to bridge that gap. I usually invite developers as optional attendees to many customer interviews or usability testing sessions. You would be surprised to learn how many of them join and actively ask questions or answer users’ doubts when the matter is too technical for my understanding.

Organize ideation activities

After the initial research is done, I like to plan ideation sessions where the team has the chance to participate in brain dump activities and come out with possible solutions. I usually start by presenting the problem and the most relevant findings collected during research. Then we take a few minutes to come out with as many solutions as possible (even crazy ones), either together or individually. After that, we vote. The two most voted ideas get discussed by the wider group, sometimes we even discuss actual design hypotheses. Once everyone is on the same page, I go on doing my design job. The key here is to reach alignment and get people on board (including our product team) before moving the first pixel in Figma. It’s another way to save people’s time and give a heightened sense of ownership to all team members.

Constantly ask for feedback

The collaboration doesn’t end after the ideation session. I integrate the ideas of our brainstorming sessions into my solution and regularly present the work in progress to the team. This way, I get a more technical perspective on feasibility and design system compliance, then I iterate, rinse and repeat my process.

We all want people to feel involved and appreciated for what they bring to the table. Following the above techniques often results in each team member feeling that they actively contributed to the final solution by the time we’re implementing it. And it’s a freaking good feeling too! So don’t be shy, reach out to your nearest engineer friend and invite them to the next research and ideation session. The results are bound to guarantee a smooth collaboration in your team and an improved user experience for your clients.

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