How to work with developers when you’re a designer (part 1 of 325)

I recently had a discussion with a development company about how to incorporate design (whatever that actually may mean) into what they do. They build web applications for the most part, and do so incredibly well. There was a lot of concern for how something that is generally a demand and dictate process (design) fits into an otherwise ‘agile’ and iterative developmental world of web software. The main problem I think they’re facing is how to get a bunch of art school types to play nice with guys who talk to machines. Here is where most of the problems begin. They make stuff, and we designers think we know how they should be doing so.

What you learn in art school is to be a genius, or to think you’re a genius. That is to be the guy with the vision who struts about and frets about how to describe to the world all the reams of scribbles and explain to these damn people what it means for them and how it will save them. You spend half your life in art school fluttering between being berated for your incompetence and then the next minutes being fluffed with kilotons of faff about how your brain is the size of a planet and you are to decide the fate of the world, and barring that, some website or detergent packaging.

What sofware people learn in school is to plod through protocols, briefs and various grammars and methods of constructing the abstract world of sofware through the even more abstract method of programming. I always liked the phrase “machine language”. You coulnd’t come up with a better description if you ask me. It’s literally talking to machines.

The general approach then when designing software is to not be so much of a designers designer. You are part of a big, moving thing that you can’t actually build.

There’s basically then one main important thing for a designer to remember to work well with a developer. You can’t be precious. You have to be malleable. You have to see something work and decide where to change it. You have to, in essence, and I can’t believe I’m writing this phrase, direct the conversation. That is, not talk one way at the people who are building the thing in your head. This is the least you owe them. You in fact owe them your mind, your heart and your soul. They’re the ones making this thing only you can picture.

You have to basically forget most of the attitude you inherited in art school and not be the agency prick despot.