Robert Bowen July 8th, 2010

When Designers And Developers Work Together

Even in today’s fluctuating job market, one rule that still remains constant and true is to always play to your strengths. Part of this comes from having a complete and firm grasp of your own capabilities and limitations, while part of it also comes from knowing the same about those you are working with. However, as we grow in our abilities we may begin entering a comfort zone wherein wearing every hat and attempting to take on the entire task by ourselves becomes more of a viable reality. And one that we may decide to run with. Not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, but there are benefits to come from specialising and allowing certain elements to be handled by others who have specialised in those areas. This dynamic is easily demonstrated with a look at the Designer and Developer. Two areas that go hand in hand, and that can be handled either as a solo effort or by pairing up with another and each taking charge of your individual roles. So if you do decide that it is in the best interests of the project to work with another in this area, then there are a few things to bare in mind so that the working relationship goes as smoothly as possible. Consider some of our previous posts:

Getting Started: Pick Your Partners Wisely

As with any work situation, there is always a certain amount of setup required to get things started and the Designer Developer partnership is not immune to this either. There are a couple of areas that will need to be addressed in order to get the project off on the right, hopefully most productive, foot. This brings us back to that old rule of thumb about playing to your strengths, and knowing those of the person or persons that you are teaming up with. If you have the say in the person you will end up tackling the project with, then you are going to want to choose them wisely to ensure the most compatible experience for you both and the overall project itself. Not only does compatibility of character play a big part in the working relationship, but compatibility of skills also heavily ways in on the project. You want to choose this partner with great care so that both of your expectations are met and the project can have the greatest chance of success. If you are working with someone who cannot effectively accomplish through code what it is you have designed, or who cannot reasonably design a workable template to code from then the project is destined for failure. Not only that, but chances are there will be a headache or two in store for you both as well. So as you get started in this working relationship know where you are both coming from to keep the expectations reasonable and make sure they are met.

Communication Is Key

Overall, in any relationship in order for it to be sustainable and properly function, communication is beyond vital, and the Developer Designer ship is no exception here either. In order for it to sail correctly, the communication between the players is pivotal, and special attention should be paid to how well you are both engaging this tool. This is a make or break element in the working relationship and when speaking of the expectation levels being set and met, this element’s importance rears its head. If you are not effectively communicating with each other, then there are likely details that will be falling through the proverbial cracks before long. Lots of developers believe that designers should have a basic understanding of code in order to keep things realistic, in fact, many believe that if you call yourself a web designer, you should know at least HTML and CSS, possibly even javascript. Thinking that at the end of the designer’s part they will be handing over completed PSD, HTML and CSS files. On the flip side, most designers expect that developers will have some basic knowledge of design theory so that when changes need to be made, they can clearly communicate them. So there is a give and take with regards to the expectations on both sides, and without being able to convey them on both sides, there is bound to be some ball droppage.

Tips for Effective Communication

  • Always be as concise as possible, so as to not confuse the issue.
  • Know the terminology from the opposite field, so neither of you is talking over the other’s head.
  • Always check that you are both on the same page about an issue before you move on to discussing something else. Never take understanding for granted.
  • Always be patient.
  • If you have questions, then ask them. Do not worry about how you may look asking for clarification. Better to know up front and do it right the first time.

Have A Grasp Of UX

When speaking of expectations, there is another important group who will also be placing a certain number of them on the project as well, beyond any client, and that is the end user. It is important that both the Designer and Developer have an understanding of UX, and keep that experience in mind as you proceed with your project. Those who will be interacting with the completed product and their satisfaction with the project are what matter most afterall. It is the feedback from this end of the experience that tends to determine the success or failure status of the project. The users are the ones that the product is essentially being designed and developed for, so in the end, it is their experience that you are working to create and crafting so losing focus on this endgame for one moment during the process can have negative and lasting impacts. Beyond anything else, the UX is what will win the game or lose it for you, so when you partner with someone you will want to be sure that this understanding is part of their collective knowledge base as well. If this is not affixed to their arsenal or yours, then there are definitely some more prepatory steps that need to be taken before any serious work on the project begins.

UX Tips From the Blogosphere

Here are a few links to help you further your base on UX tips for developers:

Learn The Value Of Compromise

Another thing to keep in focus when working with someone in this capacity is that the project, end user, and client are what ends up mattering over either the Designer or Developer and the potential ego that may be associated with them. Ego is not necessary in this process, and can act as a hindrance rather than a helper so as you take on a task with another you will want to check your ego at the door. This is not to say that you have to become any sort of doormat and allow your partner to walk all over you, making every critical call in the project, just that you should learn the value of compromise. When you are working alone, compromise is generally not something we are used to until we show the project to the client. However, when you are working as a part of a team, the steps leading up the presentation to the client may be paved with compromises all along the way. If you are not great at handling them then there is a chance that things can sour early on, and the relationship will suffer, hence the project will in turn suffer. When we deal with the client, making that compromise is easier because they pay the bills, but still we make the case for why the client should bend to our will. So making that compromise in the Designer Developer relationship can be trickier to manage.

Compromising Tips

Even subtle concessions can go a long way in showing a willingness to work together, so below are a couple of ways that you can work at the compromsing element of the Designer Development relationship.
  • Keep the goal in mind as you work together to hammer out the details. If any questionable element does not recognizably serve the goal let it go.
  • Make sure that when choosing your project partner that it is someone who knows how to, not only compromise, but to approach the issue respectfully and tactfully. You should reciprocate this behavior.
  • Try to find a way to frame every compromise as a win/win scenario for the end product so it is less like someone is giving in and more like you are working together to raise the bar.
  • Be sure that you are open to the criticisms offered and compromises asked of you, and never let them put you in a defensive place, because then dialogs tend to degrade from there.

Final Thoughts

We will not always get to choose our coworkers, but when we can we should aim in these directions to make sure that our partner turns out to be as compatible as possible. We also want to be sure that we make adjustments to any lone wolf mentalities that we are bringing into the working relationship so that we are not the proverbial wrench gumming up the works.

Some Final Tips for the Road

  • Designers should use a wireframe to get going and then be sure to consult with the developer before moving on.
  • Designers need to be sure to create clean and organized PSD files so that the developer does not have to clean up your work before they can begin.

Further Resources

Below are some articles for further reading on the working relationships between developers and designers for your consideration.

Robert Bowen

Robert Bowen is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and most recently the co-founder and imaginative co-contributor of the creative design and blogging duo at the Arbenting and Dead Wings Designs.


  1. I think it’s always difficult to work with someone who has a different view of the project, so it’s always important to reach a compromise. Designers and developers are no different, that’s why you should know your team-mate and try to work together instead of against each other.

  2. I am a dev and I can confirm how important some of the points you highlighted are. But maybe one that was left behind is how the workload is generally not shared evenly between the two team members, the developer generally going over 80% of the work.

    I have been looking for ever for a designer who would understand this and have yet to find one.

    As a side note, I dont understand how someone could call himself a web designer if they dont know HTML/CSS and cross browser issues. If you dont understand the medium, how can you make something that will actually work?

    1. @Alain I understand that, I am mostly a developer but I also know the front end better than most developers and graphic designers, mostly just because it was required of me.

      I know a lot of designers will create mockups in photoshop and hand them to the developer and tell them to create it. that is not how it should work. I require html mock ups at the very least. If they are proud of their work and want the world to see it then they should be willing to accept the browser problems and being able to handle the javascript for any effects they want. I don’t mind making their designs better as long as they are willing to do some of the work themselves.

    2. You are kidding a web designer needs to draw something nice in photoshop – that’s it. No way would I want my css coming from a designer or spat out from Adobe Product x.

      1. I think there is a difference between graphic designers and web designers. If you want to become a web designer you have to move beyond graphic design and know the languages that are necessary for the web development. Ideally, a web designer would know graphic design, html, css and cross-browser compatibility. Certainly these are only the minimum requirement of a web designer. I believe that learning a little about programming languages such as php or asp is a huge advantage for the web designer.

        As the article pointed out, bout developers and designers should know something about each other’s terminologies and practices so most issues are clear for both sides.

        Thanks for the useful article.

    3. WHAT?!! you know this is one of the earliest instances that I’m hearing that Web Designers shouldn’t be responsible for the code. I think if you want to call yourself a web designer then you need to know what can and what can’t work for the web.
      I usually do everything from design down to the development but I’ve been itching to try and see how much easier things would be if I enlist the help of a more apt coder.
      I’m not too sure how much I’d want to give in to…

  3. Good read. Equally important for designers and developers to collaborate together.

    Web Designer is complete with good creative skills backed by solid knowledge of XHTML/CSS and even a little java script else how would they show what they have created to the world. Although these days design is divided in so many departments like Visual Design | Interaction | UX, designers should have knowledge of all aspects related to design as stuff like browser issues are designers responsibility. Looking in to devs code and fix them using tools like firebug, it’s so easy to contribute now. So why hold back! All what needed is to make sure mocks match what is shown on the browsers, SIMPLE!

    On a contrary developers should be friendly and collaborative when it comes to complex java scripts required for interaction where designers kind of get stuck.

    Thus sticking to each others strong points as suggested makes things so smooth.

  4. I agree. A good Developer is like a pearl in the ocean. Takes a while to get that perfect one and once its yours, its priceless.

  5. Hi, nice points in this article. At we’re a couple and we do both design and development. I’m slightly more on the design part and my team-mate is slightly more on the dev part, but we both can do design and development if there is the need. It works fine, we’re happy about this partnership and our clients are happy about our work (and that’s the most important thing at the end of it!).
    In my experience the main point is communication, if you are a designer and you can listen and understand the developer needs your part of the job will be done as to facilitate the developer’s one; on the other side, if you are a developer and you understand the designer’s point of view translating design into code will be easier. At the end having some knowledge of “the other job” will be a big advantage for both.

  6. Those UX links are not good! UX Magazine is partiularly unusable – horrendous information mapping.

    UX Matters have some great articles but they can be hard to find.

    My favourite UX site is UX Booth:

  7. I’ve been a Photoshop designer for some time now working in web. I’ve taught msyelf HTML, XHTML and CSS. Now, it’s Javascript and PHP. I consider myself an intermediate with a solid core of fundamentals that will never stop learning, but I will always primarily be a designer. That’s how I was built, with a visual artist’s brain. Most designers are. In fact, I’m a painter and illustrator too. Learning programming languages is not second nature and can be extremely difficult for the visual designer. Also, as many developers have a “math” brain, it can be very difficult for them to learn about fundamental design concepts such as color, typography, white space, etc. But that’s no excuse NOT to try to learn. The developer may not become an artist, and the artist not a developer, but learning the language of the other to some degree helps not only the working relationship but enriches your knowledge and opens your brain to new ways of processing new information. If you’re left-brained, you can enrich yourself by learning right-brain concepts, and vice versa.

  8. Some designers create interfaces that doesn’t even know if it’s possible for the developers without even asking. Anyway, great article!

  9. I specialize in front end development and I’ve partnered with tons of designs before (designs, freelancers and agencies are the only clients I take on). It seems all of them have had terrible experiences with developers before they worked with me. I don’t get why, but I guess catering to these kinds of clients have been why I’ve been so successful ;) It’s amazing how terrible some people are and still expect to get business.

  10. Though we would all like to be able to do website designing for own website, we all aren’t able to, whether we just don’t understand the various elements or we just don’t have the time or don’t have the required expertise; the use of a top website design company is a must have. Just any website design company will not do; there are various things that can make a web design company a best web design company who will provide the exact services you need to meet the exact specifications you provide and request.

  11. very practical suggestions. we need to keep a lot of it in mind since most of us don’t get to choose our co-workers

  12. Awesome article. Having done both design and development, I found this really interesting. I personally think that you can make almost any project more successful if you can team up with other talented professionals you can trust. That let’s you specialize in what you do best and get much more done in less time.

  13. Thanks for all the great comments and added discussion. There are some really great points that have been further examined. :)

  14. BTW, I am looking for a dev partner for a new start up. If you know how to deal with a dev and know CSS and some javascript, please contact me!

    Email: the name above separated with a dot @ gmail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *