Design and Dev: An Unbreakable Bond


Holden Steinberg

on •

Feb 24, 2023

Design and Dev: An Unbreakable Bond

In my last post, we covered how design has had a fundamental shift in the tech landscape, becoming the delineator between products that users can instantly trust and products that have a tough time finding that fit. But what actually makes the difference, and how can you tell that your design team is functioning at the new level that the industry now demands?

Successful product designers are developer enablers. Actual product designers have to be uniquely cross-functional, unlike some of the more common design specialties we are dealing in function and nonlinear experiences. It requires an in-depth understanding of engineering and full-stack design, hitting all significant disciplines, from UI to UX to micro-interactions and frontend frameworks.

So why is the bond between dev and design so important?  It all boils down to the old adage If a tree falls in the forest…If you design software that users never experience, are you still a product designer?

Real product design gets pushed to production by very definition.

So how do we optimize for this? I have a set of observable and measurable tactics that I see the best designers employ:

Developer-Driven Design Tactics:

They Utilize Frontend Frameworks
Experienced product designers always find out the framework in place and cut down on dev time by skinning base components and adhering to common patterns and grids. This tactic, in effect, creates a coded reusable design system from the jump.

Asynchronous Feedback Loops
Experienced designers check in with dev as they design. They set up commenting systems and slack channels and create rough prototypes in all in an effort to receive accurate async feedback and keep the bond between developers and designers as tight as possible.

IPM’s and Sprint Planning
They help make stories clear and easy to point by adding mocks. They attend story-pointing sessions to ensure their designs don’t unintentionally add unnecessary points to the backlog.

Dev-Driven Iteration
This is the ultimate sign of a truly functional design-to-dev relationship. A healthy design team empathizes with the development process and looks for creative ways around technical limitations.

But they also have an internal compass where they naturally understand what each component of a design is worth to them and the user. This allows these high-functioning designers to drill down on problematic areas of their designs by listening to developer estimations and coming back with revised solutions that cut down development time.

This is my second piece in a series about value-driven product design. Next week I will dig into the other leg of the crossfunctional tripod: design and product: a stakeholder love story.

- Holden Steinberg, VP of Design at Artium