Simple, but Impactful Ways to Bridge Design and Dev

Learn effective techniques to improve designer to developer collaboration.

Zight | July 20, 2018 | 4 min read time

Article Last Updated: July 02, 2023

Simple, but Impactful Ways to Bridge Design and Dev

The conversation around bridging design + dev always focuses on what’s trendy at the moment — design systems, handoff tools, designers learning to code (what about coders learning to design?). But there’s so much more that you can be doing. Here are examples about those unsexy, but tactical strategies that have worked for me in my time at Microsoft, Imgur, and Purple.

???? Invite your developers to 30 minute brainstorms

Your developers are the ones who are building out the product — they should have a say in what is built. And at some point, they will want a say, so it’s important to proactively involve them. Developers generally won’t be as in-tune with your users as you are, but they can contribute because of their technical expertise and deep knowledge of the product. You’ll also get easier buy-in from these developers about product direction in the future, because they’re able to see how you make decisions in real time (this builds trust!).

???? Add a line item for “design iteration” into your developers’ estimates

This is how you end up with really polished software. Add in a 10–20% buffer on your projects depending on the complexity. This will encourage you to sit down with your developer to find areas of the final product to add little delighters. You know what types of improvements can make the biggest impact, and your developer knows what types of improvements are easiest. Find the intersection.

‍An example from our Google Drive integration projectat

???? Make it easy for your developers to join in on usability testing

Developers already do functional testing on their own work. But what happens when you encourage them to do a little usability testing as well?

That face to face time with actual users is so motivating. If your developer knows what it’s like when a user is shocked with delight, they’ll be driven to deliver great experiences. You’d be surprised how many extra little animations and time saving interactions can be built by someone who really cares.

How do you entice them to join in? Livestream your usability test so they can listen in while they’re working. Schedule usability testing for the same day/time every other week so people plan around it. Bring donuts. Use evidence from usability tests whenever you make a design decision — the more they hear that usability tests are important sources of truth, the more they will be interested in attending. And if you aren’t able to get them to join in, create a 5–10 minute highlight reel of your recent usability testing videos to at least make sure that they occasionally see users shouting with delight or sighing with disappointment.

???? Attend your engineers’ standups

There are a ton of excuses not to do this…but you have to. Your mere presence allows for a few important things.

  • It signals that design matters. Full stop.
  • It shows goodwill — that you care about what they’re working on.
  • You can listen for little areas of your designs that are problematic to build. If you catch that during standup, you can immediately iterate.
  • You will learn the language, the mindset, and the process of engineering! Thus making you easier to work with.

And hey. This takes like 15 minutes out of your day. Maybe 30? Just do it.

???? Put all of your work in one place‍

Often times, developers will be caught off guard if you present high-fidelity designs without any explanation or heads up. The more background documents, research presentation, Invision prototypes, and design iterations they see ahead of time, the more they will trust you and your finalized designs. So be sure to use your office space to post up your design process for everyone to see. Or use a digital tool that brings that all into one place. This is why we built — it’s a new way to take notes, present your work, and stay on the same page.

These tips are all about making your developers’ lives easier — but in doing so, you’ll rack up some serious karma points, which of course makes your life easier. I hope it helps! ✌️


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