Design for Developers, Part 1: Why?

Why design?

Last month Lynn introduced a blog series, Design for Developers, which we’re super excited about. In upcoming posts, you can expect to learn things like how to tackle the fear of the ‘blank canvas’, how to use typography effectively, and how to customize and extend commonly used design patterns in frameworks like Bootstrap.

But today we’re taking a step back and starting with a more fundamental question - raised by our friend Ivana McConnell on twitter - which is basically: “Why?”. Why should a developer learn design? This is a fabulous question! Thanks Ivana for reaching out!

Why does anyone decide to do anything?

In pondering this question of “Why”, I’m reminded of a post by Ruth Baril where she talks about achieving some amazing goals in life, but really only found success when she was able to identify the true reasons for even attempting these goals in the first place. Just as there are infinite reasons one may choose to lose weight, move across the country, or take on any new skill, there are many different but legitimate reasons for developers to learn design. Here, we’ll point out a few and hopefully one (or several!) will resonate with you.

8 Reasons developers can and should learn design

1: It’s fun I know there’s a common stereotype of the ‘serious’ designer agonizing over the tiniest of spaces between things when you’re just ready to ship the thing already, and you may think, “How is this fun?”. But like many things in life, there are many sides to the same task. If obsessing over singular pixels of whitespace doesn’t excite you, know that there are many other aspects of design that are so fun!

  • You get to play with color and shapes and typography. And when I say ‘play’, I really mean it!
  • You’re solving problems.
  • You get to see visual evidence of your hard work.
  • Designing can be very social. Whether it be user testing or seeking feedback from peers, discussion is often a huge part of a successful design process.
  • You get to think of something and watch it come to life - like playing god, on a smaller (but still thrilling) scale.

And yes, sometimes you do have to push singular pixels around, but there’s an endgame. And the payoff is hugely rewarding, and yes it’s enormously fun to see people light up and enjoy what you’ve built. Design can do that.

2: It makes your work work better Good usability, which is essentially what we are all striving for regardless of our background, goes so much deeper than sheer functionality. A product may function flawlessly, but unless the user enjoys interacting with product, it’s virtually useless. All you have to do is comment out the CSS reference in any site to see the importance of design in usability. Learning even basic design concepts like balance and hierarchy can improve user experience for your product immensely. Learning these concepts teaches you to put yourself in the user’s shoes and can make you empathize with the user in a whole new way. Design helps you shift from a mindset of outputting data to presenting the data in a way that is meaningful to the user.

3: Money? You know what happens when your product works better? People pay you more for it. Moving on…

4: It makes you a better teammate It’s this reason here which resonates most with me. At &yet we work very hard to nurture strong bonds across our multi-disciplinary team. In our recent &you dispatch we discuss alignment and the challenge that comes with bringing different perspectives, and sometimes different goals, to the same task. Understanding the perspective of a designer, and even just the vocabulary that goes along with the practice of design, can help improve communication and make you such a valuable ally to the design team.

5: It makes you more hirable If what you need right now is to carve a niche or stand out in a sea of applicants, consider adding design to your list of skills. These days, it’s no secret that design and programming is an intrinsically connected process. Companies are increasingly aware of the importance of hiring workers who can cross disciplines.

6: It’s gratifying As mentioned in point #1, watching people respond positively to design choices can be very rewarding. Yes, pure programming can be gratifying in a similar way, but making concerted design choices can elicit emotional responses to seemingly mundane user interactions in a way that nothing else can.

7: You can be more self-reliant If your process involves handing off your work to a designer, it could benefit you greatly to have the ability to anticipate how a designer might handle something so that you have to hand off less and less of the project, saving you time and/or money - particularly if you work solo or are not part of a cross-disciplinary team.

8: You’re already designing The minute you output data into a view you’re thrust into a position where you must make design decisions. Learning the basics of design can help you bridge the gap between form and function in a way that is super empowering and builds on your existing skills.

What’d we forget?

Can you think of any reasons that developers should learn design skills that we didn’t put on the list? Tweet at us and let us know!

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