Software Designers & Developers: Product Development Odd Couple or Close Collaborators?

By Mitch Maiman June 11, 2015

At the end of the day, good software designers and good developers want the same thing: Elegantly designed and efficient applications that are readily embraced (and even enjoyed) by end users. So why can it be so hard to get designers and developers to collaborate—even when the benefits of doing so are clear?

A Contentious Relationship

Years ago, designers and software engineers regarded one another with suspicion and even contempt—not the most productive way to embark on a product development project. Today, however, an evolution is afoot, with Interaction Designers increasingly striving to proactively partner with their counterparts in software engineering—and vice versa.

What’s changed? Both sides recognize the mutual value they bring to the development of world-class products in a world that increasingly values seamless user experiences and outstanding design implementation. A new kind of working relationship is developing based on effective working processes and close, early collaboration from the get-go on product development initiatives.  That sort of working relationship is now starting to change for software designers and developers, too.

Keeping the End User in Mind

As anyone knows, apps are now everywhere. The consumerization of technology means that end users’ expectations for design and functionality are more sophisticated than ever, while commercial applications (those created for users in business, government and academic institutions) have become increasingly complex.

Traditionally, commercial applications had a strong emphasis on functionality with little regard for how well they worked for end users. To this day, one can readily find commercial applications where the application flow is complicated and non-intuitive; getting to necessary information often requires navigating a deep and “blind” set of menus and screens. Aesthetic considerations and layout are an afterthought, and don’t always facilitate location of desired information in a simple, natural way.

But now, the bar has been raised in terms of commercial user expectations based on people’s experience using the consumer applications found on their smartphones and tablets. While it’s true that many tablet and smartphone apps are functionally much simpler than commercial platforms and products, the gap in usability shows the importance of enhanced integration between designers and software developers. Developing meaningful working relationships between the two camps is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s essential to developing usable apps and products that are user-friendly, efficient, and therefore more competitive in the marketplace.

Nurturing Designer-Developer Collaboration

Though the benefits of working together more closely are many, it seems that we’re still in the early stages of designer-developer cooperation—particularly in the commercial and enterprise worlds.

It’s generally acknowledged among product managers that designers and developers need to collaborate, yet it can require some serious strong-arming to get representatives from these teams to the table for meaningful engagement. Why? It seems that while designers and developers both accede to the importance of one another’s roles in the product development process, a stronger mutual understanding and respect of the value of integration needs to be cultivated.

Great Products Are Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts

To create game-changing products, there’s no way around it: It takes concerted effort and a not-so-subtle “push” from functional managers to create relationships between design and software developers.

Yet once the two groups are communicating, brainstorming, examining requirements and envisioning the look, feel and functionality of the final product from the end users’ perspective, there is often a growing sense of the power and potential that working together, rather than as siloed teams, can bring.

As developers gain an increasing awareness of how design influences usability, they naturally start to understand the value of having more elegantly designed apps and products, which will be as engaging to commercial end users as consumer apps are in their private lives. On the other hand, as designers collaborate early and often with developers, they will see how their vision for the look and flow of applications can be realized more readily by working closely with developers at every stage of the process.

Going From Novel to Normal 

A perfect world where designers and developers fully appreciate the value of integration and collaborate on product development as a matter of course may still be somewhere in the future.

There is hope, however, that this will become the natural state of product development. After all, both designers and developers crave commercial success. It’s clear that collaboration leads to more successful products—and the more that designers and developers gain experience in cooperative development processes, the more they’ll see the value of making integration the “new normal”.

Mitch Maiman is the president and co-founder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), building on a vision of deviling a new model for software and hardware product development that integrates the full spectrum of design and engineering disciplines as a single-source solution. He can be reached at

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

President and Co-founder Intelligent Product Solutions

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