How designers can help drive better engineering practices around user interfaces
Design leaders who want to improve visual design in products should spend as much time advocating for better UI and front end engineering practices as they spend focusing on practices within their team.
Many designers, within B2B and B2C companies struggle with translating what they design into the actual user interface customers get to experience. The gap is often in the implementation. However, the real gap is often in the culture of quality around user interfaces in an organization. Designers, and especially design leaders, can help influence that culture. To do, you have to dig deeper and understand where the gaps are and how to fill those gaps.
Here are questions you can ask to diagnose & fix any gaps to shipping high quality UIs:
- Are you designing high quality interfaces? High quality doesn’t just mean visually appealing. It means UIs that are possible to implement from where you are today & within the constraints you may have. This is the easiest part to fix, it’s fully in your control with design.
- Is there a true desire to ship high quality visual experiences? This is not just design or eng. If desire is not there, why not? Is it lack of recognition of importance of quality UI? Is advocacy needed? Who are key people you need to influence & what do they care about?
- Do you have the capable engineering team to implement the type of UIs you want to build? You might have an amazing engineering team that’s not skilled at the type of UIs you need to build. If true, who’s the engineering leader to work with to help train or hire? Can you influence them?
- How do you collaborate with engineering early on? Is engineering involved in the creation of these interfaces? Are you working closely with engineering architects, in particular, early on in the process? Who’s a star engineering that cares deeply about the details that can be your change agent?
- Do engineering care about the details as much as you do? Part of it is process but also skill & empathy. How can you empower change agents that care about details? How can you involve engineering in user interviews to see users give UI feedback? How can you train engineering to spot the details?
- Are you advocating for their time? Are you helping engineering advocate with PM and other leaders to spend the time necessary to get the details right. Most engineering are awesome at what they do and want to do the right thing. They can’t do that when they have more things than time.
- Is there a process to check before you release? Let’s talk process. How can you help bake a pre-release engineering/design collaboration into your process? This is the where you spot details together, pair engineering/design on them, & use it an opportunity to collaborate, train, & raise the bar.
- Is there a process to iterate after you release? How can you bake into your quarter and process time to iterate after release. Many ways to do it but an easy one to sell is often a “customer focused sprint” where you dedicate time for “paper cuts” type of improvements.
- Where can you start? If this is overwhelming, it’s okay. Out of all of the above (or versions of it), where can you actually start? The path isn’t always linear, but the action is there. How can you be the true change agent to build a culture of higher quality UI design?
The above offers you a path, but not a destination. That's by design. Organizations are different and there is often no magic bullet. You have to dig deeper, understand, then influence.
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