Bridging the gap

Recently people have been asking themselves should designers code? I was always pretty sure I knew where I stood on this debate. Before I was a designer, I was a front end developer. I built my own front ends in HTML and CSS. Having an intimate understanding of the medium I was designing for helped me avoid lines of enquiry that would ultimately lead to dead ends.

However several months ago the team I work with started a new project. This project would prove challenging to all of us. We were building an iOS app. A team of php web developers were building an iOS app. For the first time as a designer, I’d been taken out of my element. I didn’t have time to dive into Xcode, I had to trust the development team to bring my designs to reality.

I’d never had to worry about communicating my ideas to the nth degree because I knew I would be executing them. Where my peers may have balked at the idea of designing responsive websites I wasn’t fazed, because the developer would know exactly what kind of break points and transitions I wanted, because I was that developer.

Now I had to learn to communicate everything. And then there were those other problems, those dead ends I had been avoiding had started showing up. Things that I thought would be easy, suddenly became hard.

I can only see this problem becoming more common.

I work at a relatively small start up. There’s been a lot of pressure on us to produce a native app from both our customers and the board. We’re not at a size that we can hire an apps team , our product is nuanced enough to the point we don’t want to depend on an agency to produce the app for us. So we decided to build it ourselves.

Now more than ever, people are looking for native solutions on multiple platforms and screen diversification is rampant. Fortunately designing for the web has prepared us for this. We’ve dealt with different browsers and different screen sizes for a while, but now I feel web designers are being pushed to become software designers too.

Should designers expect to take on more responsibilities or should companies start to diversify the roles in their teams to take on more specific challenges?

I think for a lot of small teams it’s just not possible to take on so many specialists. I know when we’re hiring we look for people who can solve lots of different problems, you try and go for the two or three in one deal, the unicorns. Unfortunately as the name suggests, these aren’t easy to find.

As a designer, whatever your area of expertise, you probably feel under enough pressure to keep on top of your specialist area, let alone take the time to branch out to new practises.

However just taking a weekend to brush up on your CSS or learn the basics of Xcode can really help bridge the gap with the development team. A little understanding can go a long way, maybe you take a day and learn the basics of swift, then you’ll know why making that one bit of text bold isn’t so straight forward after all.

Most of the time we should be working on the problems we’re best at, but sometimes we’ll need to be a little bit more flexible. We don’t have to know all the answers from the start, having trust in your team and extending your hand just that little bit further can close the gap and help a project succeed.

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