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Developers Think of Design as Black Magic

Developers think of design as Black Magic*. Really.

For the most part developers just don't understand how you (the designer) can take a few images toss them into Photoshop and come up with a series of slick new designs without the help of some kind of dark spirit. They might be familiar with the software, they might even watch you work over your shoulder, but ask most developers to come up with a logo and you might as well be asking them to conjure a poodle out of thin air.

So what does that mean? It means that most developers view design with a certain amount of reverence - and fear. It can do great things and help Vice Presidents appreciate their hours of toiling behind the scenes to make things go. And it can strange and terrible things, like make them work nights and weekends (again so those same VPs will be duly impressed).

This combination of awe and fear that most developers have with the field of design, can make them act downright hostile toward designers. Usually this is the result of being burned in the past, but it is something that can be overcome.

Reaching out to developers and letting them know you are on the same team and that you've got their back, can go a long way to alleviate fears. If you actually deliver on watching out for them, even better. Everyone feels better going into battle with a shaman on their side. And who knows? They may eventually come to see your voodoo as something they just can't live without.

* Just to clarify things, in this particular case "developers" means your typical back-end developer with a Computer Science degree, not your friend Joe, who used to be a designer, but now spends more time writing HTML5 & JQuery.

In the spirit of better designer/developer relations, this post is part of a top 5 list of tips for designers working with developers:
  1. Design has a huge impact on project cost.
  2. It can be tough to be the last person to touch something.
  3. Developers think of design as black magic.
  4. Don't expect to earn points by suggesting technology solutions.
  5. Developers do have a horse in the race.

I'll be looking at each of these items in turn and talking about them in detail in a blog post over the next five weeks.

Date posted: March 12, 2010


It's so true! I've watched designers for hours on end and it's just so far from what I do that it just doesn't make sense to me. I imagine that the same is true the other way around but I'm not sure. The other day a front-end guy I was talking to said that he didn't quite get for loops, which seemed horribly basic to me, and as a counter I offered that I don't get what an em is or how it works, which seemed completely obvious to him. I have come to distrust people who claim that they can do more than two of these aspects of the trinity with any efficacy.

I think design folks and development folks should all take time to learn the other field at least a little bit. Not to take over each others' work, but to be informed about why decisions are made.

Many designers don't grok the limits or complexities of browsers or server-side coding so they design things that are very difficult to implement in a cross-browser manner. On the flip side, many developers don't understand why that 200x200px of whitespace can't be filled with links or technical geegaws.

It's important for each side to have at least a modicum of understanding of the other side so each can have confidence that the decisions the other person is making are informed and sound. In fact, I don't see how anyone can be great at either one without at least some knowledge of the other.

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About the Author

Joaquin Lippincott, CEO

Joaquin is a 20+ year technology veteran helping to lead businesses in the move to the Cloud. He frequently speaks on panels about the future of tech ranging from IoT and Machine Learning to the latest innovation in the entertainment industry.  He has helped to modernize software for industry leaders like Sony, Daimler, Intel, the Golden Globes, Siemens Wind Power, ABC, NBC, DC Comics, Warner Brothers & the Linux Foundation.

As the CEO and Founder of Metal Toad, an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, his primary job is to "get the right people in the room".  This one responsibility is cross-functional and includes both external business development functions as well as internal delegation and leadership development.

A UCLA alumni, he also serves in the community as a Board Member for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, and Stand for Children Oregon - a public education political advocacy group. As an outspoken advocate for entry-level job creation in tech he helped found the non-profit, P4TH, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of entry-level jobs in the tech industry, and is in the process of organizing an Advisory Board for the Bixel Exchange, a Los Angeles non-profit that provides almost 200 tech internships every year.


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