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Developing Design


Oftentimes, the word “design” is seen as being synonymous with “appearance.” It is with this mentality that many companies run their businesses – separating design (or appearance) from development (functionality). However, in the world of interactive and web design, functionality plays an equally significant role in the design process. By involving development earlier on in the creative process, we are able to further explore the influence that functionality can have on appearance, thus helping to create better products, while using time more efficiently.

My experience.

My career as a web developer began when I started a one-woman freelance business, designing logos and websites for whomever I could get as a client. As I continued, I would take on an increasing number of projects, covering more and more ground. Before I knew it, I was helping small startups with all of their branding needs. From storyboards and wireframes to coding and follow-up maintenance – I was doing it all.

Because I was responsible for all aspects of the project, design and development became slightly blurred. It was through this experience that I began favoring the development side of the spectrum and proceeded to change my focus from primarily design to almost entirely development. The transition was very organic.

Fast-forward a few years to my present position as a developer here at Teehan+Lax. I now work almost exclusively on – you guessed it! – development. However, to say that I am completely removed from the design process would be inaccurate. At T+L, designers and developers work closely with one another in the creation of a project.

Some companies have a rather different approach to workflow and office set-up, having designers and developers physically separated and projects executed through a waterfall approach.

Why this isn’t always a good approach.

The outcome of design relies on the constraints and allowances of development and vice versa. These two worlds are closely related, so why are they so often separated?

Having the designer and developer working together helps to streamline the creative process. By eliminating the developer from the design process and the designer from the development process, in ways you are limiting yourself from exploring all possible outcomes of a project. Issues that may arise when the design is passed on to the developer can be worked out before the development stage is even reached. Though this could potentially make the design stage a bit longer, you will ultimately save time in the long run.

What we’re doing about it.

If you’ve been a follower of our blog, you may have read Jeremy’s post, “Designing With Code,” where he speaks on this topic. Since the time of that post in September 2012, all of the designers at T+L have taken courses on Treehouse and were able to pick up some valuable front-end development basics.

To my pleasant surprise, I’ve had designers come to me and explain their design concepts in CSS! On the other hand, having some design experience under my belt has also helped me in communicating with designers, as I’m able to translate my developer language into something relatable for them.

Besides the obvious fact that knowing each other’s language makes understanding easier, it also allows for more efficient use of time in the office. Potential hurdles can be overcome sooner and in a more timely fashion when communication is cohesive and frequent between practices.

We’re now seeing online tools that help us to design with code, such as Google Web Designer, or even apps like Invision, that help create functional prototypes with static mock-ups. They introduce development early on in the design process, therefore allowing the design to take on some of the dynamic functionality that the end product would have.

It is my belief that team structures such as ours here at T+L, with the help of products and services such as online courses, prototyping apps, and web designing software are helping to put the industry on the right track to bring the word “design” back to it’s true meaning.

We believe that great digital products are made when we bring together the right team to work on a project. This blog post is a part of an ongoing series of process– and discipline–based reflections that demonstrate how we collaborate and build our teams at Teehan+Lax.

Check out the other posts in our series:
The dev is in the details. by Steffan Barry
Planning isn’t just a phase I’m going through. by Kyra Aylsworth

Leigh Farrell More posts by Leigh Farrell