My wife and I recently celebrated 10 years of marriage. The past decade seems like a short breath, but in actuality it’s been a marathon. You don’t get to 10 years of marriage without dealing with relationship issues. We dated for 4 years before we got married too, so we had already had plenty of conflict resolution under our belts.

young matt and shana
Young Matt and Shana on their honeymoon 10 years ago at the ripe age of 22. Much to learn, they have.

Just like marriage, relationships are the key to succeeding in most real world situations too. Whether you’re in college getting your degree, designing a product for a hot new startup, or waiting tables at a local restaurant, if you can succeed in creating and maintaining healthy relationships you’ll have infinite more power than someone who can’t.

The Designer/Developer Relationship

In our industry, this is one of the more unique relationships. In most cases, and I’m generalizing, the designer designs the thing and the developer makes the thing work. Not necessarily in that order, but those are the ingredients—design and build.

If we think of this two-part combo as a mere transaction, then the transaction has no lasting value, and as soon as things go haywire, the claws come out. Designers get pissed that implemented designs look nothing like their pristine layout and developers get pissed that the designer had no regard for components or reusable code, or the general flow of HTML across a page.

In this case, there is no relationship and there is no ability to share and understand the feelings of the other person—Empathy, the term our industry so loves to use.

It’s possible to manufacture empathy towards someone you don’t have a relationship with, but it’s far easier to empathize with someone you’ve personally invested in by getting to know them and starting a relationship.

The most successful projects I’ve ever been a part of were when I worked hand-in-hand with the developer throughout the entire process.

If a designer takes a moment to share his designs with the developer and ask questions about the implementation or feasibility of certain features and really listened, then he would gain an understanding of the technical point of view and reasons for any technical concerns.

Likewise if a developer seeks to understand a designers intent behind certain UI or UX decisions, instead of instantly dismissing an idea, she can learn more about why decisions are being made in a certain way.

Hand-off vs. Hand-holding

There is a time for handing-off design files to a developer, but this shouldn’t happen until a relationship exists and there is mutual understanding and input from both parties.

For new teams working together, there may be early hand-holding. Not in a juvenile, supervisions sort of way, but a “we don’t know how each other thinks or works and we should have lots of face time until we figure each other out” sort of way. The more a designer and developer work with each other, the more they learn about the other’s craft, their personality, and how they react to certain social prompts.

UX flows, wireframes, designing a user interface, implementing front-end responsive code, building a back-end and breathing life into a static system— these things all require very different tracks of thought and can easily become fuddled if the relationships between areas are unhealthy.

Each one of these task are difficult in their own way. The more code I write the more I appreciate how difficult it is. It also helps me appreciate the importance of static design and how beneficial it is to move objects around until things feel right from a visual perspective. If all of these things are merged together without the guiding light of UX, it may all be for nothing. The product may fail because it had no real purpose. The UI may look nice. It may display properly in the browser, but it may not be useful. The UX may not have been thought out.


The bottom line is this—build meaningful relationships. Be curious, rather than dismissive.

Designers, get to know your developers and vice versa. The more you know about what they are doing and why, the better you can hear their concerns instead of just listening to them. The more you can empathize with each other and work as a team.

Who knows, if you pull this off really well, you may even build a product like my wife and I have that lasts for 10+ years.

10 year anniversary
10 years and 4 kids later, Shana and I celebrating our wedding anniversary at Château Élan.