The pull towards design

April 15th, 2015

For the past several years our industry, the tech industry, has been pulling designers that work within it down the stack — so to speak — towards engineering. They’ve drilled into their heads that they need to learn to code or, at the very least, to be able to create functional prototypes of their designs so that they can demonstrably visualize interactions, animations, transitions, and more.

I think this pull has been good for everyone; designers, engineers, and end users of the products they build. I believe that designers are now able, perhaps more than ever, to fully realize their visions for a product or feature. I believe that engineers are now able to focus more on core pieces of an application or service and are less frustrated by the friction between the design and engineering teams. And the consumer is, presumably, getting a much more refined and purposed end product. Good. Good. Good.

My friend Paul Stamatiou is a designer at Twitter working on Twitter Video & Photos. He recently published a great blog post explaining how he and his team were able to prototype their designs for Twitter for iOS’s video feature in a way that allowed their vision for the feature to be fully realized within the application. He noted: 

Prototypes are partly for me to get a sense for what something could feel like and validate the interactions of the concept. However, they are very much also for communicating intended designs with all stakeholders. I would often show early prototypes to my manager Brendan Donohoe for his thoughts along with others at design critiques, in addition to emailing screencasts to the video team.

As a programmer I’ve always wanted what Paul now has. The ability to take an idea and see it through from beginning to end. You see, for years I’ve worked with great designers and that has somewhat stunted my ability to bring my ideas fully to life on my own. I’ve been so spoiled from working with Mike Rundle, Larry Angel, and Kyle Ruane that whenever I would try to design something on my own I simply couldn’t. I “needed” them. Lately, I’ve had this nagging feeling that I need to change what I’m doing, how I do it, and start walking towards design in order to get what I want. I may never be a great designer, but I know I can be a better designer than I am now.

Last month at Designal Tap, Kyle Ruane’s monthly design critique, I voiced that opinion to a little over a dozen local designers. My point that night, whether I made it or not I do not know, was that our industry has been pulling designers towards engineering and I think it is time for it to pull engineers more towards design. Why should designers have all the fun? Many in attendance were nodding so perhaps I am not alone.

As engineers let’s stop thinking the only way to pull designers towards us is for them to move on their own. Perhaps we can pull our way towards them and meet them halfway.