Whenever I worked for engineering driven organizations, design was slightly undervalued. Even though the importance of design is acknowledged, we always struggle to achieve excellence in something that inevitably becomes a second class citizen. This has been especially true for organizations that ship continuously, where tiny improvements go live daily, with “better-done-than-perfect” mentality. This made me appreciate the type of developers that have a certain jest for design and product, that I could partner with and rely on to get the most out of design under these specific circumstances.
Most of the developers I worked with, however, are in a different group. They conform to the very distinct lines of responsibility — designers design, and following their input developers develop. Writing software is already difficult enough, so keeping these two activities distinctly apart and providing them with clear guidelines seemingly makes sense.
I used to believe that. When I was a young jerk, I’d roll my eyes at comments coming from random non-designers because they, of course, shouldn’t lecture designers about design. This foolish view has started to abandon me as soon as I began facing problems where my genius would run out of capacity when challenged with too much complexity. And as I would almost instantly learn, many observations I’d get every day were much more clever than anything I could come up on my own.
UX design is, to a great degree, a question of willpower. Everybody can do it and as a matter of fact everybody in a company is doing it, whether they’re aware of it or not. But in the end of the day designers hold the ownership and responsibility for staying with the problem longer.
Our principal duty is to hear and understand all sides and perspectives, and to synthesize it into what is of the biggest value for our users. In this process, everybody who informs the design is very welcome.
At a practical level, however, the work we produce and the UIs our users interact with depend on developers, so you could say their engagement with the design is slightly more important for us as it can have massive impact on the quality of our work.
In every team I’ve been a part of, I had developers more enthusiastic to participate in the design than the others. They understand you’re on the same job, just with different tools. Their feedback is priceless. They introduce you into the inner workings of the system, unlocking perspectives you otherwise could never discover on your own. They make design better and they make you a better designer. They’re my 10x developers.
Individual credit in software is bullshit. There are marvelous musicians and artists, individuals whose wonderful gift leaves you speechless, but not in software. No matter what they convinced us to believe about Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Some individuals can impact the organization differently from the others, hats off to them, but what we end up admiring in software is always the result of the collective effort. As most people building products learn sooner or later.