Closing the gap between design and development

By RocketAir Crew
June 30, 2022

As a design team, we know how important it is to get implementation right. Our work has limited impact until it’s built and brought into reality. In the words of Product Strategist Brandon Fiksel: 

Even more important than doing excellent design is making sure that it sees the light of day.

Whether it’s collaborating with our own development partners or with external teams, clients count on us to make sure our designs are developed with pixel-perfect precision. That’s why the design-to-development handoff process is so crucial. We view it as more than a simple baton pass—it’s an arm-in-arm team effort from start to finish. Fiksel draws on his years of experience partnering with external engineering teams to build digital products when he says:

The key to a successful designer-developer partnership is full-process collaboration, from the initial planning stages, through wireframes, through high-fidelity prototypes. When the development team is involved at the start of a project, not only can they spark ideas born from their unique perspective, but they can speak to technical feasibility, scope, and functionality right out of the gate.

When redesigning FocusVision’s powerful Video Insights platform, for example, we needed to navigate complex user flows and product functionality. We brought the client’s engineering stakeholders into the planning phase early and often to validate every one of our solutions.

Whether it’s a highly technical product like this, or a marketing website built on Webflow, a beautiful digital experience requires a beautiful friendship between design and development.

How to create a successful designer-developer partnership

Communicate regularly throughout the project

Being in lockstep from the very beginning will help avoid communication breakdowns that might delay timelines or compromise the final result. At this stage, it’s important to also decide how comments, concerns, and recommendations will be relayed, not to mention establishing in which formats the deliverables will be. And communication doesn’t stop at handoff. Designers and developers are on the same team, and both need to be present and active until the end.

When working with an outside engineering team, we recommend identifying a primary point of contact for technical validation and setting up a direct channel of communication like Slack.

Collaborate closely and work with transparency

While designers would do well to adopt a development mindset so they can understand engineering constraints, it’s important for developers to have direct involvement in order to ensure technical feasibility. And with end-to-end visibility, from UX and IA considerations through hi-fidelity visual design, developers are able to plan accordingly for on-time delivery. 

Tools like Figma can help designers and developers collaborate openly. In the case of BlockFi, we literally worked side-by-side with engineering stakeholders in their New York City office. For many clients, we’ll include their development team in weekly design meetings so they can validate the proposed functions and layouts, and raise questions as we progress. After handoff, our designers remain involved to catch any critical discrepancies between the intended designs and the actual development.

Provide thorough documentation 

This one’s easily underestimated, but by making sure developers have everything they need, designers can help reduce the back-and-forth that can delay a project. Typical deliverables include design layouts and components; spacing, typography, and color guidelines; and logic specifications. Interactive prototypes are helpful to demonstrate particularly complex functionality. And this doesn’t necessarily happen all at once. Working with adaptive agility, we’ll often offer multiple handoffs so that development can start before the design phase is complete.  

In the end, it all comes down to teamwork. When designers and developers form a seamless partnership, there’s no limit to the incredible work they can do together.