Designers + Developers: From Duel to Duo

Tatiana Mac
Art Director

Here at eROI, our creative team is one—designers (Dezzies) and developers (Devvies) are left to roam in the same (sun-lit) space.*

We’re forced to look each other in the eye.  We can see each other’s screens.  This forces us to work amicably, collaboratively, and on rare occasions—our egos collide and it gets real.

If you are a designer or developer (or an account person who has tried to mediate us), you are familiar with how dangerous this set-up can be. But when it works, it works well.

For new and intimidated designers, developers are mysterious beings who operate in a true-false, black-white, if-then world in the dark recesses of a development cave.  Their one goal in life is to turn our nuanced designs into rigid computer language.

What I, a designer, have learned through working with many different developers is that fighting against a developer is like fighting with your babysitter.  Ultimately, they can do a lot of damage to your baby, so best not to name-call the hand that feeds.  Though there are laundry lists of technical issues, much of the tension I’ve observed (and been part of) comes from poor communication and lack of understanding.  Do the following to ensure you leave every work day with both hands in tact.

  • Design with a goal in mind.  Before you even begin to design, remember what your end goal is (which is also Devvie’s end goal): user experience.  Can you make that webtext?  Is that image necessary?  With the growth of mobile use, making things leaner and faster (i.e., fewer unnecessary images) is in everyone’s best interest.  Remember the “limitations” of digital design—some desired effects are simply not possible.
  • Be preemptive.  Instead of doing and asking for forgiveness later, take some time to talk through your design to see if it’s even feasible.  This way, you won’t get your heart set on something that’s not possible.  Trust that Devvie will want to work with you on a solution that pleases you both.

Remember they always get your sloppy seconds.  Gross, I know.  Devvies always inherents Dezzie’s files, never the other way around.  They’re trudging through your mess and trying to make sense of it.  Keep that in mind when you organize your files.  This list is by no means exhaustive (if you want to make friends with Devvie, just ask her some annoying things us Dezzies do).
  • Name your layers and files logically. Layer 248B_tryagain_LOLwhoops might be the purple gradient with which you’ve become intimate, but Devvie has no way of knowing that.  By the time she’s toggled on the 400 layers to figure it out, she’s murderous.
  • Merge carefully.  Merge things Devvie doesn’t need to see (i.e., your 17 gradients resulting in one background).  Leave things alone that Devvie does need to see (i.e., don’t merge down web text).
  • Adjustment layers are great for us, bad for them.  Adjustment layers are fantastic for designers since they let you change your mind without losing information. Devvies love the eyedrop. When you use an adjustment layer, however, the eyedrop pulls the color under the adjustment layer, which is likely not the color you want.  Once you figure out the perfect shade of heliotrope, merge down the adjustment layer.
  • Web fonts are living, breathing things.  Though text is a static element in print design, web text changes from OS to OS and browser to browser.  When designing for web text, don’t get married to how something looks specifically.  Text transform is nice for print since it allows us to get that text lined up just so, but bad for Devvie and web text because it results in 30.45 pt ft which does not exist** in CSS.  Achieving specific font-weights, line-heights, and character-spacing can be very challenging through CSS, so integrate some space flexibility in mind.
  • SNAP TO GRID.  If you’re going to be a pixel perfect princess, make sure you’re operating on a grid so that Devvie knows exactly where to slice.  Guides don’t lie!
  • Know your medium and keep it in the family. Web things should always be in 72 dpi across the board.  When you import a 300 dpi Illustrator file (which is presumably CMYK) into a Photoshop for web (which should be RGB at 72 dpi), it’s going to cause some major problems.
  • Be literal and clear in your instructions.  Devvies can do a lot of weird voodoo magic, but telepathy is not one of their talents.  If you want something, make sure you include it.  I so often see designers omit all states.  This leaves Devvies to either design it themselves, to omit it from their development (which may or may not be caught, resulting in a poor UX), or adds an extra step in QA.  All are negatives.  This stresses the importance of talking your designs through so that you don’t miss all different states and the appropriate comps.
  • Make mistakes but adapt.  I mentioned earlier that this list is by no means exhaustive.  There are dozens of irritating things that we do to our files that Devvies deal with every single day.  We also work in a field that is constantly evolving and becoming more efficient.  This leads me to…
  • Encourage open dialogue.  All sweet old couples I’ve ever asked about the secret to a successful marriage have all responded with the same one-word answer: communication.  If Devvie coded something differently than you anticipated, instead of strangling them with your designer scarf and pouting behind your monitor, ask why it was coded that way.  Mostly I find that good Devvies are logical in their actions.  In my personal experience, Devvies have in fact followed my directions to a T. Sometimes I was the one who made the mistake to begin with.  The joy of working on eROI’s creative team is that we can talk with one another face to face.  This can be really challenging when your Devvie is in another timezone or speaks another language, which stresses clear directions.
  • Mock up twice, design once.  Once development is underway, changing something major that requires a Devvie to rewrite most of their code is highly frustrating.  Remember that the consequences of even minor changes can cause a lot of additional programming.  This is also the case in file handoff, where giving a Devvie something piecemeal will cause them to rewrite something they’ve written.
  • Don’t have an ego. If a Devvie calls you out on something you did wrong, admit fault, fix it, and move on. Telling them the last thing they did wrong will likely incense their inner fire.  Remember, they are guarding your baby.

That’s really it for now.  Remember that us Dezzies are not always the easiest people to work with either.  If all else fails, there’s always making them laugh with  Everybody likes that.

* I’m not entirely convinced that we’re not being taped for a MTV show.  If we are not, hey, MTV, I know you’re reading this.  We already have some diva designers who would LOVE to be on TV!

**Does anyone else always think of Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls when her character says, “THE LIMIT DOES NOT EXIST”?

Tatiana Mac
Tatiana Mac, Art Director at eROI.