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From Suspicious Siblings to Perfect Partners: Designers and Software Engineering
If you grew up with a sibling, you’ve likely heard, “Play nicely with your sister!” or “Share with your brother!” If so, the groans of reluctance in response to these requests are probably also familiar. In the past, the same friction frequently arose between industrial design and mechanical engineering team members.
Yet just as siblings who couldn’t stand the sight of each other as kids often become fast friends as adults, a close working relationship has evolved between industrial design and mechanical engineering teams—one that benefits innovation, product design, and commercial success.
It has taken many years for these two teams to develop positive, natural relationships and strategies for working together. These days, partnership between the two disciplines has evolved into effective collaboration processes based on recognition of their mutual value in developing world-class products that are often differentiated by outstanding design implementation.
A parallel evolution is in progress today, with designers in user interface (UI), user experience, and interaction design trying to work with their counterparts in software engineering. The challenge of quickly evolving working relationships here is crucial and necessary, especially in the domain of complex commercial and industrial applications.
Traditionally, commercial applications (those created for users in business, government, or academic institutions) had a very strong emphasis on functionality, with little regard for how well the applications worked and looked for the end users. To this day, one can readily find commercial applications where the application flow is complicated and non-intuitive. Getting to necessary information often requires navigating a deep and “blind” set of menus and screens to reach the goal. Often, aesthetic considerations, application flow, and layout are not complementary to reaching the desired information in the easiest, fastest, and most natural way.
It seems that in the commercial and enterprise worlds, we are at the early stages of designer-developer integration and relationship building. While it is more generally recognized by product managers that designers and developers need to collaborate, right now it seems as if they need to be forced to the table to work with each other. The mutual respect and understanding of the value of integration is grudgingly accepted. The industrial design-mechanical engineering relationship has evolved (for the most part) to be one that is mutually inclusive and respectful based on clear recognition that the whole produced is greater than the sum of the parts. In these early stages of designer-developer relations in the world of software, it takes concerted effort and “push” by the functional managers to create the relationships.
As developers start working with designers, they will start to naturally recognize the value of having more elegantly designed and efficient apps that are as engaging to the commercial user as apps are for consumer users. Likewise, as designers start collaborating with developers, they will naturally recognize that their vision for the application design and flow can more readily be realized through collaborative processes. A successful product needs to embrace both form and function.
In the end, good designers and developers both want the same end result: applications that are readily embraced and even enjoyed by the intended users. This leads to commercial success. As commercial application designers and developers gain experience in cooperative development processes, those relationships will become more productive and natural in the future.
Yet just as it takes time for brothers and sisters to appreciate one another, the working relationship between commercial application designers and developers will take time to settle into a natural—and effective—working rhythm.
Mitch Maiman is president and co-founder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), a product design company headquartered in Hauppauge, New York. Mr. Maiman has more than 30 years of product design experience and holds a portfolio of United States and international patents.
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