10 tips to improve collaboration between designers and engineers

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Sometimes, looking at a problem from both an analytical and intuitive point of view helps you find a solution. Other times, it leads to an impasse. If you’ve ever worked on a team that included both designers and engineers, you already know they have fundamentally different ways of working. That can be a challenge when you’re in charge of coordinating a project. So how do you keep the working relationship complementary and conflict free? Here are 10 ways to make the process easier.

1. Step out of your silos

When your teams work in separate locations—whether that’s within one office or across a continent—it’s easy to stumble into misunderstandings. Instead of making assumptions about how another team works or what they need and when, make a point of having a face-to-face kickoff in the same room if possible. That’ll not only get everyone on the same page, it’ll help you build relationships and establish empathetic connections from the outset.

2. Avoid the “us vs. them” trap

When collaboration hits a snag, it’s all too common for teams to turn against each other. Engineers may blame designers for supplying mockups that aren’t functional. Designers may blame engineers for ignoring their designs. But thinking of each other as opponents just breeds distrust. Don’t forget you’re all on the same team. What everyone really wants is to find a solution, do their best work, and achieve the goal you set together.

3. Get aligned

To prevent frustration down the line, it’s crucial to give all collaborators visibility over timelines and deliverables. Most important: everyone involved in a project should be aligned on a unified objective before the teams go off to begin working on their part of the project.

4. Be transparent

Misinterpretation is a common pitfall when collaboration involves two teams with different ways of communicating. Be honest and transparent throughout the process and don’t rely on assumptions. Let your teammates know exactly what you need and when you need it.

5. Accommodate differences

Designers and engineers often have different ways of approaching their work. But this doesn’t have to lead to conflict. Just acknowledge those differences at the outset and respect the others’ judgment and expertise rather than trying to make the other conform to your way of working.

6. Learn each other’s language

To avoid resentment, strive to communicate with the other team members from the kickoff through to delivery. Ideally, designers would learn the language of engineers (i.e. code) and provide context by showing specific examples for the working mockups.

7. Determine the scope as a team

Before you begin your project, gather the teams in a room so all stakeholders can agree on the scope and identify pain points. By including the engineering team at the early stages of the design process, designers can eliminate surprises and help foster collaboration between the two groups.

8. Set the timeline together

Powerful collaboration tools are helpful. But they can’t compensate for the lack of alignment on timing. Engineers and designers often have different ideas about how much time it will take to complete a project. Set clear expectations by inviting the teams to develop the timeline together.

9. Develop a clear process

To make sure everyone stays on the same page, schedule meetings to review the progress of the project at every stage. Establish common naming conventions for all files, and be sure they are organized and accurately labeled.

10. Be flexible

Adjusting to unexpected changes isn’t easy—especially after you’ve invested a lot of time in your work. But having a little flexibility can make a big difference. Don’t get too attached to any single idea. Whenever you find the urge to dig in and resist, remember that the success of the project is what matters most.

For more tips on creating a collaborative culture, download our eBook, Flow Together.

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