One of my favourite things about UX and design is that in our role, we get to interact with so many different people in the service of creating digital products and services. There is an immense satisfaction in coming together, with people of all different skillsets and mindsets, and delivering an incredible thing together.
But, who are all those people and exactly how do we as designers work with them? This post will run through five of the main disciplines that UX designers work with and shed some light on these relationships.
Who do UX Designers work with?
Product managers are the keepers of the vision of the Product, and are responsible for the strategy and roadmap. The roadmap is a plan of where the product is going, and requires Product Managers to define and prioritise features that sit along the roadmap.
Key responsibilities and skills:
- Setting and leading the product vision and strategy
- Translating business requirements, user requirements and technical constraints into a coherent roadmap
- Planning what will be delivered and by when – what will the key milestones be?
- Ensuring competitive advantage and innovation
- Leading the team to greatness!
How do UX and Product Managers work together?
- We can help the product manager set the product vision. UX activities like market research, user research, ecosystem definitions and personas + scenarios give us the opportunity to input into this.
- Feeding in user requirements. UX designers are a key voice of the user within a wider team and it is always up to us to ensure that our users are being considered. You have a good relationship between a UX designer and a Product Manager when the Product Manager enables you to shout about users in team meetings, with stakeholders, and to bring user needs to the table whenever appropriate.
- Collaborate on experiments. A good product manager should never be ‘designing’ the product. But where you do need to collaborate is on how you will attempt to achieve the product goals. For example, the Product Manager might have a goal to increase registration by 20%. Work with the Product Manager to agree what experiments you’ll run to try and achieve this.
- Build a shared understanding of your users. Identifying and validating needs of users is an important part of both roles. As UX designers, we have plenty of tools that help us visualise these which can be incredibly beneficial to a Product Manager.
- Visualising the future. A Product Manager will need to see the future of the product somehow, whether that is through prototypes, wireframes or even sketches. You’ll be able to provide these. But it isn’t just a case of producing visualisations of what they’re asking for – we can use this superpower to influence, persuade and negotiate with the product manager on directions or ideas that we feel would be best for the user.
Project managers are the people with their eyes firmly on their prize: delivery! Project managers are all about getting the agreed set of features delivered at the agreed time, and their role is to make sure that this happens, or if its not going to happen, to communicate to the relevant parties why not.
Key responsibilities and skills:
- Ensuring that work is estimated and scoped correctly. Delivery cannot be planned for accurately without a thorough understanding of the effort and time needed for each task.
- Running team activities to create a working rhythm – sprint planning, retrospectives etc.
- Ensuring that the team feel able to complete the work to the best of their ability, removing blockers or issues, and building team happiness.
- Ensuring that delivery dates are still on track and that the team are delivering towards the goals, and that milestones are realistic.
- Communicating to relevant parties about team progress.
How do UX and Project Managers work together?
- Make sure it is clear how much UX effort will be part of each task. For delivery to be effectively scoped, the project manager has to have a good idea of how much UX work will be required as part of that task
- Figuring out a smooth working process between development and design. It is a truth universally acknowledged that your team will, at some point, have problems with how designers and developers work together. It’s just what happens when you try and get two disciplines with distinctly different outlooks, working styles and coping mechanisms to form one happy team. Great project managers obsess over working practices and they’ll be invaluable at optimising your cross-discipline mojo.
Developers come in all sorts of flavours and sizes. Some of the key terms you may hear:
- Front-end developers are concerned with what you see and interact with. From a designer’s perspective, they will be applying the look and feel, and they will be making the UI interactable for the user.
- Back-end developers work with everything that runs underneath the hood, fiddling about with things like databases and servers. They’ll make sure that the data you need to populate the screen is being delivered, for example.
- A ‘full-stack’ developer is someone who can work on both the front and back end side of development. Lucky them!
Key responsibilities and skills:
- Building things!
- Making sure that things are being built in a way that is scalable – not just optimised for current use but that can also be extended in the future).
- Making sure that things are being built in a way that is efficient – reusing where possible.
- Documenting why and how things were done in the way they were done, so that the codebase can be maintained and understood in the future.
- Translating business and user requirements and presenting technical solutions that fit the bill.
How do UX and Developers work together?
- Gathering technical constraints. Developers are the source of knowledge in terms of what is actually technically possible to achieve within the time you have. Close discussion with the developer who is building what you’re designing is crucial, and not just after you’ve designed something to get a sense check. Part of your UX responsibility is to understand how your product works, even if its at quite a high level, before you’ve even designed anything.
- Getting fresh perspectives. The most high-performing teams I’ve worked on have not just left the ideation and creativity to the design team – its been an entire team sport. We’ve run design sprints that have included development and the richness + quality of ideas in ideation stages has been vastly superior. When it has come to prototyping those ideas, having developers on hand with a better lens on ‘what is possible’ has allowed us to move faster.
- Pairing. There’s nothing better than seeing a designer and a developer, sitting sit by side, looking at a design in the browser or on a device together and tweaking things for real in the code. This is a practise that I highly encourage as it cuts down on the time and effort that it takes to make something happen.
QA, or Quality Assurance
The QA team may technically be part of development, but I’ve split them out as they have different key responsibilities. The role of the QA is to test what has been built to ensure that there are no bugs or problems, that what has been built is what was intended to have been built. This is usually measured by comparing the feature’s Acceptance Criteria (a list of things that the feature has to do for it to be accepted as correct) to its current functionality. If it all matches up, the feature is good to go. If something doesn’t work as intended, the feature gets returned back to development to be fixed.
Key responsibilities and skills:
- Testing what has been built to ensure that it works correctly
- Creating test plans and test cases
- Developing automated testing scripts so that not everything needs to be tested manually
- Ensuring understanding of requirements
- Tracking and managing bugs
How do UX and QA work together?
- Building a shared understanding of the design. It is crucial that the QA engineer understands not just how the design is meant to work, but also that they understand what the intent of the design was. This can help the QA engineer identify bugs when something may be technically working but the intended outcome isn’t.
- Flagging what UX have neglected. We try and design for all edge cases but in my experience, there’s always something that is missed. A QA engineer is able to methodically think about all the different use cases that a design needs to be able to handle, and having a good relationship with your QA engineer will allow you to take advantage of this knowledge before its too late: sitting down with your QA to run through a proposed design before development can save a lot of time.
- Mining ideas from QA. Because the QA team spends a lot of their time thinking about how products can break, you can bet that they’ll have ideas on how to make things better. It can be invaluable to have semi- regular UX and QA catchups about what the QA team thinks can be improved and how.
How visual designers and UX designers work together really depends a lot on how design disciplines are organisationally set-up in your organisation. There seems to be three main models that I have come across:
- The UX design team and the visual design team are separate and report into different people
- The design team is one big happy family, comprised of both UX and visual designers, all reporting in to one overall head
- Everyone is a ‘product designer’, able to do both UX and visual, and this design team all reports in to one head
For the purposes of this post, lets imagine that there are separate job roles for UX and visual designers (regardless of if they report to the same or different people). However! Despite separate job roles, you’ll find that there’ll be some overlap between your key responsibilities and a visual designer’s responsibilities. I see this as opportunity for collaboration and greatness (and this is made a lot easier if you both report into one person and you are one team).
Key responsibilities and skills:
- Creating user interface guidelines and ensuring visual consistency
- Developing the brand and visual identity of the product
- Applying a visual layer to features, functionalities and screens – colour, typography, layout, motion
- Creation of visual assets for development
- Working with UX team to collaborate on the usability and accessibility of products
How do UX and visual designers work together?
- Defining the problem together. When a project kicks off, it is key that both UX and visual designers are there and are able to start thinking together and agree on what the problem is to be solved. Without this early agreement, that is when projects can start rolling off into some super weird directions! Once you’ve agreed on the problem, there will probably be some shared and some separate activities that you can then go off and make a start on.
- Building a shared understanding of user needs. For a design to be truly user-centred and work as intended, it cannot be just the responsibility of the UX designer to understand your users and their needs + goals. Reaching out and including the visual designers in your design research, usability testing and any other activities where you are building a picture of your users, will be supremely beneficial in the long run.
- Building a shared understanding of designs, patterns and layouts. A finished design has to be a collaboration between visual and UX designers. There has to be agreement and a shared design rationale on why a screen has been laid out in a certain way, why we’ve used particular patterns and where the visual emphasis has been applied, for example. Exactly how this collaboration plays out in reality depends on your team culture. I’ve worked in places that have been incredibly collaborative, where UX and visual designers work together closely to create something together, and I’ve worked in places where there were clear lines drawn that UX would work on something all the way up to wireframe stage at which stage there was a ‘handover’ to a visual designer who then took the design from there. No prizes for guessing which model I feel more closely aligned with (hint: it has the word collaboration in it).
- Iteration! There can be a lot of back and forth communications, quick iterations and building off each others ideas throughout the process. Embracing this and seeing yourselves as two halves with complementary skill sets will make the entire process easier and hopefully even fun. Taking each other’s ideas into account and iterating to make something even stronger is the end goal here.
- Testing your design. Whether you are testing throughout the design phase (best) or testing at the end only (better than nothing!), this is an activity to do together. For example, when a user is trying to figure out how your prototype works, you’ll both want to be there when the user is struggling with the navigation that could both be a bit simpler and perhaps stand out more visually.
Other job roles that UX designers work with
These are five of the main disciplines that you’ll be collaborating with as a UX designer, but there are more! Leave a comment if there are particular job roles that you’d like me to break down, or subscribe to get an email when the next post is up!