Information Architecture, Web Design, Web development

Top tips for working with developers

Strategies for working with developersWorking in a busy office is one of the best parts of being a designer or information architect – you can bounce off ideas, discuss projects with others and get their input, and you can generally have a good laugh.

That is until the time comes where a new project is being started or requirements are being updated. Usually then some sort of “rivalry” will ensue, and in 90% of the cases it will be between a designer or information architect and a developer or development coordinator. Scope was not fully explained or defined, the design is too complicated to build, or data is not coming from the sources it was meant to.

In those times frustration can quickly result in stress and lack of commitment to a project. Let’s see what we would do to remedy that…

1) Information Architects: Start off on the right foot and plan ahead

At the beginning of a project make sure that you define scope and requirements clearly. Nothing is worse than a badly set up and planned out sitemap or wireframe without annotations or data specifications. To create a clearer mindset it is always best to let a lead developer for the project to have a look at the sitemap/wireframe before it goes to the client to ensure all requirements are met, what the developers will need to consider and where data needs to come from. It is also good practise to let developers come up with a timeframe of how long the development will take based on the wireframe.

2) Designers: Plan your designs

This is very self-explanatory, but you would not believe how many designers (especially freelancers I worked with) are getting it wrong: make sure you understand the intention of the site and its requirements. A simple brochure-style site has and entirely different look from a travel booking website or an online shopping website.Make sure you look at the sitemap and wireframe and if unsure about functionality or what development tricks (AJAX, Flash, JS) will be used then ask questions!

3) Designers: Form follows function – or: practical design

Websites are here to wow us – but will a Flash and graphics heavy website really do the trick when all a user wants to do is log in and find out if his holiday booking went through? A stunning design is great, but you also need to take the purpose of the site, its users and their habits or actions while on the site into consideration. Visitors or users of the website need to feel comfortable being and interacting with the website.

Additionally, avoid Flash-heavy pages or content: aside from not everyone being on fast broadband, Flash intros are a thing of the past, and Flash content still cannot be indexed properly and disallows users from bookmarking important or relevant pages properly.

4) Information Architects / Designers: Understand the tools of the trade

Keep bookmarks for development tools handy!
Keep bookmarks for development tools handy!

While you may not do any hands-on coding it makes sense to at least understand what certain development tools, what their limitations are, and most of all what other developers manage to do with them. Brush up on developer tools such as AJAX, MooTools, jQuery, CSS, Flash and xml-integration. Keep a list of development bookmarks not only for that reason, but also to then find a solution together with the development team to make a certain effect or part of functionality working – and it gives you a good idea what other developers are doing to stay on the forefront of development techniques.

5) Designers: define interaction

Following on from the previous point, make sure and be clear about how certain tools are going to be used on the site. More and more opportunities arise where certain functionality can be used, interactive login-panels, auto-updating shopping baskets, interactive flight-checks, Flash-driven maps… anything is possible! But make sure you understand that these interactive development stages can take up a lot of time, so it is best to check with the project manager / development leader to see how much of the budget has been alloted to this stage and if you may need to cut back for this phase.

6) Designers: define and share responsibilities

For a designer a project is not finished once the PSDs are sent to the development team – be sure to stick your nose into the development process occasionally to make sure your designs are implemented correctly and that they developers have all they need. It may be that you need to rethink / redesign certain panels or call to actions or that you will need to resupply certain pages, panels or button styles.

Following on from point #4, it might even make sense helping at the CSS / HTML cutup to not only help the developers, but to get an understanding how your design is looked at and what needs to be done. Knowing CSS / HTML cutup (even in parts) is a really valuable asset these days!

7) Information Architects: capture information, the right way!

The buzz-word for years is “data-capture” – getting visitors to a website is one thing, but making sure they come back and leave their details is another. Make sure your forms are easy to understand and not pages and pages long if you don’t want to scare them away, and only ask for data necessary to the task – why should I give you my date of birth or post code if all I want is a newsletter??

Also, do make sure you have a tick box to opt in and out of marketing materials such as direct mail or newsletters, and have a clear call to action to your privacy policy.

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I hope the tips help keep you and the development team working successfully on all your projects!

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