Why I care about design as a developer

February 02, 2020

Design encompasses the why, what, and how of a product or service, requiring both the visual and functional aspects of a system to work together. I care about creating high-quality experiences and as an engineer, that means understanding design and working well with designers.

Hopefully I can encourage more of my fellow developers to learn about design and work more closely with designers.

Why is design important to me?

Think about the last product you used. What was your experience with it? Was it fun? Did it save you time?

Or was it frustrating? Did it make you confused?

I'm grateful for good design. It makes my day better whether its because the app I'm using works well or makes me smile. The design of a product or service greatly affects its users.

Simply put, I want to create enjoyable experiences. I take pride in the skills I'm building to create those experiences and look forward to learning more so that I can craft even better products in the future.

Design helps me build the right thing

A key component of good design is developing an increased understanding and empathy for a user's needs. This is emotionally and intellectually fulfilling. I love understanding problems other people face and being able to help them.

While working at a product development company, I met dozens of people trying to build new products. Our most successful clients worked hard to understand who they were building for and what pain they were solving. Without this understanding, clients struggled to make their idea a reality no matter how well we engineered their idea.

It's easy to fall into the trap of building a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. I've wasted a lot of time and energy pursuing projects I thought were great ideas, but that would ultimately have no lasting impact because I was too focused on the solution, not on identifying the problem.

Design techniques like ethnography and journey maps help me validate assumptions and make evidence-based decisions. If I can discover and understand real pains using these techniques, I'm one step closer to building something truly great. That leads to personal fulfillment, making money to provide for my family, and improving other people's well-being.

Design helps me collaborate better

During an internship, my boss greeted me with several assignments to get started on. One was to study a long list of abbreviations commonly used in the department and team. Imagine my joy as I opened a document with almost one hundred obscure terms to learn.

I was pretty confused the first few weeks because I didn't understand the language around me. After getting the hang of it, I was better able to express my ideas and understand what others were saying.

Each profession has their own language, and being able to speak another profession's language is highly valuable. As a developer, designers are my professional neighbors, so speaking their language is essential.

Speaking a common language reduces misunderstanding and helps ideas get expressed clearly. That means completing projects faster with fewer mistakes.

Design helps me develop new skills

I enjoy that learning design helps me develop a wide variety of skills. It pushes me in ways that I wouldn't be if I was only writing software.

Working on interdisciplinary teams and with customers has helped me communicate more effectively, both verbally and in writing. It's pushed me outside my comfort zone, helping me be confident and calm in new situations.

I've also grown as an artist. Sketching is a really effective tool to communicate ideas, and it turns out that communicating complex ideas in a simple format is a pretty great skill, so to be a better designer, I've invested time into being a better artist.

Aside from sketching, I've learned a variety of design tools to help me express my ideas. I especially enjoy iterating on ideas in Figma, testing apps with ProtoPie, and creating fun illustrations with Illustrator.

Having this secondary interest helps me develop myself intellectually in new ways and offers a nice break from coding. It's fun to do something different and end up with a cool result, even if it's just following a tutorial like the two illustrations I did below.

Happy Fire illustration

Glass planet illustration

These new skills are personally fulfilling, and they are helping my career. I highly value my family and the time I get to spend with them, so I want to build a career that supports that. I feel like having these skills is opening new doors for us.

Design makes me happy

Above all, good design makes me happy. Designing things makes me happy and I want to keep getting better at it.