On the relationship between Designers and Developers
A few personal thoughts about the Visualized conference
Last Saturday –March 11th– I had the opportunity to talk on behalf of Accurat at the Visualized conference in Milan about the relationship and dialogue between designers and developers in our projects.
As the dust settled, I wanted to write down a couple of things about the relationship and dialogue in designing things and also, more generally, about the experience of the speech.
Speaking in public is not easy, at least the first few times, when you still have to build the confidence needed to feel at ease on stage.
This was by far the biggest audience I’ve spoken to so far, and overall the second time I had to give a speech that wasn’t a dissertation for a school or university project. So I was a bit nervous, especially because the public was all made of people that are very good at what we do, and I felt I had to represent the whole studio and the project the right way… no pressure tho!
Before it’s your time on stage, you always feel you have to go somewhere or do something, while trying to repeat your speech on the back of your head of course.
But I like it. This feeling, the stress you feel moments before is very real, and it goes away the exact moment you start talking, and realise people enjoy what you’re saying.
So you go on, and before you know it, you’ve reached the last slide and everyone is clapping. You did good. Yes, of course you could have said this instead of that, could have read a little less from the notes on screen but, it’s over, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
It will matter next time tho, so prepare better, go up there and do your best!
What’s really important is to enjoy the act of speaking in public, if you’re passionate about what you’re saying and putting yourself into it, people will notice, and the whole thing will feel personal and relatable.
While we were the last to give our speech, all the other speakers did show really good projects and brought up very interesting topics, ranging from monitoring data on car fines in city centres, to visualising the happiness of a country with muffins!
Variety was really great and I believe leads to the main point of this little stream of consciousness, which is communicating.
In fact, what emerged during the various talks is that data visualisation is a tool we use to convey many different messages, in even more different ways.
As in speaking, words can be numb but convey a rather emotional meaning, or quite the opposite.
Language, as in dialogue between two or more individuals, or even one if you happen to have imaginary friends, is something that is inherently difficult. It’s a linear translation of the thought process, which might not be so linear.
When I first thought about this, being a fan of science related topics, an image popped into my mind, the single slit diffraction of light experiment.
This image shows how light (in this case in form of a laser), passing through a small gap, behaves like a wave, and forms areas where single photons, behaving like a wave, hit the control surface. I like to think that an idea, which in this case is light, passing through our way to express it, the slit, can end up in different places, very much like a concept can be portrayed, or represented, in different ways.
This depends on the way you want to tell things, and your ability to do so. The issue in this is that of course, if you happen to be a not so good talker as I think I am, you might have trouble in expressing yourself, wether the context might be.
That’s the reason why I believe data visualisation, and visual communication in general, can suffer from the same issues.
Of course there’s no absolute right or wrong, but each solution has to be evaluated based on its context, almost every subject has an appropriate way to be described.
This might seem rather obvious for many of us, but leads to another point, which is working as a communicator in general.
I think of designers as communicators in a broader sense, as each and every one of us has to deliver a message in order to be successful at what we do; you need to convey information the right way, or your product might not reach enough customers, your campaign might not produce the expected results and so on.
Data visualisation, even being a cross-over of many different disciplines, still has a foot stable into graphic design for obvious reasons, and is not excluded from this. It’s not easy to find the right way to convey information, and I’m not talking only in terms of style, but also in the hierarchy in which information is given to users.
Until we get to a point in technology advancements where our thoughts can be shared without having to go through a medium at least once, there will always be some problems in communication.
In our field, these issues pop out often when talking with clients, which is totally fine and a part of our job everyone knows and kind of knows how to deal with, but they also pop out every now and then when you’re talking with other members of your team that are not specifically designers.
When designing anything in our studio, we try to involve developers as much as possible from the early phases of the process, to get a better grasp on what is (or is not) doable within the time we have to deliver the product.
Within the time is emphasized because every developer will tell you at some point that everything’s doable, given enough time and resources, but not every project has unlimited time and budget, right?
→ We talked about this specific issue during our speech at Visualized, and in case you weren’t there, I also wrote a transcript of the speech here
Placing constraints design– and development–wise is important, as it streamlines the whole process, without by any means limiting the final result.
It’s important for us designers to know, even broadly, which are the things that are doable, to not waste time on proposals that can’t be delivered, to overcome what issues might appear and, if possible, design something that already has a solution for possible future issues.
As in every part of our lives, we often have to use dialogue to get to the best solution possible, and I don’t mean as compromising, but using communication as a way to understand, and then solve, problems.
Which are not always a bad thing, or only requests by the client, but can very well be just different ways to approach work by different people in your team.
These are all issues that have already been addressed for quite a while (most notable examples: here and here), and interesting points also have been made by people with far more knowledge and experience than me, but I still believe that the issue is very present, and there’s no really easy fix for this, except for being good listeners.
After all before saying something, it’s always better to listen for what others have to say!