I’m selfishly teaching design to my engineers

Every so often, you come across an engineer who says that “design isn’t hard”. We know that’s nonsense, otherwise every product in the world would be great. But don’t wave off these comments. It’s important to realize that this engineer may not understand the challenges of design. Final designs are supposed to look as simple as possible, which makes it a deceptively difficult practice.

So as a designer, you need to evangelize your work.

If you’re not sharing your wisdom about the ins and outs of the design process, you’re making your life harder. As the designer of a project planning tool for designers (Purple.pm), I’ve taken a proactive stance on this ever since the start. I knew that if our engineering team didn’t understand the work that goes into design, we would never be able to build a polished product. Here’s how I’ve taught them.

1. Walking through my college design projects

I started by showing some real design processes. I no longer had access to my Microsoft/Imgur projects, but at least I could show something. We walked through files in my old Dropbox, but I focused on pulling up the mundane stuff. Early drafts of personas, user consent forms, heuristic evaluation results, videos of user research sessions, etc. This was eye-opening for them. One of my teammates told me he never thought design would be so complex.

Okay! A step in the right direction.

2. Quick presentations and exercises

For a little while, I presented a different topic on design every other week. At the end of some of the presentations, I even included design challenges for them to try out in pairs. The presentations that I gave were:

  • Brainstorming techniques
  • Constructive design feedback
  • User research techniques
  • Running a usability test
  • Writing good usability testing questions
  • Ways designers can command respect
  • Affordances and signifiers
  • Delighters

By the way, these presentations should be ugly and quick.

3. Teaching Figma

At one point while working, one of my teammates asked how I can always tell if a color is slightly off, or if some padding is a few pixels too large. That got me thinking…it’s time for them to go hands on with a design tool. Then they’ll understand the “eye” for design and the importance of precision.

Over two sessions, I taught them the basics of Figma, and they each worked on a mini-project — finding a mobile app or website and simply recreating it from scratch in Figma. The results are below — I couldn’t be prouder. They did all of the gradients, vector shapes, icons, logos, etc. No copy/pasting.

Team discussions

Occasionally, we’ll explore new products as a team and discuss how we can learn from them. I also regularly share and discuss design articles that touch on new subjects. These ones were particularly interesting for us:

How to write products by Ben Hersh

A Comprehensive Overview of UX Design Deliverables by Nick Babich

When great product teams ship broken UX: 4 steps to mind the gap by Jeoff Wilks

Where does this lead?

After all of this, I notice a ton of little things about my team. They provide better design input, prioritization discussions are more scenario-focused, and they understand a lot more about Purple’s end users.

If you’re a designer, that’s you. Go check us out, give it a spin, and hopefully you‘ll find that projects are much less chaotic than before thanks to a great team of designers.


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