Easing the Pain of Handoff

“Handoff is my favorite part of the process!” said no one ever.

Dec 22, 2020 · 4 min read

Handoff is when designers hand off their finished UI to developers for implementation. As simple as it sounds, the process requires a great deal of collaboration which often leads to friction. Let’s investigate some of the most common pain points of the process and how to mitigate them.

A smooth design-to-developer handoff largely depends on excellent communication. Without it, different interpretations of the same task can hamper your team’s efforts.

“As a developer, understanding what the problem is we’re trying to solve, helps answer some of the questions about why I’m building the thing I’m building, which is very motivating for me.” — Joe Alterio on Medium

Other common problems and frustrations that come with poor communication are:

  • Feedback loop
  • Poor quality
  • Overlapping skills

Communication is critical, and it isn’t just about speaking a lot. Team members need to be sure that they’re communicating effectively, that everybody is on the same page about what needs to be done.

Designers: not everyone knows what kerning, or opacity is. Developers, please elaborate on API or cache the next time you see someone scratching their head.

It’s a good idea to have daily standups that create a shared space for developers and designers to validate ideas.

Let’s face it: not every designer has a developer’s mindset (and vice versa, hence the communication difficulties), but having one certainly helps. It can help avoid the following common issues. For example:

  • Designers ignoring states between viewports.
  • Mobile modules looking and acting differently than the ones on the desktop.
  • Too many large images and effects that slow down performance.
  • Custom elements are used more frequently than native browser elements.

If designers have even a basic understanding of development, it can help team members work together efficiently and effectively.

“Design systems are an investment. Many companies don’t employ people to focus on design systems until the inefficiencies of not having one become too painful to bear.” Diana Mounter, GitHub.

When there is no Design System, there are no guidelines on how far designers can go when it comes to their creativity. This can lead to inconsistencies that lead to poor UX and frustration for developers.

The Remedies for a Smooth Handoff

So we’ve covered some of the most significant handoff challenges. Let’s look at how to deal with them.

When people are too focused on their jobs, they tend to overlook other people’s contributions. Bridging the gap between design and development improves productivity and, by extension, results. For example, complicated designs may translate into complex code, and a solution suggested by a developer may not result in the most beautiful design concept. That’s why it’s a good idea to collaborate from the onset.

Another way to save yourself time as a designer is to use tools that let developers inspect your designs. There are many tools out there that make it easy for developers to check the visual specs of elements, such as measures of distances, sizes, and styles.

The same goes for assets and style guides. Preparing both takes a lot of time! As a designer, you shouldn’t waste it on preparing everything from scratch. As soon as your design is ready for the world to see, you can name your layers, organize them into groups, and choose a platform that allows you to easily share specs, assets, and code snippets with the developer.

Interactive prototypes are very powerful and helpful for many reasons. You don’t have to build super high-fidelity prototypes with conditional logic right away, but illustrating navigation with a few simple go-to page interactions and screen flows can help everybody understand the product better.

Remove the Need for Handoff Entirely

Use a code-enabled design system manager and you’ll never have to deal with handoff again. Instead, you can push your finished prototypes into production-ready code perfectly tailored to your development team’s preferences. Ready to get rid of handoff once and for all? See how much easier designing and developing a product can be.

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