At a recent conference, I had the privilege of attending a talk entitled “Developers Can't Design (and other completely untrue design myths)” by the incomparable Jen Myers. Jen is one of those rare individuals who effortlessly flows between design and development, having a formal education in computer science, but also a passion for design. I am not one of those people.
At least, not yet. For, you see, I have traditionally considered myself in the “graphically challenged developer” camp. There was no hope of bridging that gap. I know my limitations and embrace them. But Jen said something that caught my attention.
“Design is teachable.” What's that, you say? But what if I don't have the eye for it? What if I don't have the natural talent? Doesn't matter, she says. “There are rules to be followed. It's about solving problems, not just personal preference, or what you think looks good.” Hmm, I like rules. I can follow rules. There are a lot of rules to development as well. Maybe she's on to something. “It's not magic.” Jen then went on to describe basic design principles (such as balance, proximity, emphasis, unity, repetition) and a few design concepts (such as positive/negative space, color theory, contrast, typography, ratios). As well, she says that there should not be “design” or “development” silos, but the two should be fully collaborative, and work as one team from start to finish. Jen says she's hard on designers who have no interest in learning any code, as well. Being able to speak the language of the other person can make all the difference.
One of the biggest takeaways I got from Jen was the encouragement for developers to just break out of our comfort zone.
“Find a UX group. Go to a UX conference. We won't bite, I promise. In fact, we'll be thrilled to see you there.” Good advice, indeed. Really, that's what it comes down to. Us breaking out of our comfort zone and being open to learning something new. The “I can't design” fallacy is really just that. Instead, we should s/can't/haven't taken the time to.
Coincidentally, the awesome @rands also recently posted a fabulous article on his blog, A Design Primer for Engineers. He goes through the different types of design, and gives us all food for thought.
“Engineers are uncomfortable with ignorance, but worse, we're bad at asking for help outside of our domain of expertise.” I don't know that this applies to everyone, but in general, yes. Perhaps that's the case. He also provides some books to check up on, one of which being “The Design of Everyday Things.” Jen also mentioned this book in her talk, and I can personally vouch for its awesomeness. Believe it or not, it's fascinating.
Probably the best words of advice in his post mirrors what Jen had to say.
“Party. More. Together.” Bringing our communities together seems to be the best answer to bridging the gap between development and design. So what are we waiting for? It's not magic.