Driving Collaboration Between Designers and Engineers

Designers and engineers approach product development in entirely different ways -- and that's the beauty of it. Each team needs the other to bring ideas to life. However, too often a lack of collaboration creates a nasty little knot of misunderstanding, distrust, and frustration that's very difficult to untangle.

What Not to Do

The wrong mix can create an adversarial environment that's toxic for the working relationship:

  • The silo effect -- Instead of collaborating, teams sit in separate rooms getting riled up, making assumptions about the other team and how it works. Assumptions create blind spots, and blind spots mean a mess of misunderstandings.
  • Us versus them -- It's easy to fall into the "us versus them" trap, particularly when things go wrong. "The mockups the designer supplied weren't functional." "The engineers completely ignored this part of the design." Distrust between teams can chip away at the foundations of a project and make it all fall over.
  • Misalignment -- Do you know what's going on? (No, really.) Not having visibility over agreed project timelines, clear deliverables, or a unified objective is a recipe for frustration and disappointment.
  • Lack of communication -- "Don't they know that's not how I wanted it done?" Well, that's exactly it -- they don't. Not being transparent and communicative throughout the process leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation, and deviation from what you'd envisioned.

How to Make It Work

Acknowledging and accommodating the differences between designers and engineers can prevent headaches later on.

  • Talk to one another -- A lot of resentment can be avoided up front if teams simply speak to each other from day one. Don't merely pass work along the chain -- be collaborative, solving the problem together from the get-go.
  • Expect the unexpected -- Transparency is crucial. Get the teams in a room together and lay it all out. Figure out what you can and can't do before you start the project.
  • Process, process, process -- Even if you have the best collaboration tools on hand, without a clear process that everyone sticks to, you'll never be fully unified. You must:
        - Work together to develop the project timeline; designers and engineers have very different concepts of hours required.

        - Make sure all communication is in writing (it can be tempting to grab someone at their desk for "just a minute," but follow up with a note somewhere for the wider team to have access to).

        - Think about common naming conventions for all files.

  • Work, together -- Get rid of the wall, literally. A session with the designer and engineer in the same room not only streamlines the process, but helps foster relationships.
  • Flex your empathy -- When things threaten to change, it's instinctual not to budge. You've worked too hard on the visual direction, or you just know that design is almost impossible to code. Here's where the empathy needs to kick in -- a little flexibility goes a long way. Be prepared to let go of some ideas -- it's not about you, but the greater success of the product.

Designers and engineers ultimately produce better work when they're working as one team -- even if they do look at it in different ways.

Save your spot for Dropbox's upcoming webinar, "The Future of Collaboration with Dr. Brian Uzzi of Northwestern U." You'll learn about the areas related to teamwork that are undergoing the most rapid change, hear about Dr. Uzzi's research on collaboration best practices and predictions for the future, and discover how our Enterprise Insights team works with Dropbox Business customers to identify and solve their most critical collaboration challenges.