One benefit of shifting Beer and UX to a virtual format has been the international growth of the Meetup group. We have been really pleased to see participation from UXers outside of the Bay Area, drawing people in Spain, Kenya, India, and Canada. On the presenter side, being virtual has given us the opportunity to engage speakers we would not otherwise be able to host.
Most recently we partnered with UX for Change to host New York-based Joe Cahill, the Experience Creative Director at Havas (big thank you to friend of Neuron, Naomi Madison for the recommendation and introduction!). With a Sam Adams in-hand, Joe delivered a talk on what he calls “smart handoff.” It was a lively, humorous conversation with many useful tips on how to improve communication and collaboration, particularly between designers and developers. Though by his own admission, the whole talk can be distilled to one sentence: “Just [expletive] communicate!” he explained how spending time together, managing timelines, aligning on features, reducing blockers, and considering time to hand off creates better outcomes for teams.
Spend some time together.
Effective collaboration requires communication, and communication requires that we build and nurture relationships. We are all people after all. This can be as simple as coffee, lunch, a beer, or a “Slack Walk.” Joe reminded us of the informal conversations that happen after meetings as everybody walks back to their respective desks. He suggests recreating these moments in Slack. For him, this is an open invitation to join a quick, informal Slack call while context switching from home. This, he explained, is a great opportunity to debrief and catch up quickly. If you are working as part of a now-distributed team, think of new ways to build and nurture relationships with your colleagues.
Stop playing telephone.
Put simply: speak directly with developers wherever possible. By consulting with developers in the design phase, we can get feedback that ensures our designs remain in the realm of what is feasible. Just like in the children’s game, having a go-between can both slow things down and dilute the intended message. Plus, it does very little for our relationship with the developer if we have a translator. However, sometimes the org chart that puts distance between designers and developers. Joe’s advice remains the same: speak directly with developers whenever possible, but keep the rest of your team informed. It is important to be transparent about what project related ideas you have exchanged in a forum like Slack to ensure everybody feels that they are in the loop.
Try to make your colleague’s jobs easier.
While we all likely appreciate a challenge, we tend to appreciate those thoughtful, easy to work with colleagues more. This is a great way to remind your team — and sometimes yourself — that we all have a common goal: the best possible result for the end user. Making your colleagues’ job a little easier can be as simple as naming your layers — and not just the top layer, Joe reminded the group, knowingly. Good intentions are not enough with this one! This is a small thing that makes life easier for the designers and developers working with you on a project. Labelling your modules as the components helps too.
Another tip he offered: If you want to make friends with a developer, find out which reusable components they have in their libraries, but rarely use.
Have a functional understanding of what colleagues do.
Do UX designers need to know how to code? According to Joe, absolutely not. Unless of course, they intend to work as a developer. Instead he encourages designers to be amazing at design while developing a functional understanding of what their developer colleagues do.
Here’s an approach shared by one of the attendees: “Best advice I got for having a grasp of code is to go talk to devs and be like, ‘I’m a designer, what should I know about your framework? What makes your job easier? What do you like/hate from designers?’”
Another UXer offered: “Code Academy is a great place to learn some basics. I learned HTML and CSS from there. I think it’s good to at least know the basics so when it comes time to handoff you might know more about what they are looking for. ”
Bonus: Follow Bad Bad UX on Instagram
This is a short one: follow Bad Bad UX on Instagram and enjoy a laugh. Maybe even share with your colleagues. If you're looking for a UX/UI partner who doesn't compromise on communication, we'd love to chat - contact Neuron here.
If you are interested in user experience and (optionally) beer? We would love to see you at our next event. Join the Beer and UX group on Meetup.