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Top Challenges of Working with Separate Design and Engineering Firms

January 31, 2019
4 min read

Here at Very, we sometimes get projects where the designs have already been completed by another agency or firm. While this might seem like good news for us—saving us time and effort—it typically results in complications.

Speaking from our own experience, we’ll go over four of the biggest difficulties that you’ll encounter when using separate design and engineering firms. For these reasons, we strongly prefer projects where designers and engineers can work closely together.

1. Lack of Communication and Alignment

The first issue is that the separate design and engineering teams aren’t automatically on the same page.

Although design agencies may believe they understand the role of user experience, they often prioritize the product’s look and feel instead. As a result, they design a product that looks sleek and attractive, but that may be frustrating and confusing for the product’s intended audience.

When product design occurs exclusively before engineering, it’s often problematic because the design won’t have the opportunity to gather input from the engineers who will be implementing the designs. Smart developers know that building feedback loops between designers and engineers is critical in order to address the challenges both teams face.

2. Additional Work Required

Due to the lack of communication between the design and engineering teams, engineers may have to do extra design work themselves.

Good engineers understand that users have adapted to certain product conventions. When building a mobile app, for example, users have certain expectations for things such as gestures and layout that inform how they interact with the app. However, designers may not have taken these factors into consideration, making additional work for the engineering team.

On the other hand, designers often receive designs that they have to work with and implement on the front end – it’s not always the engineers. This means that the designers will likely have to spend the extra time re-doing designs if UX was not originally considered.

This can also create conflicts with the client. Engineers see flaws and holes in the current designs and want to improve upon them. Meanwhile, the client wants to pass directly to implementation, without spending more time and effort on the design phase.

3. Unrealistic Expectations

Without frequent contact with the engineering team, it’s easy for designers to get a little carried away. Sometimes designers try to impress the client with nice features or animations that aren’t actually feasible for engineers to create. However, when designers are able to pass off full responsibility for implementation to the engineering team, it can result in conflicts and slowdowns.

In other cases, the designs are actually possible, but would require a significantly higher budget or longer timeline than the client has envisioned. Both designers and engineers need to collaborate in order to agree on the features that are “must haves” and those that are just “nice to haves.”

At Very, we’ve largely dropped the waterfall model in favor of a feature-centric model. We design specific product features one at a time, and then work with the engineers to make sure that they have everything they need to implement them. Although the waterfall model is sometimes necessary for certain projects, it’s become outdated for the type of products and applications that we typically work on.

4. Incorrect File Types

The lack of coordination between both teams means that designers often send over files that are in an unusable format. For example, Photoshop files are not very useful for implementing a design, forcing engineers to do extra work understanding the design and exporting assets. Fortunately, as more and more agencies are getting used to updated tools, this is becoming less of a problem.

How Does Very Get Ahead of This Problem?

Having both competent designers and engineers together in-house is essential when building a product. If the teams and firms are kept separate, then you’ll have to deal with a great deal of overhead in the form of revisions and handoffs that will slow everything down. By keeping designers and engineers working together, you’ll cut costs and also create a better final product.

Here at Very, we require our designers to learn front-end technology stacks for building web and mobile apps, and to write production-ready code if need be. By gaining this understanding, our designers will also consider the engineering side of things, e.g. how the design will be implemented and how long it will take. In addition, this allows designers to step in and enact their own designs in the event that engineers misinterpret them.

Very’s design and engineering teams communicate at least every day, and often multiple times per day. We have daily standup meetings for every project, where the entire team gets together to discuss what they’ll be working on and get help with any issues or questions. By creating a more seamless process that moves faster with fewer hiccups, both the client and our employees benefit.

What’s more, when designers and engineers are both involved throughout the project, the code quality and consistency of the final product are higher. The project’s timeline and budget are typically shorter, and products can be tested and deployed more quickly.

Final Thoughts

Faster timelines, lower costs, and higher-quality products are just a few of the advantages when you have designers and engineers working together.

Curious about these benefits? Don’t just take our word for it—get in touch with us and we’ll help you figure out what you need for your next project.