Collaborating with Developers: Guide and Practical Tips


11 min read

Collaborating with Developers

If you manage a project or a business, you need to embrace the idea that collaborating with developers is the best way forward. Not just in theory but in practice. Using the right person for the right job is a necessity. Multi-dimensional, cross-skilled teams who can work together on elements of designer and development get the best results in the most effective and efficient way.

The idea that designers just design and developers just code, while living in mutually independent worlds is a myth. Both sides need to know what the others bring to the table as well as learn to work with each other to make life easier for both. As a manager, or as a designer who works with developers you need to look at the best ways of improving your relationship and getting the most out of the collaborative process.


Why Collaborating with Developers?

The aim of the collaboration is ultimately to produce optimum results. By getting the right people, doing the jobs that their skills and experience suit them, you should get a better product in a quicker and more efficient way. The key skills of design and development both take years of training and perhaps even natural talent or inclination. Real professionals do a better job than somebody who has decided to add another string to their bow.

And the key to good collaboration with developers is communication, respect, and appreciation of the roles of others. Without these strong bonds, there is a high risk of a chaotic approach, rivalry, anger, demotivation, and all the other niggles being forced to the surface and really damaging your project and even your business.

But knowing the values of collaboration and actually achieving good collaboration are two different things. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just selecting the specialists and pitching them together. We all need to work actively on collaboration, everybody, from the very top right through the business. Get it right and the benefits are huge, get it wrong and you’re in trouble.


The Principles of Collaboration

Collaboration is not just about putting people together and expecting it to work unless you are very lucky. You need to put principles in place in your business that treat collaborative work as a core foundation. Give resources and time and plan a collaborative approach to projects.

Learn From Each Other

Perhaps the biggest problem facing different teams, developers, and designers is the fact that they seem to inhabit different worlds. It is easy to assume all designers to be all for the visual and developers all for the technical. Whilst this may be partly true, there are certainly plenty of cross-over skills to be found and common ground to be explored.

Collaborating with developers is helped greatly when each side knows more about what the other is supposed to be doing. What their function is and what are the common problems faced. Whilst it is accepted that managers need to have a broader view of what is the function and processes of each role, it is also important on the shop floor, as it were. One of the keep principles of all the best collaborative approaches is to learn as much as possible about the roles of others, this should breed mutual respect, and understanding and lay the base of a constructive relationship.

The One-Team Approach

When working on collaborative projects is aim is to fashion various roles and departments into one team, working for the greater cause and pulling in the same direction. This is true when people are working with you in the office or freelancing from a remote corner of the globe. Your management and people skills are what will pull this together. We are looking at a high level of good consistent communication, and making every individual feel valued and of equal importance.


5 Practical Tips on Collaborating with Developers Effectively

Designers and developers are different in what they do, that much is obvious. That designers and developers are different in how they think and approach problems may not be so transparent. While designers tend to go for visual impact, most developers edge towards practical, logical solutions. In most cases, the best results lie somewhere in between the two, so combining the skills and visions in a collaborative approach should be the obvious solution.

1. Inclusive Team Management

The strongest teams are the ones with different skills, strengths, and personas. As a manager, you should be looking to combine these differences in order to get the best results possible. For the teams to work together well you need to present the opportunities and give them the chance to join together. This is best done when it is done at every level of the business and the process. Treat everybody as an equal in the project, give them time to get to know each other, and learn from the different roles. Listen to all and encourage them to listen to each other, respect the points of view from different angles and negotiate towards a better outcome.

Actually, developers and designers often have more in common than you think both in terms of personalities and skills as well as processes. All go through a similar routine of ideas, draft, creation, redraft, repeat, repair, improve they just call them different names.

2. Get Technical While Collaborating with Developers

If you are not as technically minded as your developers that is not a problem, each to their own skill is a fair enough approach. But if you are working with developers as a manager or a designer, you need to make the effort to up your technical skills so at least you understand what the developers are talking about and the issues they face. It all comes back to mutual respect and understanding.

Cross-over skills and multidimensional teams mean that you are no longer in your own private bubble, at least not as far as actual work is concerned. The boundaries between roles at work are merging more and more into one another. It’s fair to say that in this industry no one is a true technophobe but if you want to work well with developers then you have to make more of an effort to enter their world.

  • Programming Languages

You might not be expected to be able to code but familiarity with a coding language, even at a basic level will help you get on the developer’s wavelength. There are many languages so choose a popular one such as Javascript or PHP. If nothing else watch some tutorials, it takes minutes and it pays back in spades.

  • Learn about HTML & CSS

These are the developer’s main domains. How they think, and how they work. It’s the code used to structure the webpage and all the content on the site. A knowledge of these fundamental digital layout processes is a must. The more you know the better you will understand the issues developers have to work with. This is vital for high-level, effective collaboration. Tutorials and courses are widely available so there’s no excuse.

  • Text Editors

Text editors are the developer’s home territory. You need to know what they are and how to use them.  To be a meaningful part of a team you need to know that plain text needs to be edited and configured. Knowledge is power.

  • Terminology

learning the terminology common to developers allows you to not only understand communications but it also helps you to express yourselves on the right level. It shows respect, it shows intelligence and it shows a professional responsible attitude. Make the effort.


3.  Set Guides and Guidelines

Clear rules and guidelines are the structural essence of any thriving partnership. People need to know where they stand, what their expectations and what are their responsibilities. Nobody works well with uncertainty, and guidelines provide the skeleton structure where people can flourish. You can’t push the boundaries if there are no boundaries to push.

Guidelines form a vital role in holding dispersed and diverse teams together and halting potential problems at the first hurdle.

  •  Style Guides

You may think style guides are more appropriate for designers and design teams, holding them within certain bounds. That is true, but developers love the documentation and the certainty too. The style guide is a document of the expected design elements. It states exactly how they should be set up, the specifications, and then implementation. Everyone is on the same page, from day one.

  • Working Practices Guide

If you have a fixed set of working practices that are clear and available to all, then straight away you have a reference point for all the parts of all the teams. This is an organized, professional working base that states how, when, and why information can be shared.

This guide should cover the roles and responsibilities of the different parties so everybody is clear. It needs to contain how files should be organized, described, and titled and how they should be shared. Added to this which platforms of communication work best for what types of messaging and rules surrounding these issues.


4. Provide the Right Tools for Collaborating with Developers

If you want your teams to work together as truly collaborative as you do. Then you need to provide the correct resources for them to do just that.

There are plenty of great synchronous tools for communication and collaborating with developers. From video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Teams to instant messaging. The latest project management software allows teams to keep up with all the relevant information so no one feels lost or left out. There is certainly no shortage of choice.

The key is making communication easy and accessible for all. Add in a few rules about frequency and style of communication. Encourage your staff to communicate as much as possible.


5. Interaction

As we might have mentioned, good collaboration is done to communication and respect for others on both a professional and personal level. Learning about different roles and different requirements is not just about learning a little coding or some terminology is about seeing what actually goes on on a day-to-day basis.

A designer who spends a few hours in the company of a developer can learn an awful lot and vice versa. If you want your team to be truly collaborative at a deeper level than just getting a job done and sticking to the guides then you want to get them to know each other and each other’s work. Make time for colleagues to spend time together, actively create a situation where they spend time together and can share experiences. Do this in group meetings, one-on-one, or in social situations but do it. Even if you invite your staff to a social event it is inevitable that the chat will turn to work. You might be able to devise a mutual working space. Or create some innovative way of bringing these different elements together.

Paired working is another option. Colleagues from different teams work closely together. It works like a mentioning system. However, instead of passing on experience and advice, you are working on specific practical issues and smoothing out potential problems. Most workers benefit greatly from this type of interaction. They really do want to adapt to make the work-life of others easier.



As work gets more specialized it makes sense to find the people with exactly the right skills for each and every part of the project. The skill is then, how to blend them together to create a well-organized, well-functioning machine that allows these skills to flourish and results in something great. Collaborating with developers works best when you think about the processes and strategy in place.

Every person needs to put in some effort. The people at the top need to demonstrate this and be role models of a collaborative workplace. as a manager or business owner, you need to do more than sit back with your fingers crossed and hope the staff delivers. Put collaborative skills at the forefront of your strategy, create time and space for colleagues to get to know and trust each other, put systems in place to allow for quick, simple, and efficient communication and show how much you value the effort being put into making this work by the people on the shop floor.

Developers are not the nerdy, geeks that are low on social skills and exist in a virtual world. Developers are professional people who pride themselves on their work. They have the ability to solve problems that are put in front of them. Utilize their strengths and you can expect great results.

In the meantime, why not continue with some of the related articles on communication:

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