Design and developer experience


UI design sketch

UI design sketch

Melissa Powel

Melissa Powel

Good design, says Google’s Melissa Powel, means time saved, problems solved and the best user experience.

The challenges and benefits of embedding design into your developer relations strategy is the focus of her upcoming talk at DevXcon.

Design is critical

“People say that design doesn’t matter,” says Melissa.

“And it doesn’t just matter. It’s critical. It is the product. The idea that it’s a supplemental thing is just false.”

For Melissa, good design is a way of life. Responsible for design outreach within the Google Developers Experts Programme, she coordinates an external community of more than 450 design and software developer experts.

As a certified Google Sprint Master and a trainer of its Sprint Master Academy, she runs design sprints and design thinking workshops to help teams remove the challenges that create barriers to effective product design.

Conflicting priorities

And when it comes to challenges, there can be a number facing developer relations teams – from incomplete understanding to time restrictions to competing pressures

“I think time constraint more than anything is a concern,” she says.

“At Google, we are responsible as developer relations, for the awareness, advocacy and education of every single developer product that Google creates.

“So that’s everything from Cloud, which includes Google Cloud Platform, TensorFlow, G Suite, the whole nine yards, then we also have dozens of other categories of products that we are responsible for.

“So more than anything, it’s not that my team doesn’t see the value in design, it’s just that there are a lot of conflicting priorities.”

What good design can do

But prioritising time to concentrate on good design can make a huge difference.

All product creators, says Melissa, need to consider the end user and good design offers a range of problem solving opportunities.

“For my colleagues who are passionate about machine learning, I focus on communicating design as a means to make data more usable. Proper design makes the back-end beautiful, essentially.

“When collecting data, the way that information gets entered and organised depends on the effectiveness of the design of that interaction.”

For Melissa, it is important to take the time to understand the different needs of the user and how good design can make a positive impact depending on those need.

For anyone focused on code, she suggests, good design can help avoid confusing navigation and save months of a developer’s time. For start-ups trying to design for multiple problems simultaneously, design thinking can help them focus. For developers, design can help determine the right feature set.

The aha! moment

How successful a product’s design has been in catering for these different needs is something that will quite often only be answered when it comes to user testing.

“The aha! moment happens when both developers and designers get to hear from the user directly and see where the product is confusing.

“Product teams like to argue about what they think is going to be the most well received feature, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you hypothesize. What matters is what the user experiences.”

Listen, question, understand

So how do you get to that point?

The first thing, says Melissa, is to listen because each member of a dev rel team has a different approach, a different background and a different technology that they’re passionate about.

“Understand if you’re passionate about bringing design into your developer relations outreach strategy then you must first listen.

“Ask questions of your team and understand what it is they’re prioritising from a technical standpoint.

“At the end of the day, dev rel is responsible for helping developers or product creators be successful on the company’s technology and you cannot help product creators be successful without helping them design for their user.”

At events, Melissa has found success in running a design track and a developer track giving an opportunity for both teams to work together.

“Have a moment where you can go deep into the subject matter of the attendees’ area of interest. Create pure content for them” she says.

“But by having developers and designers at the same event with simultaneous tracks and then bringing them together in a collaborative way is one of the best formats we’ve seen.”

Time for change

Making sure dev rel teams see that they should care about the design of a product as well as its technical aspects can take time.

In her role as a global programme manager, Melissa has tackled this by activating the design community: hosting central webinars for external audiences to hear from top Google designers, building an authentic design voice in different regions and then developing opportunities for collaboration.

By speaking at DevXCon, she hopes to expand people’s concept of what design is and help attendees identify at least one new component or aspect of design they can apply to their dev rel strategy.

“People say ‘Isn’t design just to make products pretty?’ or ‘Design’s nice, but I’m talking about real content.’

“And the reality is that, even in designing a machine-learning algorithm, you are designing something and there are techniques that you can use that can be applied from design thinking, from visual design, from user research, from user experience design.

“There is a difference between having a purely focused outreach design team and trying to just incorporate design into every strategy and every activity and every workshop in a way that is not extra work. It just becomes part of what people do and part of the process.”

Join Melissa to explore the benefits of good design at DevXcon San Francisco over June 4-5.


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