As Microsoft and Adobe duke it out over the issue of developer-designer workflow, Google is entering the scene with its own focus on how the two sides can work together using Google App Engine.
Microsoft has been touting connections between its Expression suite of design tools and its Visual Studio developer tool, and Adobe offers its Creative Suite and Flex tools, along with its upcoming “Thermo” technology, to help designers and developers work better together.
However, at the recent Google I/O developer conference, members of the Google UX team spoke on the need for designers and developers to work better together and said Google App Engine is the place for it. Google App Engine lets developers build and run their Web applications on Google’s infrastructure.
To acknowledge how closely the two disciplines need to work together, Lindsey Simon, a developer on the Google UX team, said he was looking for a “design husband.” Simon said he was quoting Simon Willison, a co-creator of the Django Python-based Web development framework, who had said, “I need to find a design husband.”
Simon said, “I thought that was really funny because here’s this guy I admire as a developer, and he was saying that he was not looking to find developers or other programmers to work with him; he wanted to find a designer.”
Moreover, Simon said, “Working at Google I have the luxury of meeting people like John [Skidgel, a designer on the Google UX team]. I want to work with a good designer, too. If I’m going to work on a project at Google, I’m going to work on it with John because I want help with design-it’s not something that I’m trained to do.”
So, if you were looking for a designer, what would you look for? Simon asked the audience, which was split about 60-40, with developers in the majority.
To answer that question, Simon displayed a slide that was written like a personals ad, titled “Coder Seeks Designer.”
The core of the ad read: “Seeking an unpretentious, scrappy, well-rounded interaction and visual designer.” The qualities listed as being sought after were, “Takes criticism without a hissy fit, willing to entertain rants about back-end/front-end code, knows Photoshop kung fu and not afraid of code.”
Added Simon: “I don’t want what I imagine is the whiny designer. I want someone I can work with, not someone who’s going to give me Photoshop files and I just go implement it from scratch. I want somebody I can work with on a project.
“I don’t want an Andy Warhol-type designer; I want someone who’s scrappy, who’s well-rounded and not afraid to look at code,” he said.
Indeed, Simon said he believes that “you can’t really have a meaningful design for these kinds of applications anymore if you really want to separate strict visual design and interaction design from the act of engineering it. That’s not really a productive workflow.” As a developer, “you want to work with your designer, and from the beginning.”
Designer Seeks Coder
Meanwhile, Skidgel, who shared the stage for the May 28 presentation titled “Engaging User Experiences with Google App Engine,” displayed his own ad giving what he looks for in a developer.
Skidgel’s ad, which was titled “Designer Seeks Coder,” said, “Seeking a sane, customer-focused coding powerhouse with decent communication skills.”
“As a designer, you really want to find someone who is sane and customer-focused,” Skidgel said, adding, “As a developer you should have crocodile skin.”
Skidgel said he seeks the following qualities in a coder: “takes suggestions without going ballistic, appreciates aesthetics, deep and broad understanding of front-end and back-end technology, and not afraid to express himself visually-he can draw [or] chicken-scratch flows.”
He concluded, “It’s a collaboration. You shouldn’t feel that your designer has full reign over the design.”
For his part, Simon said, “Most designers are very competent with CSS [Cascading Style Sheets], even better than some developers-so this is where you want them to help you.”
Simon said Google App Engine supports workflow and is “a great environment for collaboration.” In addition, local testing and deployment are easy and consistent, there is no compilation, the App Engine Launcher provides Mac OS X ease of use for developers, and the SDK (software development kit) auto-update keeps the development environment current, Skidgel said.
Simon said, “The designers I see where I work, they are all Mac people, and they aren’t typically people who love the command-line approach.” However, with Google App Engine, “getting set up and getting started and having your designer with the same environment you have” is a plus, he said.
Skidgel said things like design flows are important to do with both the designer and developer working together. “It’s iterative and can be informal and quick,” he said, noting that the team should capture revisions with a digital camera or cell phone camera to document the design.
“Two heads are better than one when you do this,” Simon said. “My inclination is to just go start programming it, but that’s not always the best way to do stuff. It’s much better to get together with someone and talk it through.”
In addition, design and coding should be done concurrently, Skidgel said. The designer works in Adobe Photoshop or Fireworks, and the developer begins writing handlers, he said.
“I go out and start writing all the assets-the mocks, the logos and everything else-and Lindsey is starting to write Python,” he said.