Being a designer is a constant balance. Whether it’s balancing the needs of users with the needs of the company, or abandoning better design for the sake of production speed, we always compromise.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the tradeoff between building trust with users and building positive relationships with teammates.
In an ideal world, we would put user needs first at all costs, regardless of objections from colleagues or logistical constraints such as time and money.
But in reality, it is very difficult to protect the interests of users if you have lost the trust of your team.
To do our job effectively, we need to build trust in both directions.
Developer working with designers
I started my career as a frontend developer. Designers gave me layouts, and I code them. The designers I worked with aimed to make everything look right.
I prided myself on making interfaces cross-browser, accessible, and “perfect”.
But I also learned that websites don’t need to look the same across all browsers, and that users don’t care about pixels. The key is being able to use and trust your product.
I tried to influence my team to accommodate user needs. But the designers I worked with wanted to adhere strictly to their designs.
They also appreciated the ability to code previously established restrictions. Attempts to change the constraints were unsuccessful, since I could not find a common language with them.
Put the user first
I was disappointed and hoped to find a job that would allow me to prioritize simplicity and user experience.
Fortunately, I succeeded when I joined the Just Eat team. I worked closely with a designer named Mark who shared my ideals and advocated simplicity over design.
I was able to put users first, and I was extremely happy with the opportunity.
Faced with limitations
I have always faced limitations in one form or another, whether I was a designer or a developer.
I once even had to cut my MVP by 50% to launch Kidly, an online baby store.
But lately, while working in government agencies, I have had to deal with various types of restrictions that I have not encountered in the private sector.
Budgetary constraints are like a ballgame when you talk about taxpayer money, and political and legal requirements mean you can’t always take the most user-centric approach.
I met amazing designers who did their best within the given parameters, and I began to understand the need to accept the limitations and respect the limitations of those around me.
Designing the Impossible
A few years later, I came across an article by Craig Abbott on designing the impossible.
Craig says a designer’s job is to strive for the best. Don’t give up when developers reject your designs because of [вставьте сюда технические ограничения]…
And it is true. If you accept all the constraints that come your way, you will not design well.
But striving for the impossible doesn’t always build the trust of your colleagues. And it got me thinking.
Finding a balance
When we are valuable and practical employees, we earn the trust of our teammates. You have to be a team player. It’s a difficult balancing act where you want to help your colleagues do something standard, but at the same time strive to make everything better.
I have been to many backlog improvement sessions where my work has been reduced to speed up the production process.
I didn’t mind. Not only because I want to get the job done faster, but I also want to build trust by taking my ego out of the equation – something I learned from Mark.
But sometimes I wonder if I should fight as hard as I can to get our users a better experience.
Is my job to be realistic and responsive to constraints, or to speak for the user, making things better at the expense of team spirit?
As in most cases, this depends on various factors.
The length of time spent on the team, the size and capabilities of your team, and the deadlines you face all affect the equation.
I have found that both approaches are correct, and my choice depends on the current situation.
The design profession is full of challenges and compromises. But that’s why we call it work.
We must learn to achieve the impossible by focusing on and respecting the limitations of the people and organizations we work with.
Putting users first, or stepping back and embracing constraints, is a skill. But this is a skill worth honing, and one that I still continue to learn.
Push too hard and everything falls apart. But by avoiding conflict, we may not make much progress.
Fortunately, trust can be built over time. And this is a mutual process. So when you trust, you tend to get trust in return.
By earning the trust of our users and teammates, we create the space we need to create our best work.
Thank you Amy hupewhich helped shape my messy thoughts into something coherent.