Kick-Ass Development Needs Great Design Fast

This one is maybe Atlassian specific but I guess it happens in lots of engineering driven companies: You start with a small team of developers and as you grow you add more developers. Maybe at some state you add a bunch of tester. But what about designer? Developers can do a little bit of design themselves, right? Or they think they can. Design is also an easy thing to outsource. You let your interface design by an external designer and then the developers are iterating on that. The result of all of this can be seen in some older JIRA versions. Great product, but no holistic design or a great user experience.

Starting with Design


The first designers that came to Atlassian had a lot of things to do. When they looked at what the developers have done, they found 60 different implementations of a drop down menu. They all looked different. Our designers jumped into the teams and helped them with the design problems. One of the first things they did was to work on design guidelines. A paper that explained how a button or a menu should look like. Developers are smart people and they learned fast. Every time a designer broke a rule of the design guidelines a developer noticed that and told the designer. That made us think, because we still had problems to find good designers. Why not educate our developers to become designers?

Developers are Designers

Every Atlassian employee need to do a bootcamp class in their first weeks called “Think like a designer”. That helped a bit. But we wanted some design advocates inside the development teams. So our designers recruited the best talents (mostly the front end developers) and taught them for one week the basics about design. We didn’t want the developers to become designers but just that they can help out with some smaller tasks. That helped our design team to get more time on the holistic design, the usability tests, and some more advanced designs. On the other hand it speeded up the development: The designer is not the bottleneck anymore.

Designer & Developers

Designers are Developers

But also designers can help the developers to speed things up. The good old design tools like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are pretty static and have a hard time adapting all the cool HTML 5 interaction stuff. It is way easier if the designers can come up with their designs already implemented in code. Why should’t a designer not do a pull request with a new button design already written in JavaScript/CSS? When a designer understands some JavaScript, they can edit the code and make some corners a little bit more round. This saves a lot of overhead time. There is a great blog post from one of our developing designers explaining the details.

Designers are Team Members

One designer at Atlassian didn’t like that team members interupted him just to see the new not finished designs. He set up his desk in the corner of the office so nobody could see his screen anymore. That was a horrible experience for him. He felt disconnected from the team. After 2 weeks he decided to have his desk in the middle of the office. If we have a design task, we need to have opinions from every angle: The product manager, the front end developer, the back end developer and the designer. That way we come up with the best solution. We also set up a design wall for the team where our designer can put up the newest ideas. Everybody in the team can comment and correct on designs just by using a pen. The whole team feels responsible for the design.

great design fast

Kick-Ass Software Development Needs Great Design Fast

Kick Ass developer need to work closely together with designers and even do design tasks. Kick-Ass developer

  • knows that speed is the key. Not everything has to be polished (but you have to know when)
  • with design skills are helping designer, so that the design is not becoming the bottleneck
  • are helping designers to work on code, so you reduce the steps between design and code
  • help designers to become team members and are trying to understand their pain

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