Fast Track Software UX Design for Developers
In software development, there are multiple layers that rely on each other to pull together the complete application. From where the data is stored, to the code needed for the application to run, and finally to the actual user interface where real people work with the application, there are lots of pieces to the grand puzzle. And each of those pieces have a special skills and talents that go into creating great software. Developers take the bulk of the specialist roles needed for most of the layers. But when we think about the user interface, many times we ask the developer to handle that responsibility as well.
In my software development journey, I have yet to find a great developer who is also a great designer. I consider myself someone who can see good design but has a hard time generating it from scratch. Not a knock on developers, but it takes time and talent to be one and those skills don’t usually cross over to the other. I would argue that it might be easier for a designer to become a developer than it would be for a developer to become a designer.
There is a short but funny blog This Is What Happens When You Let Developers Create UI about developers who try to be designers. In this blog there is a quote, “Friends don’t let friends produce Developer UI.”
So what are we to do?
Ignoring the option to have developers design, there are a couple of popular options.
First, you seek out and find a dedicated software UX or UI designer. This is someone who not only has a gift of design, but is using that power to develop great looking software. They also have experience in knowing the best practices of using software which means that the software won’t be hard to use. This is an important advantage for a dedicated UX designer. What use is a pretty looking software when it is hard to use? They have the best practices, experience, and overall knowledge to create a great look-and-feel. The disadvantage is that this avenue is usually pretty expensive. A designer has to spend a lot of time to really create a great interface, and time is money.
The second option, and an option I have now used several times, is to use pre-created user interface templates available online. These are full fledged web-based templates where a designer has gone through and really added all the common features, bells, and whistles that almost every good web application has. While these are primarily for web applications, there are some (limited) for desktop applications as well. There are some great advantages to this. First, there is a huge selection. In the past few years there are hundreds of designs to choose from from multiple market places. Secondly, they are really affordable. If you are using the template for a single page, a full use license is less than a hundred dollars. If you need to reuse the template for many different sites, it costs just a few hundred for an unlimited use license.
There is one disadvantage to going this route and that is you get to see how many other people have purchased that template as well. Some of the more popular templates have been purchased thousands of times. This means there is a potential that your web application will look curiously similar to other web applications out there. To help curb this issue, you can take some time on the outset to “tweak” the template to give it a more unique feel.
There are good reasons for each option. If you are a very public facing web applications company, think Facebook or Google, you will want a unique feel only a dedicated designer will give. If you are a smaller company where the web application has a limited audience, or where functionality trumps design but you still want a good design, then maybe using a pre-created template will fit best. Either way, friends don’t let friends produce developer UI.