Bridging the Gap between Designers and Engineers

At a recent IBM Design All-Hands meeting, Phil Gilbert explained that the single, most influential factor in determining the productiveness and effectiveness of a team, is the duration of time they’ve worked together; no other variable is so strongly correlated with success.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe attributed this effect, in large part, to trust. The longer a team has been together, the more opportunities they’ve had to develop empathy and create trust, allowing them to work confidently and seamlessly together as a unit.

More recently, in their All Hands Kickoff 2016, Rob Thomas and Derek Schoettle also stressed the importance of deeply integrated teams as the key to success. As a new organization growing rapidly, we were inspired to make relationship building and strengthening a top priority at the STC.

Because designers and developers work on separate floors, we knew it was especially important for us to focus on this relationship, providing a forum for both groups to better understand each other, thus improving communication and collaboration. Additionally, developers were becoming increasingly curious about what we do here as designers, and we as designers were eager to learn more about what the developers are up to upstairs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd so began the Design Thinking for Software Engineers and Data Scientists workshop.

Our first workshop, held during a whole team Lunch & Learn with designers and engineers from multiple offices, was focused on Observing and Understanding. After a brief overview of Design Thinking and a few ice-breakers, we asked participants to sketch their morning commute, and then pair up for quick interviews. We challenged the engineers to get out of their comfort zone and step into the shoes of another, and they loved it:

“I thought the design activity was really fun and engaging because it required us to think outside the box and bring our creative thinking to the table.”
*  — Evan Chen, STC Engineer*

The experience was valuable for designers as well! We learned that, just like designing software, designing workshops is a necessarily iterative process, requiring ideation, prototyping, testing, and refinement. We benefited greatly from the collaborative experience:

“I think something clicked between the designers and the engineers to see how each other think and express ideas through the design session.”* — Ai-chi Lu, STC Designer*

At the end of the workshop, we asked participants to write down one learning from the workshop. Here’s what they had to say:

Design invites discussion
Designers have to be good communicators
Designers have to be good communicators

Since the workshop, we have brought in engineers for collaboration, feedback, and ideation on other projects, such as internal design sprints, and a similar workshop we hosted for Galvanize students. Being in the same room together as much as possible helps align us. As our mutual respect and understanding continue to grow, our work becomes more productive, more effective, and all-around better, just as Phil Gilbert suggested.

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