Why I care about design as a developer
February 2, 2020
Three years ago, I began my journey as a developer by trying out FreeCodeCamp. While my skills as a developer have improved since then, I've noticed my skill and interest in design grow even more.
By design, I mean both the visual and functional elements of a system. Design encompasses the why, what, and how of a product or service, and I find all parts of design essential to making useful things. I want to dive into why design matters to me both as a personal exercise and as a way to motivate other developers to learn more.
Why is design important to me?
I care deeply about designing things well and helping others do the same because of the impact good design has on my life.
Think about a recent product or service you used. What was your experience with it? Was it fun? Did it save you time?
Or was it frustrating? Did it make you confused?
Noticing good design has made me more grateful for it. The design of a product or service greatly affects its users. I want to create experiences that are enjoyable and helpful.
Being able to build meaningful experiences alongside awesome friends and coworkers, as well as personal growth and happiness, are the main reasons I care about design as a developer.
Design helps me build the right thing
A key component of good design is developing an increased understanding and empathy for a user's needs. This is emotionally and intellectually fulfilling. I love understanding problems other people face and being able to help them.
While working at a product development company, I met dozens of people trying to build new products. Our most successful clients worked hard to understand who they were building for and what pain they were solving. Without this understanding, clients struggled to make their idea a reality no matter how well we built their idea.
It's easy to fall into the trap of building a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. I've wasted a lot of time and energy pursuing projects I thought were great ideas, but that would ultimately have no lasting impact because I was too focused on the solution, not on identifying the problem.
Design techniques like interviews and journey maps help me validate assumptions and make evidence-based decisions. If I can discover and understand real pains using these techniques, I'm one step closer to building something truly great. That leads to personal fulfillment, making money to provide for my family, and improving other people's well-being.
Design helps me collaborate better
During an internship, my boss greeted me with many assignments on my first day. One assignment was to study a long list of abbreviations commonly used in my department and team. Imagine my joy as I opened a document with almost one hundred obscure abbreviations to study.
I was very confused the first few weeks because I didn't understand the language around me. After getting the hang of it, I was better able to express my ideas and understand what others were saying.
Each profession has their own language, and being able to speak another profession's language is highly valuable. As a developer, designers are my professional neighbors, so speaking their language is pretty helpful.
Speaking a common language reduces misunderstandings and helps ideas get expressed clearly. That means completing projects faster with fewer mistakes.
Design helps me develop new skills
I enjoy that learning design helps me develop a wide variety of skills. It pushes me in so many ways that I wouldn't be if I was only writing software.
Working on interdisciplinary teams and with customers has helped me communicate more effectively, both verbally and in writing. It's pushed me outside my comfort zone, helping me be confident and calm in new situations.
I've also grown as an artist. Sketching is a really effective tool to communicate ideas, and it turns out that communicating complex ideas in a simple format is a pretty essential skill, so to be a better designer, I've invested time into being a better artist.
Aside from sketching, I've learned a variety of design tools to help me express my ideas. I especially enjoy iterating on ideas in Figma, testing apps with ProtoPie, and creating fun illustrations with Illustrator.
Having this secondary interest helps me develop myself intellectually in new ways and offers a nice break from coding. It's fun to do something different and end up with a cool result, even if it's just following a tutorial like the two illustrations I did below.
These new skills are personally fulfilling, and they are helping my career. I highly value my family and the time I get to spend with them, so I want to build a career that supports that. I feel like having these skills is opening new doors for us.
Design makes me happy
Above all, good design makes me happy. Designing things makes me happy. I want to do more of what makes me happy.
Here are some of my favorite design resources, including books, website, and people.