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Producing Code or Fixing Problems?

The role of Developers in user centric design.

I’ve been working with Developers of different flavours for almost a decade now, and in that time I’ve worked with some amazing Devs, and some frustrating ones; the same as any role it depends on the person.

I’ve also encountered a lot of stereotypes about Developers, primarily that they’re all introverts who like to work on their own, which is as true as saying all Product Managers must be extraverts.

In the last couple of years I’ve also been lucky enough to take part in recruiting and interviewing Developers, and as such I’ve found it fascinating to discuss the role of the Product Manager and the role of Developers, how we can work better together, to support each other and get the best out of each other.

I’ve found it very positive to see the role of the Developer begin to be more central within user centric design, and to have more Developers proactively taking part in user research and design sessions. The days where meeting user needs was solely the domain of the User Researcher and the Product Manager, and that Developers only cared about producing code felt like one we had, at least within Government Digital circles, left behind.

Code

As such, it almost felt like having a bucket of cold water tipped over my head to be told recently that Developers shouldn’t be overly involved in user research, and should be focusing on producing code.

As a Product Manager I don’t want Developers who just produce code, I’ve seen in the past the dangerous waters that can lead to. If you don’t understand why users are doing things, what their needs are, the problems we are trying to fix for our users, then how could you, as my technical expert, challenge me? How can you understand the options and give me advice on how best to tackle the problems we are trying to solve? How can you ensure the code you are writing actually meets the requirements if you don’t understand why it’s needed?

The best Developers I’ve worked with have been proactively working with the user researchers to suggest things to test, using tools like A/B testing to help explore the options and determine the best solutions we can test to help fix the problems we’re trying to solve, using feedback from users to iterate and learn and improve.

Product Development Team

I recently did a google search for the ‘role of developers in user centred design’ and was saddened to see there wasn’t much out there, other than a few scholarly articles citing the importance of getting Software Engineers and Developers to integrate user centric design into their approach.

So maybe this is where we are going wrong, maybe we are not talking enough about how important it is that user centric design isn’t just the domain of the designers and user researchers. That the principles of UCD are just as important in the development stage as the discovery phase.

As the Government Digital Service famously said, ‘User Research is a team sport’, and we need to makes sure everyone gets the chance to play.