Don't reduce your designers and developers to stereotypes

Rob Borley warns against reducing your designers and developers to stereotypes if you want to get the best work from them.

At Headscape I have the privilege of working with a group of very talented people. Both our development team and our design team are on top of their game and it makes my job of Project Managing a little more straight forward because of it. A big part of my job is getting the most out of both of these teams by facilitating them working together in the most effective way. I’m often asked questions like, “Who do you prefer to work with; designers or developers?” and “how does working with developers differ from working with designers?” So here is my inside track on this age old tussle. Designers or Developers?

Your stereotypical developer is a rather pale individual (as they are afraid of the outdoors) with no social skills. They come in two sizes; 9 stone weakling or 30 stone monster. They spent their childhood playing Dungeons and Dragons and have now matured to a level 70 paladin in World of Warcraft (usually playing as a member of the opposite sex). They were always picked last for any kind of sport and have spent every waking hour since they were twelve in front of a screen, in a room with no natural light, talking to their ‘friends’; online. 99% of all developers die a virgin. 1% are scared of the question, curl up into a ball, and cry.

Illustration of a code monkey

Image credit: JawboneRadio

Your stereotypical designer on the other hand is a charismatic, in your face, individual. Both confident and creative; a dangerous combination. They have lots of real world friends but are secretly hated by most of them. Constantly seeking inspiration they bore easily and become irritable as result. All designers, without exception suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

A recipe for disaster

Putting these two groups together is not a good cocktail. Fortunately, these caricatures, in my experience, are not entirely accurate.

I’m actually loathe to put either designers or developers into boxes. From what I can tell they don’t seem to follow any discernible pattern in character traits. Some developers are quite introverted while others are quite the opposite. Some designers are sporty while others couldn’t catch a cold. Some developers enjoy the great outdoors while some designers find their inspiration in Second Life. In trying to manage the team I need to gather an understanding of them as individuals.

It’s important to understand how your team works. One individual will work most effectively when set a whole stream of tasks with a distant deadline and left to get on with it. While another will be more efficient given bite sized chunks and offered more consistent interaction and faster feedback.One member of your team will thrive on pressure and enjoy short timescales while another will need shielding from the realities of your deadlines and coaxing gentling into delivering on time. You may have an individual that needs to go for a walk regularly to be at peak productivity while another works most effectively if they get their head down and charge for 6 hours straight.

As a PM your goals are always the same. You need to deliver your project on time. However your route to your goal is dependant on the resources that you have available. Your number one resource is your team. Trying to force team members to all work the same way is counter productive and, while you may enjoy some success, is not sustainable.

The best route to goal

Get to know your team. Discover their quirks and eccentricities and use these to get the most out of them. I enjoy my role as a PM because, more than anything else, it’s a job about people. I guess this means that the answer to the question is that I really have no preference over designers or developers. I enjoy getting to know my team and discovering the best way to work with them as individuals.

I believe that this is the most effective way of getting the job done. And hopefully it makes for a better experience for all involved.

What about you?

So what about you? How do you work with designers and developers? What has experience taught you?

Maybe you are a designer or a developer? How have you been treated by clients and project managers? Have you been reduced to a stereotype that you resent?

  • That’s very true. I’m both an (ex)designer and developer and I don’t fit either of those stereotypes. Most people are surprised to find out who I am when they first meet me.

    The same is true of fellow designers and developers. Just like everything else, we are a diverse group! ;)

  • Excellent article … it’s about time someone shed some light on what designers and developers are really about as people. Like most designers/developers, I don’t fit any of the above ‘stereotypes’ either. I’m both a designer & developer … so what’s the stereotype for that combination? ;)

    I’m a freelancer so I’ve had to really focus on being a self-starter (there’s no better motivator here than ‘no work no pay’).

  • Wow, I just posted a similar blog on WordPress, ‘Creative Introvert and Social Media.’ I deal with stereotype expectations all the time and wish I could give all my employers, clients and colleagues a upfront disclaimer that I am not the typical charismatic, in your face designer you described above. To my big surprise I attended a recent design conference where I heard several times that designers are typically introverts. Is there a trend of the former stereotypes dying out and new ones evolving as we designers have to evolve to embrace more technology and become more like the above described developers?

    Creative Introvert and Social Media.

  • Shooooot I thought u were writing about me for a sec – stereotypical designer :)

  • I find the observation “spot on”. I truly think its amazing how the mind works. I work with a small team everyday. And somewhat I see that the each position does take one similar personality traits. Though and a PM, I find myself motivating and speaking to each one a little differently.

  • Jorge

    I am 24 years old, a developer and a virgin! Yahoo!!

    Hey! Wait…

  • I think Designers, like myself, are a nice mixture of introverted geek and outgoing socialite. That’s why we can both do the techie work AND discuss and convey structure and design ideas with the client…

  • I’m a designer myself, and I’m definitely not a ADHD, lol. well there are stereotypes for just about everyone in the world, they serve better as a joke or something to laugh at than actual reference.

    it’s still better to get to know your team on who they are, not what job they do. every human is unique, can’t just categorize just like that!

    thank god my PM is the one that really knows us personally. i love her. :D

  • I think it is vital to get to know your team yeah. If you don’t know what motivates your team, what makes them work well and what they want out of a project or job role you are in no position to get them to work effectively. I recently wrote an article on Smashing Magazine with some tips on getting teams to work well if anyone wants a nosey –

  • Great article. I’ve done both design and development work, so I have been on both sides of the stereotype. I agree that the important thing is to recognize every person’s unique contribution and motivate them accordingly.

  • Debi

    Being both a designer and a developer, I still find myself leaning more technical than creative. Luckily my co-worker (also, Designer/Developer) leans more heavy on the creative so we balance quit nicely. It’s a unique place to be, trying to use your whole brain all at one (ouch!) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. A design/code monkey til death!

  • That’s a good idea for trying to get to know your team better.

    What I like to do is think and write down some possible solutions.
    Then go for a walk and after that I am ready to implement and improve even betters ideas.


  • Sebastian Green

    I’m both a designer and developer (designers that can’t code???!!!) and don’t think i fit either of those stereotypes. Funny article though, I do know some people that class themselves as developers that you have described perfectly.

  • This article is true and we have same situation of web development in Russian web-studios.

    • Interesting article Rob, the points you raise make a lot of sense. I think all to often managers don’t get to know their team well enough and how they work as individuals. Maybe they expect their team to work the way they themselves would, without ever considering that each individual could work more efficiently an alternative way.

      Latest blog post.. Clients: Get the best from your Designer

    • Dan

      Actually, i go for 8 hours straight. O_O

      But then i switch a button and stop thinking of anything work related. (I’m 70% dev)

  • There is no such stereotypes in furniture design.

  • I agree all that and it’s about time someone said something!!