The difference between design and development-led projects


Design is a critical software project element often unnoticed by those writing codes. After all, coders and implementers tend to take the design process for granted and leave the look and feel of applications to the designers. In the days of waterfall-based development, the design was one of the first steps in the development sequence of creating a new application. However, with Agile and DevOps development practices, design became disconnected from the overall process.

The ultimate goal of DesignOps was design creation; that design was passed on to those who would write the code and develop the logic to bring that design to fruition in an application.

While DevOps and DesignOps have both been making the rounds as buzzwords for a while, the role of DesignOps in guiding product development has never been more relevant.

Recent studies show that organizations leveraging good design principles and a design-led development approach grow their revenue at up to twice the rate of those who don’t.

Why you should design before you code

As we change our design vs. code setpoint, here are some dimensions where we might see variability:

1. Ease of change

When our understanding of the ideal design changes, we must change all related design documents and code. Presumably, the less there is of each, the better. Designing without coding (for as long as you can) appears to have an advantage here.

2. Learning

Our design (with whatever code exists) needs to change to respond to our continuous learning and understanding of the product. We have difficulty learning anything from the (nonexistent) implementation when designing without coding. However, we know about our design by reviewing the (essentially abstract) design and the concrete implementation.

3. Quality feedback

Our customers and we will benefit from growing confidence in the system as we develop. An excellent way to get this confidence is to build MVPs and test them. As the MVP improves, the test scores improve, and confidence increases. It is difficult to gain confidence without MVP.

4. Maintainability

Once the application code is (being) written, discoveries in the code that dictate changes in the design must be dealt with. There are three main strategies:

  • code to the design, no matter how bad it is.
  • code to the new design and do not update the design documents;
  • code to the new design and update the design documents;

If the design is to have value, you have to do the last, and it has the cost of dual updating. All too often, projects fall into one of the other two practices.

Implement design thinking through design-led development

Design thinking is simply an approach to problem-solving; whether you call it a methodology, a process, or a philosophy, design thinking is merely an approach to problem-solving. The distinction is that problem-solving focuses on what the end user wants, not what the board thinks your business needs. Design-led development should not be limited solely to customer-facing products. It’s a way of working that can positively influence all workstreams across an organization. Incorporating it, however, often calls for a culture shift.

For instance, the design team’s role must be appropriately defined and communicated to the broader organization. Managers and team leads should also examine where design can be better integrated into overall work processes. Remember, design thinking is not just for designers. It should involve everyone at all stages.

Whereas in development-led projects, we start straight with coding before spending time researching the users, the use cases, or understanding the real pain points of the users.

Putting design-led thinking into practice

The overall process of design-led thinking can add significant value to developing any project or strategy. It can also integrate easily with agile or lean working processes because the design can guide the overall approach. In contrast, lean or agile can shape how phases of work are executed.

Design processes can vary in the number or length of steps involved, but all tend to cover the same elements. To start, teams seek to discover as much as possible about the project goal, end-user, existing challenges, team needs, and so on. The more information gathered at the start, the better, so teams will aim to do as much research as time and budget allow. The best way of doing this is through a design-led workshop. In ring-fencing, teams, product owners, and executives can quickly reach an agreement in a specific body of time.

Armed with that research, teams can define the project’s scope and requirements, which they then use to design the product, application, or solution. From there, teams develop concepts and apply creative thinking and problem-solving to address the user’s needs in the most efficient, beneficial, and engaging ways.

The project team creates working models to stress-test concepts and investigate usability, feasibility, and viability during this process. Once prototypes have been refined, teams can test them with users. At this point, a solution or prototype often goes back and forth between previous phases as new insights or user demands are addressed. And that’s okay; it’s hugely beneficial since you are validating before development. And this is why we should design before coding to keep changing and altering the product better and better.

Overall, elevating the role of design will not negatively impact what already works for the company. On the contrary, design thinking and design-led development help inform and optimize existing processes when fully leveraged.

Getting started with design-led processes

Organizations serious about integrating a more design-focused approach can begin by developing more user-centric strategies across functions. Prioritizing the user experience improves UX development and overall customer engagement and adoption. Plus, it should positively impact the broader company culture.

Business leaders should look to make the most of user-focused data. It’s impossible to learn enough about your users, so investing in research is an innovative business and ensures teams can fully understand and apply the resulting insights. Design-led processes directly help here by bringing in user-focused critical thinking.

At Cubyts, organizations can lead through a design-led strategy.

Organizations can know more about their customers than ever. How they use that knowledge will be vital in driving future growth. Design-led thinking can only shift business strategy towards more effectively meeting customers’ needs — meaning it should be an essential consideration for all companies looking to engineer ongoing success.