Engineers are Creatives by Moira Ashleigh

Posted on August 24, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Redwing Blackbird
Redwing Blackbird Singing, Woburn, MA

User Interface Engineers are creative people. They may use some interesting color choices and choose layout idiosyncrasies that seem challenging to the designer, but bottom line they are just as creative as the visual designer.

I have worked with quite a few engineers in my Internet career of 20 years. Some have been stellar to work with. They were collaborative, ingenious, and engaged with the process. You know who you are. Some have been a little harder to team up with. But all of them have really wanted to find a good way to fulfill the product needs.

Yes, I have had the experience of having an engineer come to me after they built something and ask me to "pretty it up" (maybe not exactly in these words but close). While these are not my favorite kind of tasks as a UI designer, they are still an interesting challenge. And between the engineer and I, we always found the best compromises for the final product.

There will be times that you do not get what you need for a design layout, but still have to show something to the team on deadline. You may have to present a set of mock-ups which you know could fail for the underlying data and client configurations. Sitting through a meeting, when the engineers say repeatedly "You can't do that because....", is always an unpleasant experience. But it does expose underlying issues you might not have discovered.

In that type of situation the best response that I can suggest is to notice the engineer, that seems to have the most problems with the mock-ups, and say something like: "Can you meet with me to explain how it works, so I can revise the layout sketches and flow document? That would be really great." Then right after the meeting coordinate calendars and set a time in the very near future to do just that. And listen to them in that meeting, but also bring your own knowledge of UI design. It is not personal, it is simply another learning experience.

My advice to visual and layout designers is always to see the creativity in the engineers you work with, and find how to best collaborate with it. Listen to them and to why they are envisioning the User Interface differently. You may just end up with something more effective and better aligned with the underlying data - hopefully before you have to present it in front of management.

From my experience, you are in a great team when the visual designer or interface engineer can walk over to their counterpart and say: "You know that UI issue we were having ... well I thought we could .... What do you think?

UI Best practice Mantra: Remember your Engineer is a creative.

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