June 29, 2022

Why the Hybrid Designer-Developer is the future role of app development

We have been hearing for a while now how the workload for software developers keeps increasing and how development resources within organizations are getting more scarce [1]. Meanwhile, the pandemic has drastically increased the demand for companies to digitalize their products and services, not just further increasing the need for development work but also presenting a greater challenge as these, often customer-facing apps, have much higher requirements on user experience and fidelity. And it’s not looking to improve any time soon [2].

No-code development tools have been heralded as a potential solution, in fact, there are claims [3] that you could reduce development time as much as 90% in some cases. This would be gigantic, as many of these customer-facing applications that organizations need to build are larger, costly projects compared to internal tools and enterprise apps. Still, the trust in pure no-code tools, and individuals without any coding experience, to deliver solid applications is not great [4], especially among the developers and IT professionals that are still responsible for making sure these applications run smoothly in the end. However, these tools seem to be great at producing simpler internal tools or extending existing SaaS applications, but for business-critical applications code still rules.

Then there are the Low-code tools, these are generally built for developers and include many of the great features of their No-Code counterparts incorporated into the workflow to significantly improve productivity. In this case, the no-coder, often called citizen developers, is invited to collaborate and become a productive member of the dev team, often providing invaluable domain knowledge. And it seems to be working [5], both enterprises and investors are all over this. The total investment in no- and low-code tools in 2021 is a staggering amount of money. Is this the future of application development? Maybe, it sure looks promising. However, we are still mostly talking about enterprise applications, for customer-facing applications and other high UX apps it seems like the picture is a bit different.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

Product Designers, UI/UX Interaction Designers, and Visual Designers have their own weapons of choice. They use Figma, Sketch, and Adobe XD, and many organizations also employ prototyping at different levels using tools like Framer and UXPin. But in essence, this is still all about producing specifications and handing them over to the developers. Then there is a whole slew of products working on improving the handover so designers and developers don’t have to talk to each other. But is that the only way forward, or could we expect that what is happening with Low-Code tools will also start to make inroads into heavily design-driven development?

This is already old news in the game development industry. Almost all modern game engineers are highly cooperative environments where both designers and developers work on the final product together. The amount of design work needed to produce a high-level game today is staggering and the requirements on productivity have long been crushing, forcing the development of very capable tools and platforms. These platforms are now more or less a must for any serious game developer. Are we starting to see the same problem emerging for enterprises feeling the pressure of demand for high-quality, high UX digital products?

It could certainly be the case. Leading companies with high UX products such as Airbnb, Meta, and Amazon are experimenting with blurring the lines between their development and design departments. This includes efforts such as building internal tooling to allow designers to work directly with production code assets [6]. But most companies don’t have the resources and experience of producing high UX applications to enable these kinds of workflows, and this is where Low-code tools can show to be a crucial part of the solution.

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels

New Low-code tools are emerging and existing players are getting better at catering to designers as primary users. These future tools could provide an environment for designers comparable to the professional tools they are used to while also allowing technically savvy designers use visual programming to create interaction, flow, data driven design and logic. But the key, likely, is to make sure to integrate well with the tools and workflows that developers are used to, such as Visual Studio, Git and Typescript. That to me is at least a very exciting opportunity!







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