developer experience, Designing Developer Experience: What Goes Wrong, And How To Do It Right!

Aesthetics and functionality share a complicated relationship. More often than not, one needs to be sacrificed for the other to thrive. And this is quite evident in various development tools we have available around us. 

Now let’s not say that all the dev tools have sacrificed on the aesthetic part. Some dev tools, such as Stripe, as mentioned throughout articles about developer experience, combine both the aesthetic appeal and the functionality bit. But more often than not dev tools look like they were created with the aesthetic of a drab, dull Monday with a grey sky, pouring rain, and having to go to work in that weather without an umbrella. 

developer experience
Source: Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

When it comes to ordinary users, the matter of experience is a matter of great consideration. For ordinary user-facing software, we have a plethora of designs and styles that go well with all kinds of solutions. But when it comes to developer tools we have the motto- “functionality is everything”. So, keeping that in mind, where does the matter of DX, also known as developer experience stand when you are designing tools for developers? How are you going to approach it? What does it take to break the general stereotype of designs aimed at developers?

Designing For DX: Where It’s Going Wrong?

The lack of smooth user interfaces when it comes to developer tools is quite evident. Even though a lot would argue that development tools only need to be functional, it still does not make up a good argument. Because after all, aesthetics and functionality are only the different sides of the same coin. One can always achieve a balance between them to create the best developer experience.

So what exactly is going wrong in the case of designing for software developer experience?

  1. Exclusive Focus On Functionality: A Reason For Sloppy Efforts?

Once again, functionality is important, that’s undeniable. But that does not mean one can be as sloppy as they want on the design front. Just because it works fine does not mean it’s a perfect product. It needs to work fast, save developer time as well as look good while doing it. And if it fails to do even one of these mentioned tasks, it is not going to deliver a good development experience to the developers. 

It’s a lot like being handed a tedious spreadsheet with too much data. The data is comprehensible, but going through it is a tedious task. Which means it’s functional, but not perfect. When you turn that same data into a beautiful graph, it becomes easy to understand, better to look at, and overall functionality increases. 

developer experience
Source: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

And that’s why functionality is not an excuse for design sloppiness. At the end of the day, good design is just another side of functionality, so compromising on one while saluting the other is not going to be the best practice to improve the java developer experience on your tool. And this is why hiring expert web design agencies based on major cities like New York will be a better decision for your DevTool design. 

  1. Lack Of Understanding 

Imagine the amount of data you need when designing for ordinary users (i.e users who are not developers). The kind of research conducted on the target audience, their aesthetic preference, UI elements, interactions, and many others. Now imagine the kind of research you have to do when it comes to designing for react-native developer experience. 

It is a well-known fact that developers have different needs from the UX of a development tool than ordinary users. And since designers are not developers themselves, it can be a little hard to understand these very specific requirements. And that’s why a lack of research on this domain is going to cause the developer experience of the tool to deteriorate naturally. 

  1. Unnecessary Use Of GUI

Usually, when UI UX developers are thinking of UX of a certain website or a digital solution, they think of a GUI or graphical user interface. However, when it comes to DX, GUI is probably not what the developers are looking for.

When it comes to the development tool kit, most of the time web developers work in the IDE. And in such a case, the functional non-graphical user interface becomes more important. A web browser GUI focused design can make the entire process of performing various development tasks a lot less efficient.

Now that we have seen the main three issues with designing DX, let’s check out the four elements you have to pay attention to for delivering the perfect development experience.

Delivering DX:  Game Of Four Elements

Fabricating designs for developers is not an easy task, because they are aware of how the behind the scenes elements work. They know the purpose matter of micro-interactions, they are well aware of what adding those extra bits of illustrations mean in matters of usability. And that is exactly why you have to follow special agile development that incorporates user experience practices focused on developer needs.

But it doesn’t have to be very hard though. Thankfully when it comes to designing for DX, there are some simple elements you have to keep in mind. These four elements can help you to create the desirable developer experience without having to break a sweat. 

  1. Functionality Above All

For developers, functionality is the most important thing, and this is a fact that’s set in stone. When trying to design the best developer experience, one needs to remember that the developer tool is not a mere tool to perform ordinary tasks but to deliver real value to the digital product they are working on. And in such a case, you can not make any sacrifices on functionality. 

developer experience
Source: Photo by Arif Riyanto on Unsplash

So rather than going for a purely aesthetic based design strategy, go for a functional one. Pay attention to the functionality requirements of good android developer experience and design accordingly. Finding the right balance between functionality and design is going to be your main aim here. 

  1. Keep Stability In Mind

No matter how functional and beautiful the product is, if it’s not stable, it’s not useful for developers. Developer experience is not just a matter of how well the developers are able to use the product, but also about how much they trust the tool to complete the task. And if the tool is not at all stable and offers glitchy performance, then it’s not going to go over well with the developers. 

So ensure that the tool is not only well designed and offers functionality, but also provides the web developer with a stable environment where they can work on developing better digital solutions for the end-users. 

  1. Ease Of Use Is The Essence Of It All

Developers are a creature of habit. Whether it is sitting reclined on a chair for too long, or using the keyboard for all tasks and forgetting about the mouse and trackpad, these small habits are all about ease of use for the developers. And if any feature of the tool forces them to break any habit, it’s going to get uncomfortable. And this is crucial information all dx developers need to keep in mind. 

developer experience
Source: Photo by Arian Darvishi on Unsplash

Integrating keyboard navigations, easy editing, efficient search, and filtering, all of these will amp up the usability factor of the tool. Don’t add unnecessary design features that slow down the tool, you’ll only frustrate the web developers more. 

  1. Clarity Will Tie It All Together

And now we come to the element that is all about aesthetics, but also not about aesthetics. All the functionality, stability, and ease of usability will be tied together by a clear, precise, and intuitive interface that is not only valuable to the tool but also looks good. 

It also gives developers the power to visualize their actions and the consequences. Making tasks easy to perform and edit will increase the clarity of the entire interface tenfold. Needless to say, a perfect blend of all these four elements will be necessary for perfect dx experience design.

Wrapping Up: Developers Are Also Users. Treat Them As Such

At the end of the day, developers are people, a.k.a users. Sure they are the ones who know all the secrets of the development world, but that does not mean that their tools don’t need the basic design principles integrated within them. So before you say, “eh, it’s just a development tool, no need to be fancy,” remember that developers are also users, and they deserve well-designed tools that provide better development experience and deliver better value.

By Pratip Biswas

Pratip Biswas is the Founder and CEO of Unified Infotech, a New York-based web design company that has been featured in Deloitte Fast 500 | Fastest growing tech companies in 2018. His company is working with Enterprises, SMB’s and Start-ups to improve their efficiency through Digital Adoption and help them discover new possibilities through constant innovations. Pratip also writes regularly on Blockchain technology and has been published in publications like "Yourstory", "Dzone" etc.