We have had the pleasure of partnering with numerous design agencies and we can’t express how grateful we are to work with such talented teams. All of these partnerships have given us invaluable insight into what makes a design partner a good fit for us. As a development agency, we regularly work with designers of all types, and because of this, we know the good ones when we see them. Below are the top 10 distinguishing traits we find in all good design partners.
1 - Open Communication
Communication is #1 on our list of distinguishing traits. Design and development are two different sides of the brain and in order to effectively translate the designer’s vision into a working product, there needs to be an open line of communication between the two parties. When the development team is left to build without a true grasp of the client’s goals, there tends to be a significant amount of tweaking required later on that could have been avoided if an open line of communication was established early.
Our most successful projects are a direct result of our level of understanding of our partners’ style of working, the client relationship, and both short and long-term goals as a whole. Communicating effectively and often is the key to any successful partnership. We’re in this together!
2 - Proactive
During a project’s life, obstacles come up and how we handle them is everything! When we first suspect a complication, we bring it up sooner rather than later and we expect the same from our partners.
After partnering on a few projects, we tend to develop a shared sensitivity towards potential roadblocks. For example, when building an image slider, the image proportion needs to be the same for all images used. So when the end-client asks to swap in a portrait image in a horizontal slider, proactive design partners know and can communicate that there will need to be some compromises to the design before it gets to the development team.
With that in mind, it’s always a good idea to bring the development team into the design process early. This way, we can help guide the project from a more technical perspective and ultimately reduce the likelihood of issues later down the line.
3 - Continually Optimizing
As we build our partnerships, we also build our processes around our relationships. We figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how to continually optimize everything from communication to asset management.
Every project and partnership is different, so we like to hold retrospective meetings after a project is complete to optimize our processes for the next project. Instead of sending an endless chain of emails, we may find out that a quick 2-minute phone call could have sufficed instead. Partners that are like-minded in this sense often help us maximize our productivity in a way that we can then apply to our other partnerships as well.
4 - Proper Design Handoff
Having a clean, well organized, and documented design handoff is vital to the success of the development team. Not only does it minimize headaches and second guessing what the designer intended, it saves a considerable amount of time and money by removing the need for additional design iterations to get it “right”.
As we mentioned in Open Communication above, design and development are two different sides of the brain so a proper design handoff helps to translate the designer’s artistic intentions in a way that makes sense to the more analytical developer.
We recently wrote an article on what a good design handoff looks like. Click here to learn what it takes to provide a solid design handoff to a development team.
5 - Understands the Stages of Development
The best design partners are the ones who understand that software development is a process and there are several steps in order for it to be done well. Every project is different and requires a unique approach, however the stages of development are generally consistent across all project types. Those stages at a high-level are:
- Discovery - we determine the project requirements and scope of work.
- Estimate - we provide an estimate of the work involved.
- Kickoff - we meet to gather all assets and finalize milestones.
- Build - construction of the product.
- Test/QA - we test the product internally.
- Review - we share the product with the client for final approval.
- Launch - we push the product live.
Each stage requires different levels of communication. The Discovery stage is nothing but communication, while the Build stage can be a more focused, heads-down approach. Our design partners understand the natural ebbs and flows of the development process and are able to manage client expectations much better by knowing what is happening in each stage.
6 - Understands the Nature of Development
To a lot of people who are unfamiliar with development, coding can seem like magic. While we do consider ourselves to be working magic behind the scenes, there are a lot of external factors and services out of our control that can have a direct effect on our builds. A best practice today may become obsolete tomorrow so having the flexibility to rework processes to conform to new technologies is a huge advantage in today’s market.
As development experts, we do our best to stay on top of these types of instances to give our partners as much lead time as possible to make any necessary adjustments. Understanding that development and coding best practices are constantly evolving is a key trait we look for in design partners.
7 - Being Mindful of Strengths and Weaknesses
Agency partnerships are beneficial for several reasons, principally being able to combine each other's strengths to minimize our individual weaknesses. Knowing where our strengths stop and weaknesses begin helps determine the division of labor and overall level of quality that can be reached together.
For example, our design partner may have a talented team for designing marketing websites but if they’ve never fully designed a complex web application, we may want to bring in our UI/UX team to help supplement any design gaps. It takes a team to design and build correctly; we recommend knowing your strengths and partnering with companies with complimentary skills.
8 - Innovative
We love to solve challenging problems and support our clients’ most audacious goals. I'd say the best partners are the ones who are practical, but also cutting edge on what's possible and what will bring the most value to their clients.
We see ourselves as the premier development partner for custom solutions, so naturally, we are drawn to design partners that like to push the creative boundaries to build truly unique user experiences. Pre-existing themes are great for budgets, but won’t make you stand out in a sea of templates. Design partners that have this in mind are generally the most fun to work with.
9 - Up to Date on UI/UX Best Practices
When we are looking to develop a user interface designed by one of our partners, there are certain elements of the designs that are crucial to get correct. In the most basic of terms, the interface needs to be simple, consistent and purposeful. If the navigation isn’t easy to follow, the user will get lost and bounce from the page. The best design partners have a deep understanding of affordances. They use them deliberately to help users understand interfaces more quickly and subtly encourage them to take one action over another. This is critical, whether you’re designing a marketing website or an enterprise scale application.
Having knowledge of and staying up to date on UI/UX best practices is not only essential to the success of your design agency, but to the overall success of the websites and apps we develop as well.
10 - Mutual Trust
The concept of mutual trust is at the heart of every one of our partnerships and rounds out our list of the top 10 traits of good design partners. We specialize in our services and you specialize in yours. Trusting each other's expertise is what creates a truly successful business relationship. We aspire to bring your designs to life as you intended and you can trust that we’ll build it in the best way possible.
Collaboration and Q&A sessions are necessary to any project, but when it gets into the fundamental concepts of design and development, we trust our design partners' experience, just as we expect them to trust our plan for development. When mutual trust is established, it’s amazing how efficient everything becomes.
We hope this article has helped inspire ideas on how you can better work with your development partners. We believe that the best way to grow is by doing it together and finding like-minded teams that share this vision is the ultimate success for us. Like we said, open communication is huge so let us know your thoughts and if you think there are any top traits we missed. Happy building!