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OVO Tech Blog

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5 things coding taught me that made me a better designer

With a bit of extra time during the pandemic, I wanted to learn more about React's benefits and drawbacks so I could better design for my product team.

Like most people with a bit of extra time during the pandemic, I decided to spend it learning something new. As a designer, the product team I work with uses React, a javascript library for building user interfaces. And I wanted to learn more about the framework’s benefits and drawbacks so I could better design for them.

After 4 months creating an app of my own, I learned a lot on using React to build both web and native app products. I took the experience seriously and went through all the processes a developer might go through when creating and maintaining an app. The most crucial lessons weren't on using the framework I’d chosen, but coding in general.

I took away five key insights, which I believe are worth sharing:

Insight 1: Even though something can be done... doesn't mean it should be done

There's more to coding than getting something to work as intended. Developers also need to ensure the code can be efficiently maintained. Even though a complicated design might be feasible, it could also make maintenance much harder, resulting in more errors, higher costs,  and a worse customer experience in the long run.

Insight 2: Developers don't know everything there is to know about coding, and that's alright

Expecting a developer to know everything there is to know about the codebase they work on is like expecting a native English speaker to know every English word. If you need a developer to give accurate information, you need to provide them with time to explore the code. You shouldn't expect them to hold all the answers in their head, then hold them accountable when they turn out to be inaccurate.

Insight 3: Regardless how well code is written, at some point it will fail

In modern coding languages like Javascript, an error can be generated by as little as an extra character, showing how fragile code can be and how easily it can break. This makes Progressive Enhancement — where you start building an experience with just html — especially vital. Also it shows how important error scenarios are. It’s better to pay more attention to them than adding those extra delighters. This way, you can at least make sure your experience fails with finesse.

Insight 4: Code isn't reusable by default so if it needs to be, plan ahead

Even if a component already exists somewhere else in your app or website, this doesn't mean it can be easily replicated where you want it next. For that to be the case, it needs to be created as a reusable component which tends to be more complex than creating it for a single occasion. This means a developer is unlikely to create reusable components without good reason, so let them know if that's what you need.

Insight 5: Last-minute design changes, no matter how small, are hard to manage

Updating code doesn't only mean changing code that's already written. It also means re-testing to ensure a change doesn't break something else, and getting the code re-reviewed by peers. Without this, we run the risk a small change may lead to significant issues once a product is released.

Why you should bother with all of this

As designers, we naturally focus on catering for our end-users. However, we should also bear in mind that the first people who actually use the designs we propose are developers. Building more empathy and understanding for their work helps us create the best solutions for the customer and make our developer colleague’s lives that little bit better.


Ahmed Mohamed

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