Designers are from Mars, Engineers are from Venus

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Meetup space filling up @Motivate_Design, NYC

“Designers and engineers always get along,” said no one…ever. That is why the meetup I went to last night at Motivate Design was packed with people, curious to gain a better understanding of how to communicate effectively with team members of all disciplines, and learn best practices to help facilitate more project collaboration.

Jack Cole, Director of Design at Motivate Design, was the presenter for the meetup which was coordinated by NYC Code and Design Academy and the UX Labs meetup group. Jack is a 15-year veteran of working as a UX/Design professional who has experienced the thrilling highs and the crushing lows of corporate life.

What’s the issue? Many from the two disciplines don’t see eye-to-eye, which causes friction and unnecessary roadblocks that prevent success. 

He started off by taking us through a few particularly challenging projects and what he learned from each of them from a designer’s perspective.


Challenge: Too many stakeholders at all levels of the company with no clear decision maker (politics anyone?).

Solution: Build your interpersonal skills. Jack poked his head in every conversation to understand what was going on and where everyone was standing. He was able to identify who the key decision makers were to move forward and strengthen those relationships.


Challenge: Team was located all over the globe, which create timezone and language differences.

Solution: Be flexible! Jack recognized the various work schedules and held meetings at times that were more than just convenient times to where he and the UX team were located. A key tip is to over-deliver to assure clarity and consistency when handing over one of your deliverables. Make a conscious effort to connect with your team, regardless of where they are. For example, if some emails have been causing tension or giving team members bad vibes, suggest to use Skype when possible to get that face-to-face interaction.


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Jack Cole sharing his experiences.

Challenge: Development engineers were traditionally accustomed to receiving requirements and build on them without much engagement from outside team members.

Solution: Practice inclusion by inviting development engineer leads to participate in off-site conceptual workshops. When Jack got asked the question of how he can work positively with engineers, his response was: “Treat them like people!!” Social activities helps build trust. In the end, you should stay humble and treat people like you would like to be treated by making them feel included and empowered.


Challenge: Efforts around a project was entirely driven by development, with user experience and design considered an afterthought which resulted in a disjointed experience for the customer and months to rework.

Solution: The key here is to inquiring to educate yourself. Jack established a UX presence within the Dev department by making efforts to engage by making an effort to understand part of the technical side of the project as well running collaborative brainstorming sessions. By finding commonalities with other people, it will help build credibility.

I was the new guy… And then eventually I became the annoying guy. I’m not the expert, I want to learn.


Challenge: Lack of clarity in industry regulations caused redundancies and inconsistencies in documentation which resulted in wasted time, effort, and difficult project meetings.

Solution: Accuracy is your jam here. Jack’s team clarified design concepts as clearly as possible, opened additional lines of communication for developers to receive immediate feedback on any questions they might have on the documentation and designs, and created a fluid design spec process that accounted for change management requests.


For the second half of the talk, Jack walked us through his list of how to live your own principles, which govern how you think, act and work:

  1. We all drive. Someone has to take the wheel once in a while. Show collective ownership. When people were out on vacation, Jack had a collective team that took ownership of the work of the people that were out. If there is a lack of understanding or clarity, step up so you can work together to clarify. This will prevent frustration.
  2. Yes and… Build on each other build on what we do. Over-deliver. Think that’s a great idea, how can we take that to the next level? Continue to use this iterative process.
  3. Explore, design, reflect and refine. Follow the process and live the mindset. Get feedback from both stakeholders and end users to stay on the right path.
  4. Deliver excellence. Substance, simplicity, sophistication and kick-ass solutions. Find ways to work together like a well-oiled machine. Think this is what my partner needs, this is what I’m expecting so I can get working in advance. Be proactive!
  5. Grow through positive interactions. Planting not fishing, which is all about building relationships. Realize that everyone is involved and feels invested. And remember: No assholes, which means that you need to think inwardly to make sure that you aren’t one!

At the end of the talk, Jack gave us his advice for the real world by providing us with his key takeaways…

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“Your ego is not your amigo” – Jack got that genius line from Wu-Tang Clan

In addition to the list, Jack pointed out that it is important to be clear to your team about how you work (i.e. Are you a morning person? How do you prefer to get your files? What are the lines of communication your team will use?) and then to find out how your team works to establish the most efficient and accommodating practices.

Overall it was a good meetup with lots of positive energy in the room. It would be great to see a follow-up meeting from an engineer perspective around the same topic to get insight from both sides. Maybe that’s a future meetup, right UX Lab?

Find the full presentation here below:

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