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Startup owner? Here are 4 ways to empower your developers’ creativity

There’s an old saying about service delivery: Your options are good, fast, and cheap — pick two. For entrepreneurs trying to get ahead and stay ahead in the rapidly evolving tech industry, this aphorism rings true, and it’s why multi-skilled employees who are able to deliver two and a half out of those three are so highly prized.

One of these is the rare “designoper” — a developer with design knowledge. These all-stars are able to make decisions from both an aesthetic and a practical point of view, striking a balance between code-heavy visuals and simplicity while reducing the time between iterations.

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Developers and designers often are diametrically opposed when it comes to their approach to product development, and that’s why people are often one or the other, not both. But just because the two approach problems from different angles doesn’t mean they’re incapable of seeing things from one another’s point of view.

Here are four ways you can help your developers unleash their inner designers:

1. Encourage collaboration between designers and developers

You don’t need to send your developers to school in order to give them the design education they need. Instead, you should encourage your developers to collaborate with your designers. The education that developers will get from this arrangement will not only be more practical, but it often will be timelier as well.

When big decisions are being made, like a change in website layout or a new site design, invite developers to planning meetings. Hear their opinions, and validate their feedback. Design is about more than aesthetics. There’s a critical need for design and development teams to be on the same page on elements that relate to user experience.

Read more: Naspers invests $40m in Brazilian app developer Movile

Spatial logistics, for example, are an increasingly critical part of development: how large images will look, change, and responsively scale across devices and platforms will matter to the overall look and feel of a site or an app. You can unpack this even further by looking into how menu items and calls to action will change across platforms.

If your site’s practical elements are conceived from both design and development points of view, you can scale up with equal expectations.

By allowing your team members to have a vote in the appearance of your business image, they’ll be more invested in the process and likelier to offer helpful feedback. It’s about more than just having them contribute to making the site look pretty.

If your developers understand how and why a site’s appearance enforces your message and assists in facilitating interaction (be it sign-ups, conversions, or clicks), they’ll be equally motivated to drive that behaviour with the site.

2. Create a space where developers can express themselves

It might seem trivial, but allowing developers (and all employees) a space inside the office where they can express themselves is an excellent way to foster creativity as well as a sense of camaraderie. It will also give you a better sense of what makes your developers tick.

3. Relate design to everyday life

The best way to introduce people to the field of design or to help them embrace their creativity is to make the craft applicable to their lives. Most developers will have had some experience with design platforms, and getting your design team to give a fun presentation on using Photoshop and Illustrator is a good way to introduce them to more design tools.

Read more: Making millionaires: the developers who won big in Gyft’s Silicon Valley exit

At the same time, hosting employee presentations gives people insight into the different tasks happening under the same roof. This relates back to collaboration, but hearing the daily obstacles that different teams face will open the floor to a more resolution-based workflow that reduces the go-between time as departments manage ambitions and expectations.

You could expand on this by hosting an in-house contest to design a blog or staged site, breaking staff up into teams (one copywriter, one developer, and one designer). You can reward the winners with gift cards or a night out, but most importantly, acknowledge the results generated by their creative collaboration. People are more creative than they let on, and contests such as these can facilitate the means for them to tap into that creativity.

4. Make sure they have the tools they need

Design isn’t just a bunch of abstract concepts. It takes hands-on experience to truly understand what makes good design. Make sure your developers have access to basic design tools such as Illustrator and Photoshop. Designing is the best way to gain confidence and skill. Also, having access to these tools will encourage developers to participate in the aforementioned in-house contests.

A developer with design skills doesn’t have to be such a rare beast. After all, it’s a developer’s job to create the means by which users interact with a website or an app — good design is in their best interests.

Not everyone has the eye necessary to become a rock star designer, but most developers can at least pick up some basic knowledge that can help them make better product decisions. By using these methods to encourage and educate developers, you could unlock potential they never knew they had.

What do you think is the best way to get developers to adopt a design mindset?

Image by Ruiwen Chua via Flickr

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