This blog post is inspired by personal thoughts and experiences.
It is not intended for academic reference.
It does not seek to be politically correct.
The distinction between designing a product and building a product isn’t always clear, particularly when you first start considering a career in the Tech industry.
One fundamental difference between the two job functions is that a designer works to shape the purpose of a product whilst a developer works to turn a product design into a useful application.
Both influence user experience. The designer does this by understanding the user and their behaviour whilst the developer does this by identifying new technologies in the market that can increase the value of the user experience.
The Designer Role (with reference to yours truly)
I am a product designer, currently of Software. I picked up most of my design skills studying Architecture as an undergrad. My interest in Tech piqued a few years later when I studied for a HDip in Data Analytics. I found the art of machine learning and databases was not entirely unlike designing buildings. After all, they are systems too.
When it comes to projects I take my cues from 'potential customers and users' where I design for their needs. You might expect that this would feel confining but that hasn't been my experience. On the contrary, their needs present a context for the project challenge, and with every project I undertake I seek to grow my creative expression.
The Developer Role
Developers design too, but they operate on a more technical and granular level. They write code to programme systems, along with all of the other tasks required to transform a design into a working product. They have to be knowledgable, detail oriented, hard working and patient.
Developers take their cues from the product designer(s) whilst the technologies they have at their disposal set the parameters for what they can implement.
When designers and developers work together for a common goal, wonderful things can (and do) happen.
Building great Tech Products is a Team Sport:
It is a highly collaborative and complex process. If something changes in the product, be it functional or technical, it affects the work flow of everyone involved.
Sometimes things go wrong, for example:
On a previous project I worked on, one of the developers built a text box feature as part of one of the product applications we were working on. This feature was not listed in the requirement specification (a design manual) nor was it demonstrated in any of the User Interface (UI) prototypes. In discussions, the developer said he added the text box because he thought it would be a useful feature.
There are two problems here. The first is a human resource issue (something we are not concerned with here). The second problem relates to design purpose. When you appreciate that the essence of the said application was to eliminate bias and emotion (something the design specifically sought to achieve by eliminating free form text) you may understand why it was frustrating for all.
Why am I telling you this?
Because it is important to choose the right career path for you, and work the career you have chosen.
And if you can't decide between the role of designer or developer why not consider doing both?
The indie game industry is full of individuals who design and build their own games. There are also examples of other professionals who work simultaneously as designers and developers, notably in small studios and tech start-ups.
The challenge here is if you are going to pursue both, you wll need to consider how you are going to develop sufficient competency to perform both roles to a professional standard. Keep in mind that there are far more programmes that focus on either design or development at third level, and, you are likely to pitch yourself to prospective employers therafter based on your programme choice.
Of course, if you are commited to self learning, tech education is remarkably accessible. There are countless online courses and tutoring tools that will help you hone your talents. It will just take time!
Big ask .........
If you are in secondary school and currently learning to design or develop for Tech, please share a link to the programmes and courses you would recommend.
RoundPeg Republic exhibited at the TY Expo in Punchestown this September, 2017. We wanted our exhibit to be game focused where visitors could get a feel for changes in Design across time.
To illustrate, we chose two systems, the Super Nintendo, a fourth generation game console released in 1992, and the Nintendo Wii, a sixth generation game console released in 2006.
Due to the nature of an Expo, we needed a game that could be completed relatively quickly and easily. Short on time and space, we chose Mariokart for it's fun, fast, racey features. With 15 years between the release of each version, a lot had changed. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the design of the controls.
The test was simple; Carry out the following three tasks where tasks 1 and 2 are interchangeable:
1. Play Mariokart on the Nintendo Wii
2. Play Mariokart on the Super Nintendo
3. Leave a star or a comment on the feedback poster of your preferred controller.
Things did not go according to plan!
Unfortunately, we did not have the space to accommodate visitors the way we had hoped to. Two consoles were simply not enough. Some visitors played just one console, others played two. Some visitors left comments on the feedback posters .......... when there was space to do so.
Despite these limitations, we could not have been more excited about the level of engagement we received. The Super Nintendo pad was the clear favourite on the day. Some of the comments from the feedback posters are captured below.