January 19, 2021

How to Integrate Your Development Team into the Creative Process

As remote learning becomes the norm, your UX design and development teams need to be even more thoughtful about how teachers use technology to reach their students.

From making it clear to teachers which of their screens is being shared during a Zoom lesson to providing innovative features for SEL growth and peer learning, our tech and design collaborations matter to the users who depend on our products.

Backpack Interactive is lucky enough to collaborate with incredible development teams. Our special creative partnerships with developers shape the work we've done with national brands, including Scholastic and Lego, and inform our approach to agile development.

With our insights from decades-long collaborations, you can infuse more creativity into your UX design and development collaborations and make better products from the ground up.

Ease Workflow Issues through Agile Development Practices

Agile development practices help you coordinate your design and development teams and work backwards from an objective or deadline. But staying flexible throughout this process also helps your entire team come up with creative approaches to design challenges.

For design teams, it's important to work closely with clients and stakeholders to define the problem or experience. The better you understand a design challenge conceptually, the easier it will be to clarify your project parameters with a development team and start riffing on potential solutions.

As design and technology needs are defined along the way, the end product becomes clearer. Ideally, this collaboration is what creates the best possible version of the product you were hired to build.

That's why working backwards is so important. You'll be able to think proactively about your timeline and develop solutions that fit the parameters of your deadline. Both you and your development team should work together to determine what an iterative road to a major feature goal looks like.

You might be surprised by what solutions jump out at you during these collaborations. Some feature ideas or solutions might not even be part of the original brief. Even so, they could support user needs or client business goals in new, innovative, and more efficient ways.

This process takes time—and mutual trust. Now that we're all working remotely, it's more important than ever to give collaborations between design and development teams more breathing room. If you're tightly scheduling meetings and sprints or making detailed agendas, you'll have less time for creative thinking and problem solving.

Identify More Technology Opportunities with Annotated Wireframes

Developers have plenty of know-how. But if your designers simply deliver their vision without considering the perspective of the development team, everyone misses out on technology opportunities.

Annotated wireframes are the best way to involve your development team throughout the process. Developers can make annotations on wireframes to discuss the functionality and feasibility of your team's UX solutions, so you're all thinking a few steps ahead. This is also the perfect system for developers to test edge cases or specific user cases and search for solutions early in the process.

Done well, annotated wireframes also provide a formally documented design and technology conversation that outlines solutions to real problems. Not every design project treats wireframes as an opportunity for collaboration. For this reason, it's important that both sides stay open to change throughout this process. Ultimately, a flexible conversation will produce better, more creative solutions to both design and technology challenges.

Once your design team and your development team have mastered the fundamentals of teamwork, both teams are freed up to be more creative. The best collaborations lead to innovative or human-centered products by anticipating sticking points and building a stronger product from the ground up.

Roll Out a Proof-of-Concept to Test the Viability of Your UX and Technology

By nature, proofs-of-concept are quick, lightweight ways to demonstrate your proposed solution to a specific design challenge. They ensure your approach will work and deliver on the feel of the product. Done well, they can speed stakeholder buy-in or approval.

A proof-of-concept can even be small—a piece of code that helps designers test out what an experience would be like for the user. Does animation between screens solve a visual transition issue? Can you design a reactive behavior into the experience to help a user understand their next step? (Think log-in fields that shake when a user mis-remembers their password.)

Working with your development team to build and test a proof-of-concept is especially important right now. We don't know how learning tools designed for the classroom will translate to remote learning environments. This means we need to test out new ideas even more quickly By staying open to new, creative solutions, we'll meet the needs of teachers and students as they navigate working and learning from home.

We know that not every development team wants to participate in a partnership with UX designers. For development teams, iteration is more often about adhering to specific parameters rather than trying to solve unique design problems.

However, if you only focus on a project's design and technology parameters, you might not create the best possible product. It's important to stay open to the possibility that the product can get better along the way.

Working this way also requires a lot of trust between the client, your design and UX teams, and your development team. But if everyone accepts that the product can get better along the way, you'll create break-through moments where every member of the team can showcase their creative abilities.

For Backpack Interactive, proof-of-concept designs are one of the most exciting ways to create those break-through moments. They help us find more viable solutions that meet the needs of our users. They also shine a spotlight on the creative thinking of our development collaborators.

How to Stand Up a Stellar Digital Experience in 6 Weeks Flat: A LEGO Case Study

LEGO: Passport to Mars is a suite of interactive educational games designed to teach children ages 7 to 10 about space travel and teamwork. It also offers a postcard generator, so children can create and send messages featuring their LEGO models to friends and family.

Our biggest design challenge was to help children learn complex ideas through story and gameplay, all while delivering on visual presentation. To meet the tight deadline, we knew we had to work in an agile, collaborative partnership with one of our favorite development teams—the folks at Atomic.

Delivering on Delight—without a Database

In order to focus on storytelling, we spent several days storyboarding activities for gameplay rather than developing wireframes. Because we provided our development team with fewer technical specifications at the outset of the project, they wrote more creative code that addressed functionality and sequencing in unique ways. For example, they came up with playful solutions for syncing up animation to audio, and we adapted our visual designs to better fit their suggestions.

Collaboration with the Atomic team throughout this process was crucial. Early in the process, we discovered there wasn't enough time to properly implement a database on the back end. To compensate, we designed individual postcards by creating artwork for every possible outcome a child might choose. This way, we were still able to provide a customizable postcard experience, even if the images couldn't be generated dynamically on the back end. This solution worked solely because we collaborated in lockstep with our development team. Atomic helped us develop strong organizing solutions for the project's graphic assets. They also created prototypes to ensure our design work-around would be successful.

The Technological Challenge of Rendering AR in a Browser Environment

Our next design and technology challenge arose when trying to render augmented reality (AR) in a browser environment rather than app. The intent was to design a great experience for children who might just be learning what AR is and how it works. In LEGO: Passport to Mars, this means that some children can scan their LEGO model and experience it in a virtual environment. Children without their own LEGO models experience animated versions that are just as fun to look at and explore.

From a technological standpoint, few open source options for browser-based AR existed. To work around this technical constraint, we hired a 3D animator to develop a proof-of-concept. Our animator brought a LEGO rocket model to life with billowing smoke and created a LEGO lunar buggy that picks up equipment and places it in a cargo bed. Both UX and visual design had to work backwards to address the technology limitations around AR and accomplish the goal by only using the tech our teams had access to.

Working this way can be both challenging and productive. As a design team, we were deeply involved in the technology decisions behind LEGO: Passport to Mars. This collaboration made the final experience stronger, more functional, and more fun. When design and development teams work in environments of mutual trust and creativity, great things happen.

Want to work collaboratively with a design team to solve technology issues in your next product? Contact us!

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Published by: Sean Oakes in Product Development