It’s absolutely essential to treat front-end development as part of the design process. However, the (foolish, artificial) line between design and development “phases” gets in the way of true collaboration between disciplines.
This often isn’t due to any malicious intent, but rather because archaic processes and mental models keep disciplines out of sync with each other and prevent teams from working together in a meaningful way.
There are loads of things teams can do to address this issue, but I’m going to focus on what developers can do to make themselves more useful earlier in the design process.
Front-end Prep Chefs
“Welluh boss, nobody gave me any designs to build out so I’muh just gonna sit here on my hands until they uh send me the designs.
—Lazy, foolish developer
This pisses me off to no end.
The role of a prep chef is essential to the cooking process. A prep chef’s responsibilities include chopping vegetables and preparing ingredients so that when the rest of the cooking staff gets into work they can collectively spend their time pursuing the art of cooking instead of tediously chopping peppers.
It is developers’ responsibility to do the work of the prep chef. If developers aren’t busy from Day 1 of your project, there’s something broken with the process. Because boy there’s plenty of work that needs done: setting up Github repos, dev and production server setup, installing CMSs, setting up development tools, etc.
Sure that stuff’s important, but it’s not like we can start immediately coding, right? Wrong. Get to work. Establish patterns. Chuck in your CSS reset. Set up some atoms and molecules. Set up shell page templates.
While you won’t know what the design will look like, you can cover a lot of ground. Making an e-commerce site? You can set up site search, shopping cart table, shell PDP homepage and checkout pages. Making a “web app?” Start marking up the login form, forgot password flow, and dashboard.
Of course this stuff is all subject to change, but by prepping this stuff ahead of time frees your time up to work with (rather than after) designers. Developers can help validate UX design decisions through conversations and working prototypes, can help visual designers better understand source order & web layout, and can quickly produce a fledgling codebase that will evolve into the final product.
Front-end developers need to work with designers for the benefit of everyone involved in the project. Failure to do the appropriate prep-chef work ahead of time shortens the development cycle and leaves you spending late nights and weekends at the office the duration of the last phase of the project. You deserve better than that.
So get in early and start chopping those peppers.