metalab logo
July 22, 2019

AMA: How do you mix technical and creative minds?

MetaLab AMA submission: Hey MetaLab, What's your biggest challenge having both creative and technical minds? Thanks, Sean

TL;DR: Clients come to MetaLab to push the envelope visually. Clients also come to MetaLab to get product shipped and into the hands of customers. Our best work happens when we get to do both. 

It’s a lot like the friction that sometimes arises between the waitstaff and the kitchen at a busy restaurant on a Friday night. Our end goal is the same — create the best experience possible for the customer — it’s ‘how to get there’ that can be debated. 

Part of this is natural; after all, who doesn’t prefer their own approach to problem solving? We also have our own accountabilities within a project team and want to ensure we are satisfying those requirements. 

Consider the following:

  • The product must look and feel compelling; but time and product performance is a top priority
  • The product must be efficient and bug free, without compromising user experience
  • The client often wants the best possible product in the shortest amount of time

Compromise doesn’t have to hurt 

Although our company is made up of different skillsets, varying ways of thinking, and different ways of being measured on our work, it's imperative that everyone aligns on the same goal: build an amazing product to satisfy our client and their users. 

Nobody wins with an all-or-nothing attitude. 

It’s easy enough to understand the ‘we’re all on the same team’ philosophy, but often decisions need to be made in the best interest of the project that sometimes require compromise on the part of the design or development team. This is where tensions can arise. 

So, how do we navigate that?

A recent example: 

  • Our design team made a beautiful landing page on a mobile app that had some elements that were very tricky to build in React Native, the technology we were using to develop the app. Sure, given unlimited time we could make it work, but the client was pressed for time to get this app to user testing and we wanted to make this happen.
  • A member of the development team reached out to the designer on Slack and asked if they were open to talking about alternatives to this exact design and animation.
  • The two hopped on a video call and the product designer gave context around the use case of this page in the UX flow, and the importance of the page in the designs. Establishing this context and weighing its significance helped to clarify how much development time the task was worth.
  • The developer then explained exactly what it was that made it complicated, and what parts were simple.undefined
  • Together, they brainstormed some different options, and talked through both the tech implementation and the UX implications.
  • On the call they came up with a solution that looked similar, but saved days of development effort.

Separate facts from opinions

At the beginning of a discussion, it can be useful to identify the immutable parameters in place — is there a hard deadline? Are there finite limitations of the technology? Any ‘deal breakers’ instituted by the client? Generally, everyone can agree on what is true and what is not. Aligning on these facts first makes it easier to focus on resolving an opinion-based impasse in context. 

Get specific

In the case of the landing page, both the designer and the developer on the project respectively defined what made the complex page elements necessary, and what specifically made the design complicated. Nobody wins with an all-or-nothing attitude, and more often than not there’s a reasonable solution to be found with a little bit of thoughtful digging. 

Avoid silos and pigeonholing 

Open communication and inclusion of cross-functioning teams throughout the process can help to ensure nothing goes too far down an impossible path. Though a team member may be in a technical role, they may also be enthusiastic to lend their creativity to solutioning if a complex design ends up not being feasible. Two heads are always better than one!

Understand and acknowledge each other’s perspectives

Ultimately, a successful product depends on the fusing of the right feature set (research), with an easy to use, pleasant experience (design) that functions well (development). It really takes everyone working together to make it happen. 

All disciplines are essential to delivering a great product, which is why our team maintains an attitude of validation,respect for each others role in the product creation, and puts collaboration and open conversation first in trying to find the best solutions. 

Hope this helps your teams collaborate a bit more effectively! We’re always down to share more so send your own question for AMA to

Celebrate little wins
Embrace the scroll
Coach them though big ideas
Embrace the scroll
...make sure anyone can use it
Give them one task at a time
Teach by example
Create a 'consumer-friendly' feel
Focus on the most common user needs, but...
Start with mobile
Principles we
can use today