The Web Witch's Blog

On Gatekeeping Design and Democratizing Information

I was getting ready to fly to Denmark last week with my (now) husband when I was reading a LinkedIn thread that was unfolding on a post about my book Design for Developers. The comment was from a UX professional declaring she just didn’t understand books like mine, and it was a detriment to UX professionals everywhere that I democratize and demystify design and user experience for developers.

I stopped checking after another design director went on to lash out and call me a clown. All over a book that wants to help developers learn about design so they can make their side projects look better and be better partners to the designers they work with?

I have encountered ego and gatekeeping tendencies often in the design world and the belief that you’re just inherently born with an eye for design is wrong – it can be taught. As can user experience skills. And while designers sit and moan over the fact they wish their developers understood design better so they can be a better team, you can’t turn around and decry the democratization of the fundamental skills developers need to be a better partner to design.

“I don’t want devs in my UX work” – well they most likely don’t want to be doing your work either but devs are building YOUR work. Code is user experience, and no one wants to be talked down to whether you’re a designer trying to understand code or a developer trying to understand design and user experience. Successful collaboration comes from a place where all parties have respect for each other and can communicate effectively.

One of my most cherished career moments from the past year comes from an afternoon meeting when myself (as product manager), my lead engineer and my lead designer all sat in a room together and worked through some design and user experience problems for our VS Code application. We all came away with a plan that everyone was on board with. Technical difficulties were discussed as well as technical limitations with the design. Joy isn’t the right word, but how excited we all were about our plan was a palpable feeling in the room.

That is the feeling I want to spread to other conference room and zoom calls. Shared success. Not the antiquated process of design secretively working and then tossing a design over to devs like it’s the gospel truth.

Code is not a separate thing from user experience. Without devs, there would be no digital UX to improve. We are all a team and we should be able to communicate effectively.

I’m a designer first and foremost. I am also a product manager, and I am a hobby coder with a rich understanding of the web platform and developer tooling. Developers told me throughout my career they wanted to be able to design better and I wrote a book to solve that need.

Why are we not afraid to say designers should learn to code, but are afraid to say developers should learn design? Perhaps gatekeeping is just a fear of our own insecurities, externalized. Otherwise I’ll take the compliment that my book is so well written, developers will start taking UX jobs after reading it. That is not the book’s intent but it seems to be a concern.

At the end of the day, people are going to continue to further their skills. While you’re concerned with people trying to better themselves in ways they find interesting that makes them better at their chosen career path, you will find that your fear of becoming stagnant or extinct has been realized. Not by anyone else’s doing but your own.

If you’d like to join 1500 others in understanding the fundamentals of design and user experience, you can find my book Design for Developers on Amazon or on Manning.

Follow me on Mastodon, on Twitter or Instagram and yes I'm on Threads too. I run The Web We Want, a place for web developers and designers to submit the things they need from browsers and the web platform to make their jobs easier. Subscribe to my newsletter to get interesting web dev and design links and occasional updates about what I'm doing.

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