Transforming brilliant ideas and sketches into fully functional products can cause a lot of trouble, confusion, and hurdles down the road, especially when working on digital products that require both design and development. Converting design files to code is an early phase in the development lifecycle, and difficulties at this stage can make it hard for teams to get their products and features to market on time.

The point at which a designer has finalized (not finished–more on this distinction below) an app's UI design and is ready to hand it over to developers for further engineering and implementation is known as the “design-to-development handoff.” This concept can be illustrated as follows:

This handoff is crucial because there is no such thing as a "finished" design. There is always more to add before final release, with ongoing iterations based on requirements from stakeholders and clients. To avoid wasting time while exchanging specs between your design and development teams, it is vital to get all of your product teams on the same page.

Who Is Involved in the Design-to-Development Handoff?

A good designer-developer collaboration is important to make this handoff successful and bring the product to life. To ensure accuracy in production, the following teams must be kept in the loop to discuss design specifics, and communication must be established to make the handoff go smoothly.

1. Designers

During the designing process, it is effective for the designers team to involve the engineering team in the design process at a high level to avoid extra feedback loops later. Designers should seek insights into the implementation process to pinpoint likely points of confusion that may emerge when translating design elements to code.

2. Developers

To avoid an unwelcome clash in future, developers must get involved early with the designer team. This can be done by running initial design prototypes to identify bugs in code, which can be removed by making suitable adjustments in design sets.

3. Product Managers

This team should encourage collaboration from both sides (designers and developers). A proper handoff meeting makes it possible to hash out questions from both teams regarding implementation, QA, and launch period. PMs should act as a source of truth that both designers and developers can consult about the current status of an application's design process.

Other concerned persons, such as stakeholders or clients, can be included in this communication loop to ensure that they have an insight to how their requirements are going to transform into the final product.

Causes of Friction in the Design-to-Development Handoff

The design-to-development handoff sounds easier than it actually is. There are predictable logjams that can emerge if the two teams do not synchronize their efforts from time to time.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." - Steve Jobs

Some potential causes of friction that can complicate the handoff process include:

  • A lack of designer-developer communication
  • Differing skill sets between designers and developers
  • A lack of clarity from clients or PMs
  • Inconsistent naming conventions on either the design or development side
  • Vague holes or missing details in the designer's handoff checklist

Each of these holdups will affect the overall development cycle of a product and can be the most nerve-wracking part for some teams. If mishandled at an early stage, the design-to-development handoff can come back to haunt you at the execution and launch phase. Some specific risks of a failed design-to-development handoff include:

  • Slower overall development due to different interpretations of the product
  • Needless iterative feedback loops between designer and developer
  • Adverse user experience due to missing or overlooked details
  • Time-consuming bugs arising in QA, at an advanced stage of development when deadlines are approaching

Automating the Design-to-Development Handoff

Companies need to adopt some carefully chosen ways to alleviate the above-mentioned challenges during handoff.

The optimal way to structure this handoff is to incorporate tech tools and processes that can automate key steps, like providing interactive prototypes, gathering teams and assets on one board, and maintaining documentation to avoid misunderstandings between designer and developer. Let's take a deeper look at some ways to automate your design-to-development handoff:

1. Task management and organization

Getting all teams on one project board from the very beginning is essential because it automates the overall workflow for design and development. Asana and Jira are popular task management tools for grouping all employees in a single communication loop.

These tools enable everyone to see who is working on which task, and it provides total visibility into the content and objectives of each task. They automatically create a project board with timelines, task prioritization, and team-level tracking. They also act as a home for all necessary assets of the project.

2. Cloud tools to streamline communication

It is sometimes physically impossible to get all team members to work in the same place and be aware of each other’s progress. One best practice here is to use cloud-based tools to streamline product management.

Mockplus provides the functionality to edit and share PRDs online, offering faster design and better collaboration features. It displays design file and documents from a bird's-eye view for each product and allows one-click downloads. It also has the ability to accelerate a design-to-development handoff by generating historical versions of source files, which eliminates traditional ways of archiving files and data

Google Drive and Dropbox can also be adopted to make assets accessible to each team on cloud, although they also present a risk of over-documentation if not properly organized.

3. Providing interactive prototypes

Rendering a design prototype is important for clients, as it visualizes the basic workflow, interactions, and insights of the final product for them. It is equally beneficial to provide developers with action-oriented prototypes of design assets.

For example, while building a website, tools like Marvel and InVision provide the ability for designers to convert mockups into functional prototypes that define the internal links between pages of the website. These clearly defined interactions eliminate complexity for developers while transitioning the design files into code. The automatically generated prototypes can then be stored directly in code databases.

4. Design System

Providing developers with a style guide in the form of a design system helps to improve the designer-developer collaboration. Although the ideation of a design system cannot be automated, the creation of design templates can enable developers to quickly grab assets from a central repository. This practice promotes both procedural and design consistency, which are the keys to successful collaboration.

Advantages and Aftereffects of Automation

As competition increases in the software development industry, companies will need to speed up development to get new features into production faster. Intelligent automation can simplify development tasks that typically take hours so that they take seconds.

Cost Savings via Automation

Development work is expensive, so any reduction in development costs can be a significant cost saver for an organization. Design-to-development automation is a high-value (yet underutilized) way to dramatically cut total dev hours required.

Imagine, for example, that your product team pays for seats on a design platform such as Figma, which typically costs something like $50-$100 per seat. Without design-to-development automation, the productivity gained by using Figma is defined exclusively by how much faster your team works due to Figma's features.

However, if you can automate the conversion of design files into code, you have now amplified the value of each Figma seat, since the productivity gained now includes both how much faster your team works plus the development hours eliminated plus the value added by the fully functional applications they've created directly from designs.

These productivity gains have massive effects on development costs. Hypothetically, automated design-to-development could cut down development time by up to 80% for a given build. Most full-time developers bill their time at around $100-150+ per hour. So, at $125/hour, on a 500-hour build, you could cut costs from $62,500 to $12,500.

Now, extrapolate that for a team of 10 (or 100) devs working full time. The savings are compelling.

Operational Advantages of Automation

You can also realize benefits related to procedural improvements. The highest-impact forms of operational automation for the design-to-development stage are outlined below:

Handoff Meeting

Task organization using task management software eliminates the time required to compile information from multiple disparate sources. Preliminary automation is beneficial in creating, sequencing, and assigning all product-related tasks from beginning to final release.

Subtasks

Subtasks allow teams to tick off every essential design and development step directly within task management software, rather than by preparing a traditional checklist.

Releases

Faster development is a breeze if you use an agile management approach to automatically push releases and updates into production.

Workflow and AI Automation

Automatic code checks and script diffing in a single board can save a team a great deal of time. It makes it easy to track bug origins, which in turn frees up more time to test different deployment techniques.

Communication

Streamlined communication through a dedicated channel allows teams to detect errors earlier in the development process. Early detection and feedback empowers designers to restructure their designs for easier implementation by developers.

CI/CD Pipeline

Continuous integration and continuous delivery tools allow each developer to merge code changes into a central repository. This technique enables faster iteration, which is a must when implementing design change requests.

Power Digital Marketing Case Study

A case study from Power Digital Marketing shows that they have automated their design-to-development process since the start of 2018 and found it to be fruitful.

They used Asana for managing tasks and organized their workflow through it. Its features like subtasks and project boards, which they did not use beforehand, have streamlined their development process.

They also conducted a search for a familiar design platform or a single design system where both designers and developers could access current data. They tried using Sketch, Photoshop, and InVision for integrating designs, but this approach did not work out for them to get things properly labeled and in one place.

Eventually, they switched to Adobe XD, which became their go-to design platform. Adobe XD provides the option to publish design specs from a design file, so that developers can consult those specs when implementing designs.

They have also used Zeplin for their “handoffs” and for design specifications. Zeplin generates the required CSS for the design specs of Adobe XD. Adobe supports a direct integration between Zeplin and XD, which dramatically reduces the necessary coding time for all websites.

Interactive prototypes have also done wonders for their team, as prototypes show the overall navigation for each product and make it easier for developers as they begin implementing and mapping the product. Marvel and InVision have done wonders in converting mockups to live prototypes.

All of these improvements made their release cycles more efficient than before. Although specific requirements vary from project to project, technological alignment and streamlined management are all you need to get a product to market faster. This is how intelligent design-to-development automation can get teams into the market 4x faster.

Conclusion

There is no magical way to avoid all handoff errors, but adopting the above approaches can help your team grow faster and build better products. Too few product teams are focusing on automated design-to-development, but the gains that you can realize in this stage are significant.

At Crowdbotics, we are tackling this inefficiency head-on with our upcoming Figma integration for the Crowdbotics App Builder. Soon, users will be able to automatically import Figma designs into the Crowdbotics platform and see those designs rendered as fully functional apps inside the Crowdbotics App Builder.

From there, users can configure interactions, backend models, and third-party APIs with code-free tooling or directly edit the source code for highly custom builds. Deployment is fully automated, meaning that a user can go from design to delivery with zero coding required in a fraction of the time required by a traditional development cycle.

For users with designs who would like us to turn those designs into working apps quickly, we also offer managed app development services. This is an excellent option for teams looking to get to market as soon as possible. If you have designs but don't know how to code, we recommend getting in touch with one of our expert PMs today.