Design Technologists: The Unexpected Key to a Production Team’s Success

Insights from: Design Technologist: Today’s Dev/Design Hybrid Session Speaker: Michael Daross (Design Technologist) Joie Chung (Designer) of Home Away


At SXSW, I explored the role of the Design Technologist. This newfound information was particularly interesting because it seemed that multiple people in our own organization could could fall into this role — myself included.

What is a Design Technologist?

Design Technologists are the bridge between UX and front-end engineering. They straddle the line between visual design and development. They are a hybrid, in the sense that they care about both disciplines and take the time to learn two different skill sets. They have an eye for design, a strong grasp on key design principles, the company’s brand identity and an exceptional attention to detail.

In addition, they have an engineering mindset that allows them to systematically solve problems along with the skill to develop reusable code for developers.  They are typically a self-starter and always curious about new functionality and technology. They are able to pick up new tools and software easily, and willing to just dive in and learn something completely new. They have the communication skills to translate concepts and empathy for both, designers and developers.

Moveover, Design Technologists have a general curiosity and sense of adventure. Constantly redefining process as it’s needed and creative with what and how something is executed. Raising the bar for production code and process improvements, Design Technologists could be something your creative and dev teams are missing.

Currently, the Design Technologist role exists within tech companies — of course, the specific title differs company to company. For example, Microsoft calls them Design Developers and Google calls them UX Engineers. Whatever the title, they are a valuable part of the creative, dev and overall production process.

What Design Technologists Do

They are craft obsessed and provide a faithful representation of the designer’s vision. However, they are able to use their skill-set to solve design problems and they also know the limitations of development that can be misunderstood by designers.

For this reason, Design Technologists are great at tackling communication challenges and barriers between disciplines. They are able to work with designers to have realistic expectations, as well as discuss the limitations of code. As Michael Daross, a Design Technologist from Home Away stated, “Ideas are cheap. Implementation is expensive.” A Design Technologist is the missing link to promote creatives and development to collaborate together and sooner in the process of a project.

Their deliverables may be to set up design systems and prototypes. Within their prototypes, they are mindful of scalability, UX perspective, user testing and implementation.

However, the question that remains is where to insert them in the production process. Would they fit in a ‘design review’ with creative, or a in ‘code review’ with the developers? Michel Daross and Joie Chung from Home Away, answered this by saying that it depends on the process that is already in place. Placing them in multiple spots of the process could even be helpful. The idea of a Design Technologist is to become the missing link in a process, and not complicate it.

Designers and developers may not completely understand each other’s processes and tasks while working together. Design Technologists are the hybrid between design and development. They are able to close that gap of miscommunication and therefore eliminate flaws in process. They know the constraints and can act as a liaison for both teams. Design Technologists can handle a division of labor effectively and provide assistance along the way. A prototype is often their deliverable and their focus is improving the user experience of the project. With the ability to provide exact changes and revisions required during iterations, Design Technologists are noticed for their versatility and effectiveness.