“User experience” might be a term we first heard at the turn of the last century, but ergonomics, “man-machine interaction”, and the roots of usability and accessibility have much longer history. Some of the problems we face when building developer tools are unique, but many of them are not. So how do we adopt a more human-centered approach in Developer Experience?
To make this all the more complex, we all have a far more sophisticated awareness of user experience and design than ever before. We are more comfortable with automation and abstraction if it gives us a break, and more of us are inclined to think that we write applications that are “user-friendly” (or the word I hate to hear, “intuitive”). What’s more, I’ll hypothesize, is that many folks working on and with Developer tools are skeptical of the promises of “design thinking”.
But still, in hearing folks like Alex Salazar, Cristiano Betta, and Jono Bacon speak on building great developer experiences, I heard some very familiar language. Salazar spoke to the value of understanding particular user segments, and in developing personas and journey maps. (Not mentioned was how one developed these, but obviously this is a subject I’m very opinionated about.) Developer Experience, it turns out, can get a lot of value from classic User Experience tactics.
One thing does stand out about Developer Experience, though. There’s no doubt, within this community, to the value of IRL human interaction. “Human interaction is the only thing that’s proven to work in selling to developers”, I heard someone say, “So we have advocates and evangelists.” With other products, UX gets set in opposition to an IRL, hands-on, long-game approach to growing products — “a usable product doesn’t need evangelists”, one might say. But I’d like to look past this thinking.
In the process of designing for developers, advocates and evangelists are amazing allies. After all, they spend their days and nights with end users, and as I’ve said, holding products together with duct tape and emotional labor. They build relationships with end-users, and gather rich data about them.
Is this a substitute for user research? Nope, but it’s a great asset to it. Design and research teams need to build close alliances with advocates and evangelists, building better feedback loops. Yet, it’s most often the case that these are distinct silos. Developer Advocacy has a demonstrated ROI, as does UX design and user research. How much more value could we add by working together?