Should developers think for themselves?

Time to read: 3 minutes

I just had a weird conversation with a colleague in our standup meeting.

We have a new developer who joined recently and is specialised in working on a particular platform.

My colleague argues that if we send the dev my UX wireframes for the improvements, which are made in the sketchy style of balsamiq, he will make the app look exactly like that.


I disagree, because if I were to ever hire someone whose one and only job was to follow instructions to the letter, I will have failed.

It would be like writing assembly code instead of Java, with a constant need to supervise every memory location and decompose every single instruction into digestible, executable, single-step, pieces.


I need developers who can think for themselves.

In a previous job, a senior dev was despairing at the work of younger overseas colleagues, who had used pixel coordinates to place form fields in a dialog. All so they would perfectly match a mockup we’d sent…

It’s like using spaces instead of tabs to indent paragraphs in word processing. It’s wrong. And it means you weren’t thinking, and didn’t know enough about the tools of your trade.

In the past, I have worked with developers who happily took things like this sketch for a profile page below, and turned it into a UI using the components and styles of the website we were building, even though those components and styles were not yet defined!!

A profile page, hacked together in five minutes, as a discussion piece. (I refined the design with the dev’s input)

To me, and them, it was common sense. Yes, I could have defined a font size and family for them, but we’ll need to use the one for the brand (one of 15 brands) anyway… and good devs have a good feel for what class names will be useful to decompose the various looks of content on a page. So I did not need to hold their hand.

We’re all grown ups.

Developers are sensible people, and hate creating unnecessary work for themselves.

In fact, I believe that good developers need to be able to think for themselves.

If I had to go through a page, print it out, and annotate every single paragraph with what class it should be, and font family, and font size… then I might as well write up the HTML and CSS or create a document template myself, because that will take less time overall. (and also, I know how)

So I prefer working with developers who understand — and prefer — sketches to pixel-perfect mockups, who understand intent rather than build under a diktat, and who can THINK.

What do YOU think?

Do you like it when developers think for themselves and make some default choices during implementation?

Or do you prefer to feed them perfectly annotated, meticulously illustrated, pixel-perfect designs to implement?

I know exactly where I stand…

But what does the internet think?

If you liked this post, and enjoy random #UX related commentary, follow me on medium or on twitter. And please, recommend it!

First published on medium on 12th February 2016.

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