Design Handoff – Creating a Better Experience for Designers and Developers

Design handoff

The design handoff is a critical part of any project. For many designers and engineers, the design handoff is a stressful experience. If either team misses something, it could result in product defects and delays.

While it’s primarily the responsibility of the UX team to produce prototypes, assets, and documentation, the design handoff process is a collaborative effort—starting in the early design stages.

There are three stages to a successful design handoff:

  • During Design (before the handoff)
  • During Handoff
  • After Handoff

UXPin is a collaborative design tool bridging the gap between design and development. Design teams can save time producing documentation with UXPin’s automated design specs, CSS, and style guides. Try Spec Mode feature to streamline handoff or use the power of code components in design with Merge technology.

During Design (before the handoff)

A design handoff is not a single event in the design and development of a digital product. Instead, it’s a process that starts during the early design stages and ends after designers have completed the final product.

Designers and engineers must communicate and collaborate to streamline the design handoff process, mitigating costly errors.

Discovery

During the early stages, designers and engineers should meet to discuss technical constraints concerning design ideas. While innovation is essential to build a competitive advantage, designers must work within the company’s resources and technical constraints.

A development team representative should attend user research to learn the “WHY” behind design decisions. By doing so, developers will better understand the user’s needs and the problems UX designers are trying to solve.

Planning

Including developers in design sprints is another way to align technology and design. Developers can work with designers during sprints to find solutions to user problems that align with technical constraints.

At the same time, developers can begin taking notes to research tools or packages they might need to build new features.

Prototyping

Developers can provide valuable feedback and insights during the prototyping phase—like how designs might look and function across different browsers, devices, and viewports.

Getting developers to sign off on designs and features during the prototyping phase can save a lot of time and heartache for the final design handoff. There’s nothing worse than going “back to the drawing board” because UX teams’ vision doesn’t align with the technical reality!

It’s also helpful for a development team representative to attend late-stage usability testing to visualize how users interact with the final product.

User Interface Design

A well-documented design system is a crucial part of any digital product. Creating a component-based design system allows engineers to code reusable “widgets” to develop the final product efficiently.

Designers and developers can work together to ensure that the design system is consistent and that sizing conventions will translate to code effectively.

Developers can also provide technical specs for asset formats and sizes, so UX teams optimize content for product and web constraints.

During Handoff

If design and development teams communicate and collaborate effectively during the design process, the handoff should be a smooth process of double-checking and organizing.

How designers present a design handoff is as important as the documentation, files, and assets themselves.

Firstly, UX teams should delete unused layers and guides to avoid confusion. Designers must also double-check they have grouped and labeled components correctly. 

Using a consistent naming convention (like the BEM notation) will help developers quickly locate files, assets, components, and elements. Engineers might advise on a preferred file structure that aligns with an efficient development workflow.

Explicit annotations are essential for developers to understand mockups and interactive prototypes. These annotations provide context or describe functionality that might be beyond the design tool’s capabilities.

Lastly, designers must walk through the product with the documentation to ensure developers receive a comprehensive design handoff.

After Handoff

UX teams play a vital role in the implementation’s quality assurance (QA)—testing the final product against interactive prototypes and mockups. 

Once the final product is complete, designers and engineers should meet to discuss improving the design handoff process for future products and features.

47-Point Design Handoff Checklist

We’ve created this simple 47-point checklist as a guide for your next design handoff.

During Design

Discovery:

  • Invite developers to attend user interviews when possible. 
  • Circulate bulleted summary of user interview insights with developers.  
  • Conduct a 30-minute to 1-hour stakeholder interview with at least one developer. Use Kim Goodwin’s excellent questions.  
  • Create and quickly review lean personas with developers.  
  • Get developer input and alignment on technical restraints for the design brief.

Planning:

  • Ensure developers (or at least the development lead) attends the kickoff.
  • Conduct user story mapping with developers to plan epics and sprints. 
  • Estimate build time for user stories with developers using tactics like planning poker
  • Plan 1-2 design sprints ahead of the development process. 
  • Check which framework the designs must use (Bootstrap, Foundation, custom, etc.). Adapt grids and elements accordingly.  
  • Verify browser support with developers.  
  • After each standup meeting, quickly review the backlog with developers.

Prototyping:

  • Walkthrough user flows and lo-fi prototypes for developer feedback on feasibility.  
  • Start designing extreme viewports (smallest and largest) to accurately “bracket” your content. Consider how your design will respond to screen sizes slightly smaller or larger than your assumptions. 
  • Incorporate rough content (not Lorem Ipsum) into the prototype within the first two iterations. 
  • Invite developers to attend at least one user testing session.  
  • Prototypes account for all interaction states, error states, and transitions between states.  
  • Prototypes account for data extremes (e.g., short and long last names, phone number formats, non-US postcodes). 
  • Circulate all user test recordings with a bulleted summary of insights to developers.  
  • Collect feedback and approval from developers at each iteration of the prototype.

UI Design:

  • With each iteration, rename your design file (v.1, v.2, etc.). Do not rename “Latest” or “Newest.” Upload every new version into a shared repository.    
  • Create as many reusable patterns as possible (menus, links, buttons, panels, etc.) so developers have a component-based system.  
  • Make UI decisions that create consistency for the user experience and codebase.  
  • Get developer buy-in on image formats and sizes.  
  • Create designs in all significant breakpoints on a grid system with guides/overlays. 
  • To preserve typographic integrity, use whole font values and leading values (e.g., 15 instead of 15.75).
  • Use web-safe fonts when possible. Don’t use more than one custom font.  
  • Check that you own the rights for all photography and typography.  
  • Hold a 30-minute to an hour review of final approved mockups alongside the prototype: walkthrough project goals, user stories, interactions, states, and failure states.

During Handoff

Visual Hygiene:

  • Delete all unused layers. Don’t just hide them since that may confuse developers.  
  • Delete all unused guides.  
  • Group and name layers appropriately based on UI modules (navigation, footer, etc.)  
  • Follow a common naming convention with developers (e.g., a “widget” is not the same as a “module”). Consider using BEM notation.  
  • Instead of naming artboards with “FINAL” or “LATEST,” follow a standard versioning protocol (v.1, v.2, etc.). 
  • For easier navigation, collapse all layers before sending off designs.

Assets:

  • Create subfolders within your main project containing all relevant icons, fonts, images.  
  • Include SVGs wherever possible. For raster files, include versions at 2x.

Documentation:

  • Annotate prototypes with use cases, failure states, and interaction nuances. 
  • Annotate the full code snippet (or classes in frameworks) next to every element.  
  • Use an inspection tool to auto-generate visual specs (color codes, dimensions, font sizes, margins, padding, etc.). Avoid redlining as much as possible. 
  • Ensure all documentation stays updated to reflect the final system as it evolves. Developers will refer to the documentation to understand the depth and breadth of the system, using the final prototype as a reference for acceptable behaviors.

After Handoff

Accuracy of Build:

  • Designers perform an “implementation audit” of each build during the QA process against the final prototype. 
  • Designers attend sprint demos along with PMs.  
  • Acceptance testing includes UX criteria based on the final prototype.

Design System:

  • Describe accessibility requirements and any implications on the development process. For example, Salesforce Lightning: “Our forms offer proper use of <fieldset> and <legend> tags as well as appropriate labeling for input controls.”  
  • Include code snippets for all UI components (menus, buttons, etc.) along with specific descriptions of use cases.  
  • Include links to downloadable UI kits, color swatches, and code repositories (e.g., Github).

Design Handoff With UXPin

UXPin automates many mundane tasks to save UX teams valuable time during a design handoff. Unlike other design tools, UXPin requires no plugins or third-party apps to produce handoff documentation and annotations.

UXPin generates design specifications inside the tool, eliminating the need for external documentation while avoiding misunderstandings. Developers can download assets directly from UXPin’s Style Guide—no need to share via cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Drive.

Design, development, and product teams can collaborate throughout the design handoff process with UXPin’s comments. Team members can tag one another, assign tasks, and choose whether comments are visible to the Team or the Public.

If you want to take design handoff to the next level and get rid of any product drifts – our Merge technology will be just the right fit. Designers can prototype with fully interactive components that developers build final products with. Thanks to designers and developers using the same components from the same coded design system that’s stored in a repository or Storybook, they can be on the same page and avoid all the errors that come out in a design handoff process. 

See how UXPin Merge works – get rid of product drift and maximize your design systems. 

Still hungry for the design?

UXPin is a product design platform used by the best designers on the planet. Let your team easily design, collaborate, and present from low-fidelity wireframes to fully-interactive prototypes.

Start your free trial

These e-Books might interest you