Great Handovers between Designer and Developers

Traditionally, in any kind of publishing business there has always been a big gap between designers and implementation. We come from a world, where after the designers were done, whoever needed to implement designs had to spend a lot of work importing the artwork into his work environment.

In modern web development, for the first time in the history of mankind, smooth, integrated handovers between designers and developers are in our reach! Here is how.

Common design handover pitfalls

For website projects, the handover between the design phase and the development phase can be difficult and time consuming. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • Size: Some designs look smaller when looking at them as mockups than after they are implemented as websites. This is then a big surprise for customers. If this happens, sometimes a complete redo is needed!
  • Grid: Design mockups that dont respect a standard grid like bootstrap4 are hard to implement!
  • Tools and Formats: Source file formats that are not intended for web design (such as Adobe Indesign) cause severe headaches amongst frontend developers.
  • Assets: If not all the assets are available in the quality required (vector shapes such as SVG icons, high-res images, webfonts, etc.) or the assets are not exportable from design tools, the frontend developers need to ask back, causing delays and unnecessary communication loops.
  • Process: Frontend development is really challenging when there are last minute changes and many feedback iterations, because frontend development requires a lot of time and therefore is costly.

Read on to learn how we resolve these issues.

1. Size Matters

Have you ever read “Objects In The Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear” on a side-view mirror? The same happens to mockups. They often look smaller than they will appear once implemented in code. Also, designers often work with very big screens 19 or 22 inches, while clients often use their business laptops at 13 or 15 inches.

Recommendations for Designers:

  • Use 1920px (wide screen version) and 1440px (normal desktop screen version) for the artboard width itself and 1170px for the content width. A suitable sketch template can be found here.
    • This setup allows a frontend developer to see what elements should stretch out to full screen width, and what elements are limited by the content width.
    • The 1170px content width will allow the client to preview the design in its full width even on smaller screens and in general is aesthetically pleasing.
  • Main body content should be between 16px and 20px, and other sizes (e.g. H1) should be relative to that
  • Show the mockups to the client in a way that is not zoomable. Use a design hand-off tool (see below) – why? It doesn’t auto-scale the mockups based on the window width of the browser. If you use images or PDF, the content of the window is auto-scaled based on the window width of the browser or image preview tool on the client’s computer. Alternative: Send the client an HTML where the mockups are added as background image of the body element (<html><body style="background-image: url('img/mockup1.jpg'); height: 3500px; background-repeat: no-repeat; background-position: center top;"></body></html>)

2. Design Grid

These days, most websites are implemented using a responsive grid. Using a grid ensures that websites are readable and look good on many different devices and screen sizes and makes web frontend programming more efficient and robust.

The most commonly used grid is part of the Bootstrap v4 frontend framework, but there are also other grids on the market. Creating website designs and mockups that are compatible with such grids is a industry wide best practise.

Recommendations for Designers:

We recommend that you always use a standard 12 or 24 columns Bootstrap v4 grid. There are many templates that facilitate designing for a responsive grid, here are some examples:

3. Tools and Formats

These days, Designers that would like to provide assets to frontend developers overwhelmingly use Design Hand-Off Tools – see here for an intro: Design Hand-Off Tools.

Legacy or print software is a huge headache for Frontend Developers, as assets are rarely exportable in a quality / format that is apt for web development.

Recommendations for Designers:

Use a Design Hand-Off Tool that has a web interface. There are currently these options:

Further Notes:

  • Permissions: Make sure you assign permissions so that the web-based inspectors are available to frontend developers. Beyond link-sharing it’s best to invite frontend developers with their email addresses and assign all available permissions to them.
  • Exportability: shapes (such as SVG icons), images and text should be selectable separately, and exportable in high quality.

4. Assets

Even when using such a tool, hand-offs remain tricky, because it’s not always intuitive for designers to organise designs in a way that makes single images and shapes exportable.

Recommendations for Designers:

Images: Images need to be exportable from the web inspector in an optimized format (jpg or png) – make sure transparency still works!

⚠️ Pay special attention to use the sRGB color space! Browsers may not fully support color spaces other than sRGB.

Text: text properties (such as text size, text decoration, text style, font-family, etc.) should be properly displayed in the tool, when selecting the text. Text copy should be selectable for copy and paste.

Styles: it’s important that properties such as border radius, shadows, height, width, etc. is properly displayed in the tool, when selecting a box or other type of layout.

Gradients: If the design has almost-unnoticeable gradients (eg for visibility of the text on top of bright images) – mention them explicitly during the hand-over, otherwise they might go unnoticed and end up being excluded from the project estimates.

Source files: Upload source files (.xd or .sketch) to Google Drive.

Non-exportable assets: If the inspector doesnt allow to export some assets, upload and share them on Google Drive.

Do not use tools that provide links that expire after some time, as information might get lost that way. Think about vector shapes (SVGs), images, stock photos, videos and web fonts

File names: Please give your assets speaking file names so that the frontend developer doesn’t have to rename assets.

Fonts: Please use a Google Font. If that’s not possible, help us by uploading a zip file of the web fonts to Google Drive. If you only have .ttf fonts you can create a web font package on https://www.fontsquirrel.com/tools/webfont-generator

Paid Assets: Normally, the client is purchasing any paid assets directly via credit card. While working on a design proposal that includes assets that need to be purchased, you can use preview or trial material, other sources (i.e. fonts you have already installed, etc.) for the mockups. Upon design approval you can create a gitlab issue on the respective Gitlab project, asking the client to purchase the corresponding assets. Please include the direct links to the items to be purchased for the convenience of the client.

Google Drive: In order to enable frontend developers to work efficiently, it’s important that all your source files are in the project’s Google Drive folder and that you keep them updated at all times so that the frontend developer always have access to the latest version.

If you dont have access to the project’s shared folder on Google Drive request access with the responsible project manager

Do not change the file name after updating a source file (i.e. do not add a version or date to the filename). Google Drive automatically creates a new version of the file if the file name is the same. The old versions are still accessible via the context menu (right click on the file).

5. Process

Frontend designers expect signed-off, highly accurate (pixel-perfect) design mockups that leave no room for interpretation.

Recommendations for Designers:

First Steps:

  1. Join the team on Slack! As a designer you are a crucial part of every project. Therefore please join the project channel on the what-digital slack organisation
  2. Join the project! Please ask for access to the gitlab project where all the tasks are managed.
  3. Join Google Drive! Also ask for access to the project’s shared folder on Google Drive so that you have A) access to any existing design assets and other briefing material and B) can upload (and keep up-to-date) the source files you create.

Sign-off: In order to avoid loops and work done multiple times, get a full design sign-off based on your finalized mockups before handing them off to the frontend developer. The Frontend Developer doesnt expect the designs to change anymore.

Pixel-perfectness: As a designer, be aware that Frontend Developers will take your mockups literally. Make sure you are 100% accurate in every aspect of the design before you your work over. What you see is what you get.

Technical Requirements Documentation: Ask the developer to share his technical requirements documentation. Developers specify their point of view on the business logic and how they would like to solve certain challenges. By providing feedback on the developer view you can push the project in the right direction from the start.

Hand-over Meeting: Organize a hand-over meeting (we use Slack or Google Meet for online meetings) so you can go through your designs with the Frontend Developer. The “sound track” helps to provide context and avoid misunderstandings.

Responsiveness: Sometimes designing only one breakpoint (i.e. only desktop, or only mobile) saves a huge amount of time and avoids over-specification. Frontend developers are used to create responsiveness websites and can extrapolate your designs independently.

Design Review: Ask the frontend developer to schedule a design review with you once he’s done so that you can give feedback, resolve open questions and influence the final touches, before the work is handed over to the client for approval.