The Technical Designer: Demystified

Posted on by David Stubbs

The Technical Designer is an oft-heard term, but accounts for a surprisingly sizeable chunk of the typical project lifecycle, and this pillar is what I’ll be unraveling and revealing in this collection of words. In short, the Technical Designer is something of chameleon, or darwinian creature – they are those who can operate in and adapt to different environments and ultimately thrive. They must be able to mesh perfectly with the engineering team and understand their unique language and odor, while simultaneously interfacing with visual designers and their airy expressional movements.

The technical side of the moniker is pretty much exactly what you might have in mind. This is the side where the Technical Designer has to work inside the very same tool engineers use, and adhere to their workflow and methods. This means working in tools like Visual Studio/Expression Blend or heaven forbid  xCode or Eclipse. However, the most important part of the technical side is perhaps that they are the conduits between the design and engineering – taking into account not only that the app faithfully represents composites, but is also very conscious of performance. This includes, but is not limited to things like, making sure animations run smooth, transitions are consistent, and living by the “no interaction left uninteractive” rule, which I just made up. In addition to all of that, they maintain the concept of “beautiful code” where the app is aesthetically pleasing and well organized even down to the code level is paramount to a skilled Technical Designer. It also keeps the engineers happy and at bay. 

The other side of the Technical Designer is unsurprisingly the Design or Agency side. The side where they take things like crude composites, embarrassingly self-recorded temporary sound effects, and flailing gesticulations and manifest them into a real life, functioning interaction of the application.  It may seem easy, but when you have to interpret “It should swoosh like pshhhhow, and then blam!” it really isn’t. My favorite comments from creative leadership to turn into an interaction are:

  • Make it pop more
  • Just add some more zing to it
  • I see that it’s blue, but the animation doesn’t show that it is

Luckily, the crafty Technical Designer has formed a handy artist-to-English dictionary for comments like this, and over time has learned to understand this foreign and ambiguous language thrown at them by clients and directors. The agency side for the Technical Director is a little less tangible, and this is why the Technical Designer is such a rare breed – they need to be able to read between the lines and truly feel the experience and interaction they are creating. Understanding the impact a certain animation will have, and develop animation languages and expression. Anyone can animate a rectangle going across the screen, but in the right hands, that rectangle’s movement has the potential to bring true emotion to the action. The herald of the Technical Designer is their ability to use simple embellishments to bring you to your knees and in tears. Unless you’re sitting down, then you’ll just sit and cry.

Having read this far into the article, you now can understand the intricacies and challenges of the Technical Designer. Each and every day, they must have one foot firmly on each side of a very wide chasm - The cold, calculating technical side and the skylarking, doe-eyed agency side. The Technical Designer is the mediator between them, finding a medium of beauty between form and function.  Hopefully this helps demystify the enigma that is the Technical Designer.