The Mindset of the Modern Developer

When building digital experiences, we often use analogies to other common experiences, processes, and techniques that have a broader understanding for clients and stakeholders.

The concept of constructing a physical building shares common components of design inspiration, user and functional requirements, architecture, visual and material design, building materials, and even wiring and plumbing.

Are we building a complex business property? Developing a collaborative work space? What economies of scale can we benefit from? What standards or regulations do we need to consider as we build? How maintainable and sustainable will what we build be? Will future owners be able to expand on our initial construction?

Am I talking about a physical building or a website? It could easily be either.

In today’s modern digital product world, a developer who is only capable of focusing solely on the technical requirements isn’t enough. The tools and methods of design and development–especially in the world of UI and UX–are rapidly converging into a more unified language. Likewise, designers, experience architects, and creative directors need to have more than a cursory understanding of the technical aspects of the web and related digital experiences.

I won’t get into the largely pointless debate over whether designers should code [1], or whether “we’re all designers.” It’s more a reflection on the maturation of the process, tools, and opportunities available to us when we build digital experiences today. The web of the late 90’s and early 2000’s were digital wilderness lean-tos and log cabins. In our current digital landscape, we benefit from a variety of frameworks, tools, and proven approaches that are the equivalent of modern construction techniques paired with advanced, eco-friendly building materials.

These new tools demand that we approach our work with a “T-shaped” cross-discipline mindset, communicating in a common vernacular that allows us to streamline, as well as innovate. In the coming years, the tools we use to build these experiences may take on entirely new form factors, whether we’re building for IoT, architecting systems to work via voice-controlled assistants, or developing in conjunction with artificial intelligence and machine learning tools.

Today, developers at VSA are often a mix of general contractor and skilled tradesperson who works within a collaborative team environment and methodology. We are the group that directly builds and enables the combination of all the user requirements, design iterations, writing drafts, and other assets to create and assemble what everyone has been thinking about, sketching, and describing.

Like building award-winning, innovative, accessible buildings, successful developers must have empathy for and experience in related disciplines in order to:

  • work side-by-side with experience architects and content strategists to understand the relationships and organization of content and concepts.
  • build prototypes of UI behaviors and user flows with an interaction designer to ensure the “thing” looks, acts, and responds as they envisioned–and to provide alternatives when it can’t.
  • help translate complex technical options into clear guidance for a project manager to communicate to a client.

Great builders understand design fundamentals and architectural best practices. They have the ability to anticipate and create within constraints, as well as respect for the craft and expertise of fellow team members. Whether it’s in construction or development, rounding out your technical skill sets with curiosity and knowledge in these related fields will result in a higher standard of work, and will build valuable common ground and understanding within a team. This doesn’t mean you need to become an expert in all things, but having a grounding in their foundations encourages empathy for the perspective of your teammates, and opens the door for them to learn more about code and related technologies. Adopting this mindset will continue to be a foundational requirement for enabling modern product and experience development.

To learn more about an internship or career in technology at VSA, please view our current openings.

[1] Our internal Code Club initiative that gives other disciplines opportunities to learn more about code and technology was started by a designer (and former intern)!

Andrew Falconer is an Associate Partner at VSA Partners. Andrew has over 20 years of experience building digital things on the Internet, leveraging a wide range of technologies to create meaningful user experiences. Andrew leads the VSA Development Discipline and works across the agency to evolve our capabilities, ensuring consistent delivery of code and best practices for our clients. Since joining VSA in 2010, Andrew has led development teams on a range of projects for IBM, Arity, CME Group, and Marvin. Andrew also recently survived a house remodel project, which is why he has construction on his mind. Contact Andrew at