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pabloruiz55

How to work with programmers

15 posts in this topic

Hi!
I've put together a few tips for designers that have to deal with programmers in their everyday life. Most tips are what to do to avoid annoying developers or how to have a better communication and workflow.
[url="http://www.pabloruizmobiledev.com/2012/04/30/how-to-work-with-programmers-a-guide-for-designers/"]Here is the article.[/url]

If you have your own tips, I'd like to hear them as well!

- Pablo
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Well, I'm by no means an expert, but here's what I think:

The designers are the people in control of the aesthetics, programmers make the code, that's it. Some people may have multiple roles of course, but that's in the case of lacking the right man. They can and should suggest things, but the game industry needs to seriously get rid of their many "holier-than-thou" programmers who think they know everything about every single science, just because they took a crash course somewhere. I know, that sounds terrible coming from someone with as little background as me, but I dare people to prove me wrong. And I guess I need to couple it with defending the programmers too from vice versa.

[u]But here's a logical fact:[/u]
Working for 10+ years typing C++ all day long doesn't make people experts at things like [i]player analysis[/i] (the psychology of volition, patternicity, agency, repulsors, etc - far more than just reading statistics) - even if you touched the subject briefly here and there. In the case of player analysis, it's nice to know what most players are doing, but it's [i]really[/i] nice to know [i]why[/i] they are doing it (and thus what they're going to do, ahead of time). Edited by DrMadolite
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[quote]Be tidy with revisions[/quote]

I'd expand that to 'be organized with your files'.  There's nothing worse than going back to an artist with a simple change request and discovering that they can't find the original file to work from.

That said, I think the stereotype that artists and programmers don't get along is outdated and inaccurate.  Most developers in my experience [i]are[/i] prepared to put a little bit of effort into communicating clearly and showing respect for their coworkers.
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I've read it and I would like to make a couple remarks:

[quote]
[b] [color=#FF3333][font=inherit]Do a little research[/font][/color][/b]

[b] [/b][/quote]


This should not even be the case in the first place. If your designer (I hope you mean artist actually..) is not able to deliver the assets in the proper format, you, or the one who is in charge of it, failed to create a proper pipeline for the assets. Info might be readily available easily, but if there is one thing I learned, it is to never assume anything! This doesn't mean artists or designers are stupid, it's about assumptions gone wrong. If you have encountered this multiple times, learn from it and create a document for your artists/designers to read. Only then, if they bother you with "stupid" question, you can point out and say: "It's in there, you should read it".

[quote]
[b] [color=#FF3333][font=inherit]Don’t make him try to understand your PSDs[/font][/color][/b]

[/quote]

I don't know anything about iOS development, but this is once again something you should document. You want to have things delivered in a certain way, let them know!

[quote]
[b] [color=#FF3333][font=inherit]If you are working on a game, try to understand some game design and programming concepts[/font][/color][/b]

[/quote]

I'm 50/50 with you on this. Artists should know about some techniques from their part, how to make seamless textures and such. Naming conventions however is once again something you should document.

[quote]
[b] [color=#FF3333][font=inherit]Try to be as specific as you can[/font][/color][/b]

[/quote]

This I can agree upon. It has happened more than once to me that a feature is requested and it wasn't what he/she had in mind because of bad communication.

[quote]
[b] [color=#FF3333][font=inherit]Get to know the platform’s limitations[/font][/color][/b]

[/quote]
Bit of a grey area in my opinion. Perhaps some platforms are small enough for a designer or artist to properly understand, but expecting your designer to fully understand the Ogre3D engine with Nvidia PhysX and FMOD can be a tad overwhelming. Sure, there are some things that might be plain obvious as you mentioned, but this is surely not the case in every situation. So yes, in those cases it is better to ask your programmer if you are able to do that. but please.. Do take our word for it, if your programmer is lying about being able to implement stuff because he doesn't feel like it, you should look for a new one.

[quote]
[b] [color=#FF3333][font=inherit]Be tidy with revisions[/font][/color][/b]

[/quote]
Use something like SVN or other revision software. Just saying.. This is once again something you should document.

It seems to me that a lot of the points you are stating here are merely points of bad communication and the lack of a proper pipeline. In most cases you only need to set it up once for specific platforms/engines. Seems like you are emphasizing on the iOS here. Document how you want the stuff to be handled and a lot of points here will become better.

@DrMadolite
I think you misinterpreted his post. He is not talking about how programmers know things better than designers do, he's merely making a point that some designers want feature X that is simply not possible to do in terms of code.
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Good read! And as some of the comments below the blog post mentioned, I would *love* to read the same article from the other side (i.e How to work with designers).
Most problems arise from miscommunication and unspecific specifications (no pun intended).

[quote]but the game industry needs to seriously get rid of their many "holier-than-thou" programmers who think they know everything about every single science[/quote]

Let me rephrase that. "but [b]society[/b] needs to seriously get rid of their many "holier-than-thou" [b]people[/b] who think they know everything about every single science"

You'll find those guys in every field, and it sucks. Edited by Madhed
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[quote name='pabloruiz55' timestamp='1335800214' post='4936104']
I've put together a few tips for designers that have to deal with programmers
[/quote]

'Dealing with programmers' seems a tad.. combative. I am sure that is not your intention, but it comes with the connotation that programmers are an inherent problem, and you have to tiptoe around them, for fear of their wrath. I've seen my share of disagreements between designer and programmer, and they never (usually) come to blows, but coming into it with the mindset of having to 'deal' with someone is already a bad first step.
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Personally I used to help in few games by only doing art, and I can tell that since I mainly a programmer, knowledge of what other programmers are doing helped a lot. And also viceversa. I think that till you are working in small teams some other skills helps communication a lot. By the way if you want to start a team take some rest and socialize before with other people. this make you more kind with team members ;-). bring respects to other mates and never lies. Use social networks. Serious people don't warry to put its real name /face into a serious project.

anyway it's not matter of "deals with other". it's matter of dealing with yourself..
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I think its safest to approach any subject you have a shallow understanding of with as much grace, humility and respect as you can (this works both ways). Programmers should assume they know nothing about the art and only bring their knowledge to bare on design if it helps fix problems (not just to point them out), people get excited about answers, they get tired of problems. Be quick with questions and gentle with critiques. On the other face of that coin, designers should be open to anything a programmer has to say, they are the pit crew of the fun that is going to be had. If you were a pilot would you mouth off to the guy working on the engines? Its just bad manners and in the end it has the potential to hurt everyone's fun. Programmers are often the last ones to touch a design be it art or mechanics, before it finds its way into a build. It can end up in the build cleanly, or "too buggy to implement" very easily, so be wary. I'm sure no programmer has ever done this ([i]ever[/i]) but I hate bad games and if one could be a good game just because people are hunky dory with one another. Its worth it!

DemonRad is dead on about dealing with yourself. Insecurity is the greatest spawn of bad manors.
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If you are not sure about your game never do it. I assume you have motivation as game designer/programmer/artist. If you have no motivation for one of the funniest things in world you are just in crap ;-). As you will notice soon rarely people understand your words even if clear, that's why communication is important. You need to be humile and respectfull. If they don't understand. Is that because you explained bad, the simply didn't read well, or they are trying to saying something new? Can also be all of them at once. Never judge others. That's a big mistake most people do. Edited by DemonRad
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[quote name='Mratthew' timestamp='1336453010' post='4938286']
Programmers should assume they know nothing about the art and only bring their knowledge to bare on design if it helps fix problems[/quote]
Screw that. I may not be an artist by profession, but I know damn near as much about it as your typical artist.

It's not about pretending you don't know anything about the topic. It's about having a respectful and productive discourse, just as you would with another programmer.
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@Swiftcoder

When it comes to art it's not about how much you know about art at all, its about the inspirations (and hiding them), the feelings the artist is attempting to express and explore with their design and in a lot of cases its about something no programmer can appreciate which are happy accidents (turning a mistake into a style). You are dealing with a subject that isn't as concrete as programming and so often your idea of respectful and productive discourse (that you'd use with other programmers) wont be as appreciated as you would assume.

If the art doesn't match the requirements of the project, a programmer should be as direct and impersonal as possible about what needs to be done and not linger on the topic of what hasn't been achieved. Artists are performers and they like to feel like people want to see their art, asking for different art is about being more specific about the needs of the project while asking for more of what the artist has done right.
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[quote name='Mratthew' timestamp='1336532612' post='4938567']
When it comes to art it's not about how much you know about art at all[/quote]
When I say I know a lot about art, I don't mean that I can recite a list of influential 16th century artists. I mean that I have lived and worked with artists of all manner, for my entire life.

Try walking into a meeting and telling a fellow programmer that all his code needs to be scrapped, because it doesn't fit the current direction of the project - programmers are every bit as proud and protective of their code as a painter is of his painting, and the same rules of respectful dialogue apply.

It's dangerous to pigeonhole everybody in the 'creative vs scientist' stereotype, because in reality these artificial boundaries don't exist. Sure, most artists lack our background in mathematics and physics (and most programmers lack their background in aesthetics, colour theory and history) but that doesn't affect the basic mode of thought of each nearly as much as you would imagine. Programming is not so far removed from an art form in and of itself...
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I didn't mean to pigeonhole anyone. Everyone is different. What am trying to describe is the process, which is different and which does lead to a different mode of thought. The biggest differences is that clearly seeing and understanding the sources/inspirations for engineering (of any kind) is paramount to it's success, where as the sources/inspirations for art needs to be shrouded to sustain a sense of novelty. I've found in my experience that this creates an extra sensitivity to any criticism. With this in mind its important to keep critiques brief and impersonal.

I don't think this is exclusive to art and artists. This is the way I was shown to deal with any problem when I was testing, because egos are on the line. I just find programmers aren't always given the same direction (because they are often much more ground down in the process of game production) they are given more slack in the way they deal with the team. I'd even say that in the industry, programmers have it harder in terms of criticism having to work with bug testers. You don't need to agree, this is just my experience.

I don't doubt programming is far removed from an art but it is undeniably a type engineering. Which means a programers confidence grows when practical sources are identified because these sources are an important cog in the making of a machine that works, where identifying the sources of most art generally means the artist hasn't explored a wide enough variety of aesthetically pleasing elements, be it trends or more classical appealing elements.

No one likes to hear that their work isn't up to par, I just think art being more subjective becomes a far more sensitive subject without many considering that (not just programmers, often other artists and other members of a team lack the niceties everyone appreciates). Is there anyone who disagrees with this sentiment? Because it could be I just hang out with some sappy artists (and maybe I'm a bit sappy) too ;D Love you guys!
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I think the basis of most bad interactions is lack of knowledge. While a lot of people believe in total specialization and separation of roles, I think good programmers and designers should know about each-other's professions. A good UI programmer should know about design principles, while maybe not knowing how to act uopn them. A good UI designer should know about UI programming, while not necesseraly know how to program .

In order to value a designer's decision, the programmer must have a good understanding of design principles. He should understand why a designer chose to do something. Same with a designer. When a programmer comes to him with an implementation problem/suggestion, he should be able to understand where it comes from.

People from different disciplines who work together for long periods ( AKA: people with professional experience ) usually learn a little bit about their colleagues' trade. Therefore they should learn how to listen to each-other and work together. Anything less than that (like "dealing" with each other) is unprofessional. The view of an all knowing programmer/designer seems tyrannical and unrealistic to me.

BTW, great tips in the article, but I am bothered with the condescending tone of the article and the comments:
"Dealing" with programmers...
Programmers are the PIT crew (while you are the pilot)...
Programmers should assume they know nothing about the art...

I don't know of any programmer who looks at herself as being part of the PIT crew. Usually they dream of themselves as someone who engineered a new type of jet engine.

A graphics programmer who knows nothing about art, design and aesthetics should not be working on a computer game. Just like an artist/designers who knows nothing about computer UI. If you have these types of people on your team, you will end up with a shabby computer game.
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@SillyCow

You make a good point, the only reason I used that analogy is because many programmers in the industry are stuck with outdated often buggy back-end from last gen with the task of updating the old beaters. Like a pit crew watching a race car burn itself out on the track and being expected to polish poo. But in the indie world it is more like Lockheed Martin. Its experimental and creative and I apologize if I upset anyone.

I'm not asking a programmer to know nothing about art. I'm asking them to assume they know nothing about the art that is presented to them. Because no matter how much they know about the design mechanics involved in creating it and even the inspirations behind it, art has a persons feelings, emotional expression and often a large part of themselves in it (a common aspect of all art is for an artist to depict aspects of themselves in their creations). Even if you've know the artist since you were two, you were never in their head. Art is personal, and I don't mean artists take their art personally (everyone takes their own creations personally), like parents pass down their genes to their kids, artists infuse aspects of themselves in their creations (too often unconsciously) and that is something that can come off as lacking tact, to criticize.

As I said to Swiftcoder, criticism toward anyone on a team should be brief, about the project and impersonal. If you assume you know nothing about the art you play it safe and if you simply tell the artist what doesn't fit the design or limitations required to implement the module then it isn't a big deal. That doesn't mean you should know nothing about the art, obviously cross training in the world of game development is huge to properly gel as a team. But if a programmer plays at being an artist and telling them how they can fix it, you could very well be treading on thin ice and I would warn against it. I would warn against this approach being used towards anyone that anyone is collaborating with because frankly egos are on the line.

Everyone on the team, on some level, believes that their part of the project is pivotal to the success of the project (its good when a team has this kind of confidence) the difference between everyone else and programmers is that when it comes to video games, its true for programmers. Video games are made by programmers. But so many programmers overlook the fact that pretty video games, emotional video games, impressive video games, cute video games, etc happen when artists or artistic skill is brought in. If a programmer can't show a certain level of nicety towards those charged with the task of achieving these components of a game, the game can also end up shabby.
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