A Comprehensive Guide to Executing The Perfect Design-to-Development Handoff

A comprehensive guide to executing the perfect design-to-development handoff

Whether you’re a startup barely out of seed stage, an established tech giant, or somewhere in between, there’s virtually no way to get a product from idea to launch without navigating a whole host of handoffs, back-and-forths, and endless Slack threads on the way.

One handoff that often plagues even the most mature product teams is the design-to-development stage.

(Shameless plug: At Mason, we’re revolutionizing the product development process to make the traditional design-to-dev handoff a thing of the past—check us out!)

A major source of friction begins with the simple fact that designers and developers traditionally perform very different tasks when creating a product.

At the core of it, designers are focused on things like interface features, user experience, and graphics/visuals, while the developers take care of the stuff that makes the product functional, turning the designer’s visuals into a digital reality.

Both teams are equally important, but even so, it’s not unusual to have a disconnect between the developers and the designers that can lead to a handoff failure. Today we’ll dive into the design-to-dev handoff, navigate some common pitfalls, and go over some ways to make your next handoff smooth like butter.

What is a design handoff?

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The design handoff is a point in the product development process where developers implement the finished design. In order for a handoff to be successful, a good designer-developer collaboration is vital.

But more often than not this phase doesn’t go as smoothly as it should. Let’s discuss why it happens and how to prevent handoff failure.

What are the underlying causes behind handoff failure?

Bad designer-developer communication

Good communication is key in pretty much any relationship, so it makes sense that it’s a requirement for a smooth design-to-dev handoff.

Communication breakdowns can result in all kinds of issues and misunderstandings—even in different interpretations of the same goals, which can lead to confusing or downright bad UX. And no product team has time for that.

Common problems caused by a bad designer-developer communication are:

  • Unnecessary, multiple feedback loops between designers and developers;
  • Unexpected quality assurance issues, or QA issues that are more time-consuming than anticipated;
  • Inability to leverage overlapping skills ;
  • Failure to properly take advantage of new tools that would likely make collaboration easier.

The difference between designers and developers

In general, designers and developers come from different backgrounds, have different skill sets and interests, and often even think about the same challenges very differently.

That’s not a bad thing—we need both pros and perspectives to help bring a viable product to life. But if you have a team of designers and developers who aren’t interested in each other’s craft, you’ll experience a knowledge gap that can lead to friction.

Lacking a design system

“Design systems are an investment. Many companies don’t employ people to focus on design systems until the inefficiencies of not having one become too painful to bear.” – Diana Mounter, GitHub

Without a design system, designers don’t have clear parameters that constrain their work. They might get too creative and create inconsistencies that lead to bad user experiences and frustration for developers. All of this hampers the handoff process.

Perfecting your design-to-development handoff

Now that we understand some of the common challenges, let’s explore some ways to mitigate them.

Communicate early and often—and in the right ways

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Failure to communicate is often one of the biggest causes behind an unsuccessful handoff. By communicating early and often, we can easily minimize these issues.

Teams should bring developers into the design process early, encourage regular discussions, and incorporate the developers’ ideas into brainstorming and prototyping sessions.

Getting feedback from developers is vital because, after all, they are the ones who know best what is possible to implement and what is not.

Speaking the same language

Apart from communicating often, it is essential that designers and developers communicate in the right way. This means speaking the same language and getting on the same page throughout the process.

Even if you have several capable mediators, the designers and developers should still communicate and collaborate directly to ensure the best results. Within modern product teams jargon can still be really role-specific, so teams and individuals should practice communicating with each other in the simplest, most universal terms possible.

Designers, be aware that not everyone knows what you mean when you talk about moodboards, bleeds, kerning, orphans, or opacity. Devs, eyes may go wide or glaze over completely at the mention of widgets, crawling, WYSIWYG, cache, or API.

Reduce knowledge gaps between parties

People are often so focused on their part of the job that they don’t pay much attention to what other people do. This may lead to a lack of understanding between different groups working on the same project.

Minimizing the knowledge gaps between designers and developers leads to better results.

For example, designers may have great ideas that translate into complex coding, and the solution offered by a developer might not adapt into the most user-friendly design. It’s good to get those conversations rolling early to decrease the chance of an unexpected, unwelcome surprise later on.

Get developers involved early

A common mistake that teams make is waiting for the designers to do their thing first and then passing the product design to the developers. Not only can this be confusing, but it’s also a bit condescending (“Here you go, I’m done, bye!”).

In order to make the handoff more successful, we would advise bringing the developers in early with these steps:

  • Including developers in conference calls with clients;
  • Seeking insight from developers on how design elements would likely translate to a web application;
  • Running initial design ideas past developers, so any potential issues with code can be identified when it is easier to make adjustments.

Mix things up with your teams

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Instead of letting everyone do their own thing, put everyone together at least once in a while. Encouraging your whole team to have lunch together is a significant step towards spontaneous idea sharing.

Additionally, if physically possible, consider putting the team members working on the same function together in the same room.

If you have designers and developers working in different locations, set up virtual meetings from time to time and let them discuss their work progress. It’s amazing what a little human interaction can do for your work environment—and your product outcomes.

Streamline communication efforts

One of the reasons why some messages get missed and some team members get unintentionally left out of the loop is the existence of multiple communication channels. It’s happened to the best teams, and is often a challenge for remote teams, especially those who have or are scaling rapidly.

Issues of this sort can easily be avoided by:

  • Having a dedicated channel with all the relevant parties invited;
  • Establishing guidelines for communication (e.g., email updates must be shared with everyone at the beginning or the end of each workday, updates should be shared daily in-channel using the @here command, etc.);
  • Using Google Drive, Dropbox, or similar tools to share info, shared assets, etc.;
  • Setting up regular group meetings with all the team members throughout the project;
  • When in doubt, get on a call.

Be prepared with the developer handoff

Sometimes, at this point, new issues can surface. For example, having a design that differs from the page requires additional adjustments from both the designers and the developers.

To minimize potential problems with the handoff, you can use full-page screen captures and add notes to the designs. There are many plugins available to create screencaptures. For adding notes to the designs, Sketch is one of the most useful tools, but there are other apps that you could try as well. Figma, InVision, Adobe, Marvel (Mason… )…are all there to help you communicate clearly and easily. Do your research into the tool that will most comprehensively meet your team’s needs before jumping in, because every tool has a learning curve and will take time to master.

Provide design files and all necessary assets

A part of each designer’s responsibility is to set the developers up for success.

One of the first things that can help you achieve that is by providing the developers with all the necessary design files and assets. Go back to your plans: did you agree to do it all via Dropbox, Google Drive, or some other tool? Communicate where those assets live and keep the lines of communication open to address any missing pieces, questions, or concerns.

Exchange info on trends

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Both designers and developers have to follow the newest trends in order to create a product that is appealing to users.

Sharing info on the latest trends is very useful, and you can encourage both your designers and developers to do it by sharing any interesting articles or information on new developments and their implementation methods.

Always encourage the exchange of new ideas and insights on many different levels, from sharing articles and news to discussing them in the same physical space.

Have a handoff meeting

Having a handoff meeting is one of the most effective ways to execute a proper handoff between the design and development teams. It’s a great way to get everything out in the ether, to address burning questions, and to get the whole team excited and motivated for the work ahead.

Hash out any quirks and questions from both sides, and prepare for what’s to come in the development, QA, and launch phases. Set clear timelines and expectations, naming the specific individuals tasked with ensuring each phase makes it across the finish line.

Capitalize on knowledge overlaps

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As mentioned previously, knowledge gaps can often cause unexpected issues down the road. For example, some designers might have great ideas, but due to their lack of coding knowledge, those ideas might turn out to be nearly impossible to execute.

On the other hand, the developers may not be aware that just because something is technically possible, it does not necessarily translate into a good UX.

By boosting the knowledge overlaps, you can quickly minimize the number of issues caused by the lack of understanding of what is happening on the “other side” of product creation.

Consider encouraging a mutual understanding of basic skills and concepts by providing new resources to learn from. For example, spur the designers to learn the basics of coding to better understand why some designs cannot be translated into functional code. At the same time, help the developers learn more about design and how different design elements are used.

Provide a prototype

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Interactive prototypes are very useful for several different reasons. Providing a prototype can help everybody on the team better understand the common goal and where the product is headed.

They can help illustrate the navigational structure intended for the website, as well as the primary user flow, animations and interactions, and the internal linking of the site or app.

Design system

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Consistency is the key element in every successful collaboration. Consider building a style guide for developers and turning it into a design system.

Not only will this improve the designer-developer collaboration, but it could also make your product more consistent, especially as you scale.

Naming conventions

It is important to note that the design system does not only deal with design elements, but it is also responsible for handling naming conventions in all phases of the process, in both design and coding.

Have clear expectations around how designers and developers should name and label each component, asset, and file. Be consistent with revision naming, and your method for organizing it all. It’s tedious, but it’ll save a TON of time and effort if and when you have to go back later.

The layers

When a design is handed over to the developermultiple layers of information need to be conveyed


Naming your files: The file/screen name should not possess any form of versioning, it should merely describe its function.

Plus, make sure you use consistent casing when naming your screens.

Keep only what’s necessary: During handoff time, you should have a clear idea of the product you are going to create. To reinforce this, weed out all previous iterations and explorations. This will also result in simpler filenames.  


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Make a flow: Once the mockups are out, stitch the screens together. This helps the developers plan their approach to code.

Figure out the fidelity: Not every screen has to be fleshed out with high fidelity prototypes. Some screens could simply be static with explanatory comments. There is no reason why you should spend much time prototyping a simple interaction pattern that already exists.


List all the copy in a 3-column table using any cloud tool of your team’s choice. There’s always a lot of copy that can’t be shoehorned into the UI prototypes, so you will have to record them somewhere else.

Copy table

First, specify the type of copy. This helps developers quickly parse through the list. Second, specify the situation and the context of the copy.

Mentioning the context helps the developer understand when the message should appear/disappear. 

Last, add the actual message.

Specs & assets

Automate: Save yourself a lot of time with automation. There is no need for you as a designer to waste a vast amount of time redlining the designs with specs, measurements, and style guides.

All you have to do is appropriately organize the layers and groups in your design file and let the automation tools take care of the rest.

Accountability: Automating the handoff process gives designers the authority to question the developer in case there’s a deviation from the prescribed designs.


One of the most nerve-wracking parts of any design execution exercise is the phenomenon of missing designs.’ There’s always an edge case or two missing from shared designs.

You can avoid these last-moment issues by:

  • Maintaining a checklist of all the cases and features that need to be designed;
  • The checklist will flag the status of the feature being picked up or not, and whether it is completed or in progress. All the completed rows should have a link to the corresponding design.
  • If a specific feature is moved to the next version because of a particular dependency, then the corresponding team is marked along with a description.


The animations are usually considered the cherry on top of the design, but that does not mean that this phase should be underestimated. Micro-interactions and animations are an essential part of adding a touch of personality to the final product, and they also improve the overall user experience.

The animation handover can, however, be problematic because the most frequently used tools only provide visuals. For the developer to understand all the parts of the animation they need to have either:

  • a well-written specification and a long conversation with the front-end developer;
  • a great front-end developer who figures out every detail of your well-designed interaction.

Here’s to a successful handoff

Having a successful handoff is a critical part of creating a great product. However, with many people involved in the product creation, it is vital to maintain excellent communication and collaboration between the different sides.

In this little guide, we went over the best ways to avoid handoff failure and make sure every team member is working towards the same goal. I hope it helps, even if you only implement one or two tips. If you’re curious about how my team is working to consolidate these steps and save product teams both extra time and effort, give Mason a try—we’re free to start and open now. Cheers and happy building!

If you want to contribute to next the issue of Phase Magazine, just drop us a line:

Kayleigh Karutis Avatar

Kayleigh Karutis / Head of Growth @ Mason

Kayleigh leads growth and marketing at Mason, the world's first front-end-as-a-service platform. She got her start in SaaS and design at InVision, where she led content strategy and product launch content. Her career began as a beat reporter at a small-town newspaper—and she still considers that time she wrote the entire paper as one of her greatest achievements. Follow her on Twitter at @kayleighkarutis.