A Bridge Between Design and Engineering

How do we develop more cohesive partnership across business functions at Amazon? We explore this with James Catalano and Monica Alexander.

Collaboration between design and engineering teams is not always easy; however, as Amazon continues to grow and expand its products and services, there is an increasing need for effective collaboration. James Catalano, Sr. Front End Engineer, and Monica Alexander, UX Designer, two key players in building a large-scale design system across Amazon Devices, understand this better than most. With Monica's expertise in design and James' in engineering, they have developed a deep understanding of the importance of cross-functional communication, shared understanding, and nurturing relationships.

We sat down with James and Monica as they shared their insights on how collaboration has been crucial to their success, emphasizing the importance of meeting people where they are and embracing differing perspectives.

Laying the Foundation

According to Monica, clear communication between design and engineering teams is an essential element of a project's foundation. Early collaboration between teams builds confidence in the quality of the final product. James added that "designers and engineers have different ways of approaching problems and projects. Collaboration allows us to bring those different perspectives together to create a better outcome." By acknowledging the value of each other's approach, they can work towards a better outcome.

Building the Bridge

Connecting the two worlds requires a bridge that is inclusive and strong. Monica and James both believe that having design and engineering teams working in the same channels and spaces creates cross-functional communication and shared understanding. They call out that having team reviews where everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and perspectives are valued helps with building safe space to be creative and invent.

Being open to differing perspectives allows us to come up with creative solutions to complex challenges - Monica Alexander

Monica emphasizes the importance of considering the bigger picture and being intentional in decision-making, while James suggests tying decisions back to Amazon's Leadership Principles also helps keep the larger team focused and ensures that their decisions align with Amazon's overall vision and values.

Navigating the Unknown

As with anything in life, unexpected challenges inevitably arise. According to James, newcomers need to have patience and a willingness to learn, taking the time to understand the people and culture to build stronger connections and be more effective contributors. Monica adds that being open to differing perspectives allows for creative solutions to complex challenges. She also believes that collaboration is not just about bringing together different skills and knowledge but also creating an environment that fosters innovation and pushes boundaries. By creating an atmosphere that encourages risk-taking and experimentation, teams can develop novel and groundbreaking ideas.

Crossing the Bridge

Monica believes that a project's success is not only based on the outcome but also on the relationships built and strengthened during the process. Nurturing relationships with cross-functional teams fosters a shared sense of purpose and trust, leading to better outcomes and a stronger team. "Design and engineering should be one team with shared goals. To accomplish that, it's crucial to have an understanding of each other's perspectives and expertise," says James. By working together towards a common goal, the teams can create a collaborative and productive work environment that benefits everyone.

Collaboration between design and engineering teams at Amazon is like building a bridge that connects two worlds. It requires a strong foundation of clear communication and early collaboration, an inclusive and strong bridge that fosters innovation and creative solutions, and nurturing relationships with cross-functional teams that lead to a shared sense of purpose and trust. There is no easy way to achieve this, but by meeting people where they are and embracing differing perspectives, we can build bridges, not walls, and create a brighter future together.