Designers vs Developers

Last Thursday I participated in the latest CamCreative meetup, an evening of debate entitled “Designers vs Developers”. The evening was run by Nick Welsh who had prepared a number of problems that designers have with devs and vice versa. The idea was these questions would be discussed by the audience in roughly two halves of designers and devs and then Steve O’Connor (designer camp) and I (developer camp) would air our collected views to varied heckling.

It was a fun eve with a really impressive turnout (around 50 or so in the Arts Picturehouse bar). The six questions were rather generalised so I was conscious afterwards we probably repeated ourselves a bit and rambled around the subject. I know the apparently simple six questions ended up taking far too long to discuss which meant the bar was somewhat thinned out by the end!

The questions themselves were things like “Print designers cannot automatically design for the web” and “Developers think they are web designers” which we both broadly agreed on. “Developers take too long to finish projects” was a little more contentious. My argument was that websites are complex and quite reasonably take time. Though there is often a misguided impression from clients once a design’s done the rest of it is easy.

There was one question that dealt with “Designers who don’t understand technology can’t design for the web”. To us devs that’s the one question of the evening that rings most true. Traditional print design is controlled and static, the web is flexible and interactive.

In the various points raised from people I clean forgot to point out the whole design in the browser thing. At Studio 24 we don’t expect our designers to craft each individual page lovingly in Photoshop. Instead we may start in Photoshop and once we’ve got an agreed look and feel we move into HTML/CSS and the designer continues there, designing straight in the browser. Design in the browser from scratch may not be for everyone, but the designer can only gain from being able to polish and realise their design directly in the browser where a web page acts like a web page and links are links. Personally I don’t see how a professional web designer can avoid using HTML and CSS in this day and age. The old “waterfall” technique of a designer handing over a PSD file to a developer for building is fast disappearing.

There were also various opinions from the floor. The copywriters quite rightly dug in highlighting the lack of attention they get in web projects. Dominick also pointed out the important role usablity and prototyping plays at Red Gate before a designer starts to put mouse to screen.

There are obviously a lot of topics that basically cover the gamut of the professional web design process. Something which CamCreative organiser Paul Smith touched on at the end saying he may try to run a longer day of talks on this topic if there’s interest.

I guess in summary it wasn’t really a debate as such, more a discussion on a set of topics. The evening highlighted good communication as key between the two camps, and for me I think both sides could learn a bit to understand the other. For developers its things like negative space and the grid. Go read Designing for the Web by Mark Boulton for more.

For designers unaccustomed to HTML and CSS go buy Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards and start your journey into really designing for the web there. It’ll save you time and money, I promise 😉

4 thoughts on “Designers vs Developers”

  1. Good point about designing in the browser — I should have stuck my hand up and said this too! I don’t think I’ve ever once (or, at least, for many, many moons) designed a site in flat files and then got stuck into the mark-up. I always do everything straight in HTML/CSS. Obvious benefits are:

    a) It’s much quicker.
    b) Your working with the actual destination system (rather than against it or in ignorance to it).

  2. (And just to be cheeky and extreme pedantic, from a designer’s point of view, I notice your comment system automatically converts en-dashes to em-dashes. That’s great, although a em-dash should have i-spaces to either side, not full spaces, of if i-spaces are unavailable, no spaces at all. They’re also usually only used with serif typefaces, but that’s just a matter of taste…)

  3. Good point Simon, although I am guilty of designing in Photoshop until the client agrees to the design and only then switching to the browser. I keep it clear in my head what I can get away with in the browser and let the client know there may be small changes and I’ve had no problems yet, but I know I should be doing more browser side first. Blame my print background!

    We couldn’t actually disagree with the question, “Designers who don’t understand technology can’t design for the web”. It is a whole other area of understanding and some print trained designers just don’t see that. As such the client ends up with a poorly produced site. I saw a site designed by a copywriter a few weeks ago – great copy, bloody awful site.

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