Designers vs. Developers

jennamarino So tired of the “designers need to code” talk. We heard you.. and you … and you. Got it. Is there anyone still arguing the fact?

skybondsor @jennamarino I don’t think it’s nearly this cut & dried. I’m sure you would agree that devs with some design experience create better sites.

jennamarino @skybondsor hell yes, I agree! Yet you never hear that argument stated. Where is that posting? Where is that long drawn out discussion?

skybondsor @jennamarino I think my entire career is that post/discussion! But now you have inspired me to write it. Stay tuned!

So here we are.  How did we get here?  How did creating websites become a zero-sum game between “designers” and “developers”?

In short, we got here because the advertising world glommed onto the Internet first and thus dominated the thinking on what websites could and should be.  It was only fairly recently that everyone could agree websites are (and should be) more like applications and devices than like an ad in a magazine.  So we have this vestigial ad agency model where clients hire “creatives” to come up with a concept, which they then pass on to the “engineers” to build; rinse and repeat with each new “campaign cycle”.

However, as we are all (mostly) well aware at this point, users increasingly want websites to do things for them, sometimes complicated things, and they want those interactions to be intuitive.  It’s nice if the experience is also beautiful, but passively absorbing graphic assets is neither the ideal nor the dominant user case on the web these days.  Thus, the industrial design model is coming to seem ever more apt. In that model, many areas of expertise come to bear on creating an intuitive, usable product.

So, what is industrial design, exactly? According to Wikipedia:

Industrial design is the use of a combination of applied art and applied science to improve the aesthetics, ergonomics, and usability of a product, but it may also be used to improve the product’s marketability and production. The role of an industrial designer is to create and execute design solutions for problems of form, usability, physical ergonomics, marketing, brand development, and sales.

Wow!  Science AND art at the SAME TIME? Aesthetics AND usability?  From the ad-world perspective, this is a complete oxymoron. Creatives are not supposed to be analytical and engineers are not supposed to be creative. Usability and execution are supposedly the enemies of aesthetics.  And yet, here we have an age-old field where those things are expected to go hand in hand, often within the same person.

So, yes, it is very helpful when graphic designers have some coding experience; but it is also helpful when engineers have some eye for aesthetics.  These things are in constant interplay when creating an application. Everyone involved makes their own small decisions along the way that never reach the committee for consideration; it helps when those decisions always have the user’s experience in mind.

The familiar example is often that of a graphic designer creating visuals that are difficult or impossible to pull off inside of a browser.  But consider the developer who has to make a judgment call about a hover state that wasn’t fully described in the designs; hopefully that developer has enough of an aesthetic perspective to pick an interaction that fits with the overall design and is intuitive for the user (without having to call a meeting of every designer and stakeholder on the project).

Furthermore, consider code optimization; isn’t a big part of that aiming to make the user’s experience as seamless as possible? Knowing that users expect clicking “submit” to yield a wait of a few seconds — but not a wait of a minute — can help guide engineers’ priorities when designing the communication between  browser and server.

Obviously, there’s enough to graphic design, user experience planning, and programming that we should look with suspicion upon anyone claiming to do all of those things with equal expertise.  However, silo-ing our skills to the point where each perspective has no awareness of the others is dangerous.  At the very least it causes a base level of distrust amongst team members who are presumably working toward the same goal (user bliss).  At worst, it creates patchwork applications where “designed’ areas have a vastly different feel than areas of the site built entirely without graphic objectives in mind.

Designers vs. Developers

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