Designer vs. Developer

I came across this post today on Mashable: HOW TO: Communicate Needs & Expectations to Web Designers

It's written from the perspective of the client, and it includes such advice as "designers and clients should both understand the difference between design and production" and "designers know design, so it’s best to get out of the way and give them freedom to create." All in all, I think it had lots of great advice and perspective for clients and designers. It seems that some in the comments took exception to some of the defined roles in the article. Bob Morse wrote in the comments:

I think part of the problem here is the term "Designer". It implies to the client that a website is more visual experience than action experience. I almost always use the term developer or web development since even a simple website now needs as much focus on functionality as the look and feel.

Which is valid, but it got me thinking about the roles of "Designer" and "Developer" in the first place. There's a lot of debate over this, and I thought I'd offer my two cents...

Me: Developer/designer vs. designer/developer

I are a designer

For most of my short working life, I've considered myself a Web developer. I worked on Java assignments in college, and PHP forms and programs for my job. Actually, my education included a pitifully small amount of "design" experience, with an elective called "Human Computer Interfaces" being the closest thing, which happened to be offered the year after I graduated. sad

But, at my job at the Strong, I've come in contact more and more with the design end of things. We have a culture of polish with all our materials, be it print, Web, or in the galleries. Things look good. And, from projects, self-learning, books, etc., I've learned the basics of color theory, typography, and aesthetics, and put them into practice on several projects. Because of that, I (like to) think of myself now as more of a Web designer/developer, but with the "design" part in the front.

(Which, by the way, is better than my official title, which is "Web Technologies Specialist". I always wanted to be a Specialist. sad )

So, it's true, there's a blurred line, and I'm right there. Just like everyone else?

What is a designer?

I are a designer 2I think, though, there's a distinction that needs to be made between a Web designer and a graphic designer. For a graphic designer in the print world, the "production" part of the work would be roughly equivalent to the exact layout of the print media, and then the actual printing. Since it's almost never expected that designers will run their own print shops, the design is complete when the mechanicals are sent to print. Certain aspects of design, like does this design convey the message, does it use the medium (for example, a page in a magazine) in the most efficient way - would be addressed through whitespace, layout, etc., things that are all addressed during the design process.

But a website is more complicated than print. There are moving parts. More needs to be considered than just layout and aesthetics - accessibility and browser compatibility just to name a few. The way you will build it needs to be taken into consideration when creating the visual design of the website. And the website never really "goes to the press". These design issues continue to be addressed during the build process.

So, design is the entire creative process, from start to finish. Think of a car. Perhaps a graphic designer will mock up the exterior of the model, but under the body, the engine and the layout of the parts are all assembled by the engineer. And, really, the look is extremely influenced by the engineering, with things like wind resistance and drag. So the engineer and the graphic designer are both involved in the design process, and the design is "complete" when the assembly line robots are programmed. (By a programmer, but that's a whole 'nother story...)

The problem

I are a designer 3I think we've touched on the root of the problem - most companies are still convinced that the Web is a print document. It's the brochure-ware site, that needs a graphic designer to design, and then a Web developer to "splice the PSDs into HTML." (Cringe.) On an interview, my prospective employer told me he needed a new "cut-up guy". Most of their websites were image-heavy and could have been made with an image map.

Time has proven that this model doesn't fit the Web.

One more thing - happiness

Another objector scolded the author for talking about the client's wants and not their business needs. Of course you need to look at business needs. But there's one thing you can't forget - happiness. In the end, it's about making the client happy. That's just good customer service. So, if you're a designer, and you're hired to do a job, maybe it doesn't turn out the best way, or the way you want it. You can push a little, try to leverage your knowledge and experience (good luck), but you may still have to give up a lot of ground. But if the designer's frustrated, the client's not satisfied, and the website sucks, how much better off are we? Best case is that the client is happy, the website is good, and the designer did the best job he or she could.

If your client is your Marketing team, or your boss, just keep them happy, and gradually try to influence cultural change. Statistics is a persuasive tool. (Although it seems many have resisted this piece of persuasion, from 1997: People on the Web don't read, they scan.)

I'm curious if anyone has different opinions of what a designer is?


Matt Cumming's picture

What a discussion.. im on the designer side.. :)

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Mark's picture

I feel developer and designer are best at their position. just i think the discussion is a never ending topic and as a developer i stick to the developer side

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I work in a IT department and i know the fight between designer and developer its the never ending argument but love to discuss about work i think this argument increase knowledge.
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