The Other Side of the Coin

Update: Add another article to the fray: Crossing the Chasm Between Design and Code


There seems to be a lot of discussion going on about how a “real” web designer also needs to have serious HTML and CSS chops, otherwise they’re just (in the words of one blogger) “drawing pictures.” Some blog posts of note:

Okay, fine, if you want to focus this on the designer, one could take that point.

But I have a problem with what could be seen as a corollary: to be a good web developer (and we’re just talking front end here, folks), one necessarily has to be a designer as well.

This is kinda a WTF idea for me. In my career, I’ve worked with a bunch of great web visual designers, many (most?) of whom wouldn’t know a pseudo-selector from a boolean attribute. On the flip side, I have absolutely zero sense of how to balance the right color with the right shadowing and the right spacing, although Lord knows I’ve tried when I’ve been pressed into that duty.

What I can do is look at a design, mentally break it down into its components, structure the code for how to best arrange it on a web page, templatize it, and then go back and tweak it for all the multitude of web browsers out there so they all look pretty much (with varying margins of IE error) the way the designer intended.

I’m in the midst of a job hunt (I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’), and there are two patterns out there thoroughly annoy me. The first is the “we need a web person who can do everything” pattern, where a company expects one person to be and expert in Photoshop, Flash, HTML, JavaScript, CSS, Visual Basic, Oracle, MSSQL, J2EE… well, you get the idea. (Oh, and this person should be willing to work sixty hours a week for $25,000/year, but I digress.) This simply isn’t realistic.

The second pattern that frustrates me is companies who expect me to supply a “portfolio.” Well, I’m a developer. Snatching a few screen shots is essentially meaningless, as the sites were designed by someone else. Also, many of the sites I’ve worked on through the years have evaporated away as sites often do. Lastly, you might be able to view my front-end coding work by viewing source and checking out the CSS and JavaScript files, but that’s usually only a small part of the story; the PHP running the whole show won’t be visible at all and let’s not even get into the problems when it’s a template-driven site like WordPress.

My point is, design and development are two different skill sets, and having one by no means ensures that you have the other. Hire a designer to design, and hire me… uh, I mean a developer to develop. Like me. 🙂

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