Designers and Developers: Genetically Different?

Designers (UI people) and developers (coders) usually have totally different views of the world, and that was highlighted for me last night when I attended a local user group to watch the big MX2004 product introduction and demo (great event by the way, I was really pleased at how well Breeze handled the audio and slides). While watching the screen I kept one eye on the audience so as to see what it is they reacted to.
Dreamweaver including basic image editing capabilities? Lots of nods. That Fireworks gradient fill thingie (hey, I am a coder) used to fill the plane? Audible gasps. Flash animations using simple menu clicks? Smiles, lots of whispering, and even more note taking. You get the picture. And then Lucian mentioned ActionScript 2.0 and most of the smiles faded. Flash Professional? Noticeable enthusiasm until the mention of XML and Web Services and data integration and the comparison to VB. Suddenly the atmosphere changed.
I introduced myself to the group, most seemed to have never even heard of ColdFusion and did not seem to understand what “server products” meant. I am not putting anyone down, the group I crashed was a designers group, and so the reactions and responses were as expected. But even so, seeing the distinctions so blatantly and apparently was somewhat startling.

13 responses to “Designers and Developers: Genetically Different?”

  1. Erwin Verdonk Avatar
    Erwin Verdonk

    I’ve seen this too on presentations about Flash 5 and MX in general. There are really two worlds and the one doesnt understand the other.
    I’m more a developer myself and it’s hard to share my knowledge with designers, they just think on a total different line. We have an image in our head of the code structure while designers have a visual image.
    Ahh well I’m sure designers think the same about developers…

  2. Nathan Strutz Avatar
    Nathan Strutz

    On the contrary, I am a designer and a developer, and the truth is, no company wants to hire someone with equal skills in both. I’ve done graphic design, flash design, flash development, html, photoshop, fireworks, coldfusion, ASP, etc. The only way to work with all of these skills is to get into a VERY small company where you’re one of only 1 or 2 developers.
    So I had to pick a side. I chose programming, rewrote my resume and finally landed a CF programming spot (at a fairly small shop).
    It is of great value to me to be able to look at the design of a project, be able to study the usability and then program it the best way. My superiors love the pages I put out.
    I AM the macromedia superstar. I’ve got great skills in dreamweaver, flash, fireworks and coldfusion. The problem is, no one will hire you for that. You have to pick a side and stick with it.
    I miss spending hours in Photoshop & Flash, but I’d rather make some actual money.

  3. Jon Barlow Avatar
    Jon Barlow

    Sorry about your experiences with designers Erwin, but not all designers view programming as a foreign concept, only the narrow-minded designer does. Which most of the design schools keep turning out in huge numbers.
    Like Nathan, I too started out as a designer and agree with him. No one wants to hire someone that is good at being both a designer and developer, because they believe that person doesn’t exist. I guess they must base that believe on the whole left brain right brain theory and past personal experiences. Any designer with some foresight and motivation can see that web design and development are rapidly merging and would be a fool not to continually educate themselves in both areas.
    Luckily, I work at a small enough firm that on any given day I can crank out JSP code or if I don’t feel like doing that, I can hop on to my Mac and edit some video in Final Cut or create a user interface in Photoshop for a multimedia CD.

  4. peter Avatar

    look at John Maeda’s Aesthetics and Computation Group (ACG) at MIT, for example.

  5. ethan estes Avatar
    ethan estes

    I agree with Jon although i must say i’m in a 80+ employee company and my ability to edit video, touchup pics, build a flash cbt, create a jsp page, script tools to automate production workflows, design the user interfaces, and layout books in quark is THE reason the company hired me. They focus on problem solving, and self-teaching as the important qualities when hiring. I’m always surprised how many designers say "oh, scripting isn’t what i do." It uses the same mental tools that my illustration degree gave me-just a different output. I often feel it has more to do with being afraid of the unknown-not so much that they think different from educated programmers. Creativity is expressed in many ways.

  6. Xty Avatar

    I honestly don’t see how you can do one without the other. Since my shop is a one man operation I obviously can’t pick and choose, but I find I need to be able to conceptualize both the development and design of project before I can start work on either one. How do you design a navigation systems’ visuals without having any idea of what is possible on the coding side of the coin?

  7. Stacy Young Avatar
    Stacy Young

    As someone who frequently is required to shift back and forth from server-side to UI/Usability design, I can tell you it’s the most challenging part of my role. In fact, after a few weeks of focus on server-side it takes me up to a couple days to truly switch gears back to UI and design…at least in regard to achieving full productivity.
    The upside is that it never gets boring! 😉

  8. JesterXL Avatar

    Just to add to the noise for the sake of adding to the noise:
    I’ve found in giving presentations, a lot of the designers have no clue what I’m talking about. I’ve also found programmers more patient.
    So, what I have been doing when I speak is talk about what it is, what it can do and why it does it, and THEN get under the hood so the coders are happy. I usually question the audiene throughout to focus on what they want to hear since technology has such diverse groups still attending these user groups and speaker sessions.
    …and then there is the after party. Designers, "So it can do this, huh?" Programmers, "So how does it connect to the server again… what object is that?"
    Same dang product too, hehe. Hard to keep co-heseive group, but I like a challenge.

  9. Stuart Schmukler Avatar
    Stuart Schmukler

    I have also found that designers do not understand source code control (the CVS type). For some reason CMS (Content Management Systems) they understand. The industry is pandering to this with WebDAV and other standards not interoperating with CVS.

  10. Hans Omli Avatar
    Hans Omli

    My experience suggests that Visual Designers are often aligned with Marketing whereas Engineers are aligned with Development. Interaction Designers, on the other hand, sit somewhere between the two–having to understand design (customers), development (technology), and usability (users). Because good interaction designers must have deep and broad understand across these three areas, and because they often report through the technical side of the house, they often have much higher salaries than other "designers".

  11. Geof Harries Avatar
    Geof Harries

    I often find discussions like this quite funny to read. As yet another designer & developer hybrid guy, it’s hard for me to understand why designers get treated like nitwits by the general population of programmers.
    Not all designers are touchy, overly-sensitive artists who could care less about functionality, and just want what they create in Photoshop entirely replicated on the web. There’s plenty of us who not only understand the intricacies of a site’s backend or server config, but enjoy working with full-time developers on a team. The two titles, and their requisite skills, are not exclusive to one another. Let go of the stereotypes, will ya? 🙂

  12. tfelice Avatar

    The ooh’s and aah’s that you heard at Breeze presentation have found a new home, haven’t they? I have to admit that I have always thought of myself as both. Talking to someone of the opposite sex, I’m a ‘designer’. To another code monkey, I’m a ‘developer’. I have yet to have anyone tell me directly that I suck at either.
    Long, long ago, or not so long ago really, in the golden age of the internet, when companies could afford to have specialists, the distinction was a necessity, because the technology was changing so quickly, one had to specialize to stay current. I agree with Geoff, that maybe it is time to ‘let go of the stereotypes’, but then again, that’s the mind of a designer, right? The mind without limits, without taxonomy. We need to have classifications, so that we can fit within the needs of the team. We need to know what our talents are, so that we can stay at the top of our game.
    The fact that this rift seems to only exist in the mind, as the current technologies progress toward a convergence, could signal a need for an attitude adjustment, however. For example, both Flash and Dreamweaver received healthy upgrades that both camps can appreciate <i>some</i> of, but very few people can appreciate ALL of them. Current economic conditions have forced many ‘designers’ into a ‘developer’ role and vice-versa. Maybe the question we should ask is not ‘What are you Into?’, but rather, ‘How do you stay sharp?’

  13. Kent Avatar

    Hey, I just dropped in looking for downloads for Forta’s CF Web App Const Kit book. This looks interesting.
    Haven’t you heard of left or right brain dominant? It is real. And we all like rewards. Thus, we have a tendency to spend our time doing what we naturally do best. It is rewarding to succeed. The real trooper is someone who exercises the less dominant side of their brain.
    Could that be a definition of an open mind?

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