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Web Design: The void between designer and programmer.

Designers and programmers have an almost completely overlapping client base, but the two professions lack communication, collaboration, and even comprehension. Why?

When I say programmer, I mean anyone from a legit software developer to a fresh-out-of-college fireball that knows nothing more than how to make a contact form send an email. When I say designer, I mean anyone from a professional graphic/web designer to a self-tought-tutorial-addict-freelancer. Programmers and designers try to please the same set of clients on a daily basis. But in todays “website as a faceplate” world, neither profession can offer a complete list of services to satisfy even the mildest small-to-mid-sized growing company.

The result is a spiderweb of outsourcing and virtual personas being displayed by companies in both fields, striving to meet clients' needs, and trying to appear capable even though they are not. Graphic design firms rarely hire programmers, and programming companies rarely hire designers. They would rather outsource than hire a full-time employee whose skills are only used on occasion, because most of their business is derived from their core services. This is part of the problem. Designers and Programmers work in different arenas more often than not.

Education Can Take Some Blame

First of all, Designers and Programmers, although (today) their client base is very similar, have almost no overlapping educational requirements at most universities, excluding Gen Ed. I speak from experience when I say that the word/s “programming” or “web applications” are hardly ever mentioned by a web design teacher, if mentioned at all. I'm almost certain the same goes for student programmers and learning about “Typography” or “Form and Negative Space.” – Correct me if I'm wrong.

The fact is, two professions that are forced by clients (“The real world”) to work together, get no preparation by the universities supplying the skilled workers. A designer doesn't need to know the skills of a programmer (and visa versa), but it would be nice if he/she were at the very least, prepped about the reasons programmers and designers need each other.

Two Different Animals

Programming and designing are two completely different animals, but together in harmony, can make a killer site or online app. The average web designer (This article refers to university-educated designers, but is meant to also refer to self taught professionals) starts off in college taking drawing classes as gen ed courses. And most universities require a series of Art History courses as well. Most University Art programs are hard-pressed to even recognize web design as an integral part of a designers education. Instead, Graphic Design majors are stuck learning the deeper meanings of Buddha hand gestures in paintings by somebody whose name you can't even pronounce, when all they want is to learn how to design for the web. Universities simply aren't embracing web design as it's own distinct sector of the degree structure. What I'm trying to say is, Art programs educating the web designers of tomorrow, are not educating web designers. They are trying to deny a focus on digital media as an art form. The Art world doesn't take much heed to the web, oh but they do like to play with flash.

On the other side of things, Programmers aren't taught much about design, or how to work with a designer. Do they teach basic Photoshop to programmers? Maybe, I don't really know. I do know that programmers are a different breed of web-problem-solvers than designers. Programmers learn about code, properties, values, keys, arrays, if, if else, else if, if what? Exactly. The very backbone of a simple contact form is completely and utterly alien to a graphic designer. You know, those people you outsourced to “skin” your php based website. They like to use the words “slices” a lot.

The demand is there and increasing every day, let's work together.

When working together across both the design and programming disciplines, the best results and happiest clients are directly related to how well the (sometimes deceptive) design/programming companies work together. The best way to move forward and stay ahead of the game is to find a reliable partner, be it programmer or designer, that is willing to wear your hat and even go to meetings with you when needed. Once you develop a relationship, which most do eventually, it's easy to get comfortable in your situation. This is one of the major reasons designers and programmers are so baffled by one another. No one interacts and shares knowledge, they just do their part and that's it. This isn't constructive enough to satisfy me, sorry.

Designers and programmers should be constantly looking into new ways to help each other out. And if you're a small and growing company and have the demand, hire someone to compliment your team. Your designers will learn 100 times more information from an on-board programmer than emailing an outsourced “friend.” The same goes for programmers. Having one Graphic Designer on board could save you thousands in outsourcing, and teach your team priceless information about the layout in front of the code, and how the scripts manipulate what the user sees. Website interfaces should be designed for usability and accessibility, and that involves both what you see, and the programming that powers it. Make an effort to understand your complimentary discipline.

I'm the editor-in-chief of I'm a designer and developer by day, and a writer and musician when the feeling strikes. I enjoy vintage advertisements and puzzles with an absurd amount of pieces. Follow me on Twitter.

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