The Benefits of Letting Web Designers Push Web Developers' Comfort Level
Web design is a complicated field. It involves an equal balance of inspiration and ripping off other designs. You have to make something beautiful, and intuitive to use. The last detail of every site must be accounted for. Things that work on paper don't necessarily work on the web. Even if they're possible, your team has to be willing to make it happen. There's been a few grumblings recently about web design plateauing. Some have said that every website is beginning to look the same.
I think that the reason behind this has more to do with designers that have been forced into a way of thinking. Too many web designers have been learning about website functionality. They're being told that certain pieces of their designs aren't practical. They're told that some things just can't be done. Sometimes, this is true, but other times I feel like we're lying to our web designers. It may be because it would take a few hours longer to achieve the effect the designer is looking for. It may be because the technique would involve learning new practices. It may simply come down to the ignorance of a practice or concept. But sometimes, it's pure pig-headed stubbornness.
I feel like web designers should be encouraged to let their imaginations run. Designing a website should be more about pushing the boundaries and making a beautiful, functional image that also works well as a user interface. A good web designer should be looking to create a design that's breathtaking upon first glance, and intuitive on closer inspection. It sounds incredibly difficult, but I think that keeping a designer inside a box makes their job even more difficult.
Let's make everything clear
These definitions are open to scrutiny and shouldn't be referenced by Merriam Webster at any point. These are based on examples of my experience, and everyone has had different experience. I do not think of myself as someone qualified to define positions for the rest of the world. That being said, let me make clear what I mean when I'm referring to each position I'll be referencing in this article.
A Web Designer is a graphic artist that creates the website's layout. They produce media for the website, they make decisions about the color scheme, and they work closely with the client to ensure that everything desired is produced. They are responsible for the mockup of the website, and they handle the entire look and feel from top to bottom.
Normally, a back-end developer takes care of additional functionality using server side code, but they aren't going to be a part of this article. This is not due to their lack of importance in the web world, just their lack of importance to my point.
What seems to be the problem?
I won't pretend to be an expert web designer here. I know, just as many of you do, that I am far from it. If you take a look at my website, you'll see that it's just as bland as anything else on the web. But maybe that's the problem.
You could look throughout the web and see the exact same website with varying color schemes and logos. Granted, we're all working within a tight box right now. We're trying to create a website that doesn't make our users think, and we're trying to lay it out so it's responsive. We're trying to ensure cross-platform usability while engaging an audience and search engine crawlers. This alone is difficult to be inspired by.
The problem is that we have web designers that could make incredible designs and push the boundaries of our current, stale designs. In fact, I have no doubt that these designs are thrown around daily in many different firms. But what happens when a front-end developer looks at an aspect of the design and decides that it can't be done? If this happens more than once, the developer gets exasperated and explains to the designer that they're unable to produce a design that can be made into a website.
I really do not believe that's correct.
What a designer is
A web designer knows pictures and images. They know about symmetry, asymmetry, flow, color schemes, balance, and things of that nature. They know how to make an image draw you in and helps your eye move throughout and pick up every enticing detail. They know how to make someone excited, happy, focused, or even curious. They know how to produce the reactions we want from users! These are not the people we should be restricting!
There are many designers that also know how to configure markup language and style it. I think it's great that they've taken the initiative and can wear that many hats. But personally, I feel that it's also made them realize the boundaries of HTML and CSS and afraid to fight against them.
I think that the same problem is present when a front-end developer looks at a mockup produced by a web designer. There are certain portions that they just don't know how to create. There are parts of the design that they've never seen and never coded before. I don't think that these developers have a closed mind, but in a fast-paced work environment, a quick glance and judgment is sometimes all you can afford.
How to work with your designer
I'm not trying to step on anyone's toes, and I'm certainly not trying to insult anyone. What I'm trying to do here is help you realize that a great design comes from a team working together. If you want your web designer to produce a creative, imaginative design you have to be the same with your code!
There are designs I've seen over the years that have made me feel like they're impossible to create. Years before multiple background images were available in CSS, I first saw ThinkGeek's website. I was so amazed and sufficiently flabbergasted, I may as well have thought it was crafted by witchcraft. It absolutely astounded me and set me off on a pursuit to figure out how it was done. If you're curious, I figured out how they did it: Innovation.
It's easy to use what you know to keep creating the same thing. It's easy to reject ideas that don't fit in your paradigm. It's also easy to fall behind the herd and get left for the wolves.
As web developers, we have to constantly be innovating, we must always be looking forward, and anticipating the next big thing. It is in our job description to not only stay abreast of development and design, but also to push it. There are techniques and practices available freely online. There are colleagues so excited by their ideas that they publish them to help others. The web world is run by a group of people that keeps pushing each other forward and reaching back to pull new frontrunners up. It's time we all grab a hand and get our feet under us.
But how can it be done?
CSS3 offers us a wide array of new features. Think of how difficult it must have been to program all of these new aspects of styling the web. Each browser manufacturer had to put time and effort into creating and perfecting the code that goes behind interpreting your CSS. You know each browser worked on this in different ways because of the different webkits you had to include in your CSS to make them work. It would be an absolute shame if all the work these programmers put into making CSS render a page correctly goes to waste.
Because of the incredible advancements these programmers put into their browsers, you now have ways of making incredible advancements in web design! You may not realize it at first because these features are still new, but there's a world of incredible and innovative techniques just waiting to be discovered. These new practices could have been the answer to the problem you saw in your designer's mockup yesterday. If you had taken the time to get as creative as your designer, it wouldn't have been removed from the design.
Let's face it, I just love front-end development. I love being brought a challenging design, looking at it and deciding that I want to try it. I would gladly spend all day trying to make a design technique work. Some would see this as wasted time, and I don't blame them. The benefit comes when you've added one more technique to your skills and your designer can do one more trick with their mockups.
Encourage the destruction of boundaries
We should all be encouraging each other to find solutions to the front-end development problems that web designers bring us. We should all be thanking our designers for challenging us. This field is constantly changing and evolving, so we need to adapt to it. Every challenge is a solution waiting to be discovered.
We need to let our designers go crazy and bring us a mockup that doesn't fit the mold. We need to push ourselves to innovate and discover new techniques. We need to crumble walls, push down boundaries together, and end the day proud of our work. It all begins by letting our web designers push us out of our comfort zone.
Now, you know that some things just aren't possible
Don't get me wrong, sometimes there just isn't a way to get something done. No, I can't design a portion of the site to be heat-sensitive to the user's hand. No, I can't take a user's temperature to diagnose a sickness. No, I can't make the smell of roses appear when our site is loaded. No, you can't feel a custom fabric through your monitor and the user can't print out anything that feels like it. No, sometimes it just isn't possible.
That's the exciting thing about our field. No, it isn't possible today! Our field changes, our hardware changes, our capabilities change every. Single. Day. No, it isn't possible today, but I hear they're making advancements that could make it possible tomorrow. Once tomorrow gets here, I'll have another technique to learn, another way to meet expectations, and another way to blow users' minds with what I've learned.
Who will benefit when you encourage imagination?
Pushing boundaries and opening up the box surrounding web design will benefit everyone. The web designer will be more confident and start to imagine even more complex designs and functionality. The front-end developer will learn new techniques to incorporate these designs quickly and easily. By pushing team members out of their comfort zone, you're forcing them to learn. When your team members learn, the entire team benefits and becomes stronger as a whole.
When you start pushing your team to learn, you're going to end up with stunning results that impress everyone. When everyone's sufficiently impressed, everyone's inspired. You could help spark a new wave of inspiration, a new way of looking at design and development. There is even the possibility of sparking a new way of looking at the world. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a more beautiful world? There's a possibility that you could help make it happen.