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Can a Web Developer Also be a Web Designer?

When you are a web developer, you usually get to a point of creating your own web projects. And it seems that you can do it on your own, because you are a smart tech guy, right? But when it comes to design, even the best and the smartest developers suffer. Why is that and can it be changed?

Let’s start with a disclaimer – which side I’m on. For 10 years I’ve been working as a web developer, and recently started a couple of my own websites. So here I’m telling you about a personal challenge that I was faced with and how I was able to address the issue.

Different mindsets

Web developers create websites. Web designers create websites. Their work is similar, right? Wrong. The difference is huge, and the main thing is mindset. At the expense of stereotyping: developers write code, a tech-guy, maths guy, he deals with binaries. Designer creates emotions, uses his fantasy and ideas – he is an art-guy, a painter, an artist. Doesn’t sound so similar, does it?

Let’s look at another example – a painter creates a masterpiece, and another person creates a frame for the painting. It is the same as a designer and a developer. They work on the same project, but from very very different sides.

There’s no need for a web-designer?

Recently, web-design has become more mathematical – pixels, columns, grids, geometry, etc. This is especially the case if a web-designer has not only to produce graphic files, but also is responsible for CSS coding. So maybe the line between two worlds becomes thinner? Thats the nature of the design and development world. As a designer, you are in a stronger position if you have a wider skills set.

But still, the difference in mindsets remains huge when it comes to colors, typography and overall look & feel of a web-project – developers usually don’t have an aptitude for these design elements. Of course, they can “create something”, but usually the result is mediocre as often, their passion is in the coding.

One of the key problems facing both designers and developers is that often people want to save money and create a project as cheap as possible. They often don’t understand the separate skills required for high calibre work and assume one person will be able to do both. So they don’t hire a professional web-designer, especially if a developer shows some experience in theme development. This would be the case, especially if a developer is desperate for some freelance work. My advice would be to explain to your potential client what the difference is and why the end product would be better with two people engaged on the project. Alternatively, you could team up with a great developer and work on projects together.

If your client wants a quick turnaround and you are working with a low budget, you could use the popular solution to deal with such a client challenge is the use of easy-access web-design themes and templates. These are created for mass use and are sold over the internet via a number of dedicated sites. You can buy a good-looking design theme for as little as $50. Of course, it will not be unique, but then you can tweak it a bit with your personal logo and a couple other details.

So it seems that designers for unique solutions are demanded even less. We need to stay ahead of the game in an increasingly more competitive market.

Is Bootstrap a solution?

Have you heard of Twitter Bootstrap? Nowadays it’s all over the internet – we even have marketplaces selling design themes, based on Bootstrap. For those who don’t know, it is a framework for rapid website structure development in terms of HTML/CSS – Bootstrap has predefined classes and styles, which overall give quite a presentable website look.

It seems that this idea solves the problem – now developers can use Bootstrap (and similar frameworks) to create websites without a help of a web-designer. It’s faster, cheaper, more agile. The only drawback is visual similarity between projects based on Bootstrap – you usually can see it quite clearly. Quite often, it is only the high-end client that is really interested in design quality and originality. Often, clients feel that an original, more expensive look and feel of the site is not going to make a great impact. As a designer, you need to sharpen your persuasive powers when negotiating with a client.

There are no real web-designers left

Professional web-designers today cannot work only with Photoshop – we have to think broader and offer a wider-ranging service. That’s why we now have user interface and user experience professionals, who create the visual appearance of a websites with modern thinking behind the design. (If you are wondering what are the fine details involved in these two elements, Despreneur will be covering them in detail soon.)

These specialists often are called on to participate in business processes development of a future web-project, and often to meet clients so they add much more value. It is becoming almost standard practice for a design and development company to take a designer to a meeting with a client. It is clear that our appearance and communication skills need to be sharp in such situations. No longer are we just sitting behind a laptop or desktop in our own design world.

In this niche no ordinary web developer can compete with UI/UX professionals.

Conclusion: Different strokes for different folks

Technology increasingly allows web developers to create quite simple websites without any talent for graphics – they have CSS tricks, Bootstrap and similar frameworks all sourced cheaply from marketplaces selling templates ready to be used. Don’t fear – all is not lost.

Just as opportunities open for developers, so too has new opportunities opened for us. The web-design field has also transformed in the much broader science of user experience and user interface – these professionals also earn lucratively and have plenty of job opportunities.

The debate about whether the two worlds collide or should be kept separate in the design and development world can’t be answered in a short article but this article serves to open the debate.

Featured image, Adham Dannaway by Adham Dannaway.

*With prior permission from the author, the article was edited by the Despreneur editorial team.

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