“You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!”
The Design / Development Dilemma
Back when Al Gore invented the internet, things were simple. It started with 2 people destined to become inseparable: TCP and IP. IP’s the guy who talks to anyone he meets – he’s a shoe-in and somehow knows everyone. Seriously – his DNS rolodex is fierce. TCP’s the cool chic who keeps the conversation alive. She talks and listens, always offering support: “I understand…I really do.” Together, TCP/ IP are the Internet. And they’re good people.
But there was something missing. They’re great communicators but, like vampiric xclones, they only work in total darkness. Something needed to be done…
Enter our heroine: “HTTP.” She got with TCP/IP and made the internet a whole lot more interesting. Their hot hook caused theworld wide web and that’s when the party started. Web servers stepped up, handling “requests” and “responses” and web browsers brought game turning formless ASCII characters into pictures and words.
It wasn’t long until the world wide web witnessed its first miracle: the birth of truly horrific web pages. Ugly monsters without style or any semblance of usability. Indeed – the kinds of children only a system administrator could love…
Fast forward to today in 2010 where some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And after two and a half decades, the foundational science of the internet was lost and Designers took control of the web.
It makes sense really. Web users see only the web interface: the user experience (UX) is almost 100% governed by designers. The only case where hard core backend developers have a “direct” impact on users is when a site is abhorrently slow or the site is practically useless in function (“Error 500: Internal server error”). However, as users demand more complicated web applications, the Developer becomes more and more important because the code gets more and more complicated. This, in turn, requires more and more sophisticated management efforts. More and more… and more… The days of a simple “Brochure Site” are dead. The days of drag and drop, slide-out multi-layered dynamic interface, and commerce by default “Web Applications” are here.
Now, to the Point: the Great Divide
The minds of Designers and Developers are totally different. They are both creative but in completely different ways. Designers focus on what the user sees, developers focus on making it all work. More than ever, it is critical that Designers and Developers understand each other’s limits and capabilities.
This is the Designer / Developer Divide: a rift of opposing forces, neither good nor bad. The Ying and Yang. The Chocolate and Peanut Butter.
On Our Right: Designers
Generally speaking, Designers face the primary problem of finding creative inspiration – which is not always easy. It’s not like we’re all inherently born with every instantaneous creative impulse this Universe has to offer. Inspiration comes randomly and sporadically and when you’re expected to produce for a full time job, that pressure can hamper your creative freedom. Sometimes you just need a break to dislodge the creative block.
Once a Designer achieves the Nirvana of inspirational bliss, they build that slick beautiful interface everyone wants to see. That’s exactly how OnWired rolls. Yes. It is cool. It is beautiful. But, is it possible? A design element might be awesome, but then comes the reality check smack-down. Adding a seemingly simple “Add to Cart” button to a slide out interface wireframe takes a Designer 12.34 seconds once they know where it should go. However, that one small element might take hours to implement – especially if it’s an interface change and the code wasn’t already designed for it. (Yes, even here at the “ODub” hub, we deal with this issue regularly.)
And The Left: Developers
Developers are the often misunderstood, sociopath recluses forced to burn midnight oil to meet impossible deadlines. They are faced with the maddening task of logically forcing a web server and 5 different browsers to do as they are expected. The Designer’s vision may be beautiful, but it’ll take 6 MONTHS to get it working. This is a real problem for all software development. The experience required by a Developer to understand how complex a feature is, how long it will take to get it working AND push back when it will extend the deadline is hugely valuable.
Not to put too fine a point on things, but design is only the tip of the iceberg – the backend code represents 90% of the effort. Think about that. If a project takes a year to complete, only a month ofWork Days is needed for design. The remaining 11 MONTHS is pure Development. That means a majority of the work we do as web professionals is never even seen by the client. This is an unappreciated fact. Therefore, updates must be frequently given to the customer to ensure they know what’s going on.
The Solution: Build a Strong Corpus Callosum
Now that we understand the rift, it’s obvious that something needs to be done. TCP/IP and HTTP utterly depend on each other for survival. Likewise, Developers and Designers utterly rely on each other to transcend interweb boundaries.
The solution to all of this is actually simple: Ensure your designers and developers are communicating. Only the dumbest of organizations would keep these two critical groups away from each other. And guess what? This means it’s up to the corpus callosum, the people managing the project and customer, to bridge that left and right divide.
Designers need to take into account the cost of interface elements. Developers need to know when to push the envelope of possibility and when to say, “Dude, breaking that sound barrier is going to take 6 months of serious pain.” Project Managers need to keep the interests of all sides in balance: Customers, Designers, and Developers.
Be sure both a Developer and Designer are together in project brainstorming meetings. And don’t let people shut down ideas – it’s important everyone is able to share thoughts openly. Being negative is a sure way to stop creativity in its tracks: keep it positive and constructive. I mean, imagine how lame Star Wars would have been if they’d listened to Commander Nageeto: “That’s impossible – we can’t build a space station with the power to destroy an entire planet!” If Vader had not Force crushed his larynx, the Death Star would still be a fleeting dream dancing in the mind of the Emperor.
Well there you have it: from the distant past to today. Understanding our roots and differences helps everyone move forward. And the sooner, the better. I want to see a 3-D holographic fully interactive web interface in my lifetime.
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