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James Turner
James Turner

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Am I a designer? Are you?

I recently had a conversation on Twitter about developers and designers that started with:

I strongly agree with this as I have personally had situations where design affects the usability of the system as much as it does affect the code. Developers need to care about the design and be vocal about how certain aspects would work. Having strong silos of "developer" and "designer" where they don't talk besides passing a "design" across is counter productive to the end goal of building the best system you can given the constraints (eg. time, money).

I've worked as a website developer professionally for 7 years, working alongside multiple designers across a wide range of problems. Over these years, I have picked up a lot of skills of things that work well and things that don't. Where I believe I am not a designer really comes down to raw creativity, I don't believe from scratch I could make a design but given a design, I could say what would work and what wouldn't.

To me this was the line in the sand between me and being a designer. I might know what components work well with each other but I am methodical, everything would follow the same rigid structure for everything I build - I lack the creativity.

A nice fellow on Twitter named Andy Ingram responded:

This has challenged my core opinion on this and helped me reframe it differently in my head. I know design as what elements work well combined with how they influence development. Others might be more creative but also know what elements work well combined.

It might sound like I am just repeating my previous opinion but in short, I saw design as a black-and-white criteria where really there is many shades of grey. I can take blocks of my knowledge of what works well and still arrange them into something new - that is design. Someone else can create a whole new type of layout - that is design.

Design as a more abstract concept never actually says anything about creativity, it is about working out something that is best for your specific needs.

What are your thoughts on design and being a designer? Are you a designer? Are you a developer who is interested in design? Where do you fall on this spectrum of design?

Top comments (3)

betkowski profile image

My title says Graphic Designer, I work on a range of projects, from web apps, simple sites and emails, and usually build them on my own.
But based on my experience, I strongly agree with what you've said about designers working closely with developers.
We should leave this "give me a spec and leave me alone" attitude in 2007, where it belongs.

sarahatzing profile image

I'm a designer/developer hybrid (with an emphasis on the designer part), and the distinction you made at the end of this post is what's always mattered most to me, because I very much approach design as an exercise in creative problem-solving, even if the medium isn't visual.

It's what I call the difference between being a designer and being a design thinker. If you're the latter, then every potential problem or situation becomes an opportunity to actively design abstract solutions. In the words of Don Norman, "All artificial things are designed." What I take from that quote is that you can either passively or actively engage in the design process at all levels if you make the conscious choice to, because otherwise your lack of a choice is still an implicit design decision.

I especially agree with your quote from Andy Ingram where he emphasizes the role of holistic thinking in good design.

jude_johnbosco profile image
Chinweike Jude Obiejesi

i virtually spend much time trying do a good design while coding. It gives you a big time filfulment