There has always been somewhat of a dichotomy in the world of web professionals between design & development.
Designers do their thing making pretty pictures, drinking cocktails at lunch, having social cliques, and little romances within the group. They frolic away in the meadows of Photoshop and Dreamweaver Design View, paying little attention to the nuances of the mechanical underpinnings of their creations. Or so I hear…
Meanwhile, the code monkeys toil away in the dark, unseen from the public eye, in caverns and closets and in back alleys where you dare not travel. Typically found unshaven in the wild, they hack away in text editors such as TextMate and Vim, write their code from scratch, and make jokes about algorithms in C in an Erkel-esque voice from behind Coke-bottle glasses. (Mexican Coke bottles, since apparently north of the border we’ve lost our flair for nostalgia and authenticity and now mostly distribute the plastic bottles which are unfit for ocular correction.)
I’ve had this debate at least six or seven times in my career, in some form or other, about this separation of church and state. Oil and water. Dogs and cats.
Stephanie Sullivan recently wrote this:
The root of my story and my point is — it’s the rare individual that has all the strengths needed for one web site. It’s the team that matters. Should everyone have a basic understanding of the other member’s jobs? How they work? What they can accomplish. Oh yes. Absolutely. Should they be able to do them? That’s just ludicrous. Absolutely not. Surround yourself with people more brilliant than yourself. Always learn. Work hard. You, and those around you, will be enormously successful.
Now granted, she’s posting this in response to the guys at 37signals, who by definition are an opinionated group making opinionated software. That’s why their stuff is so great – they set some constraints and they live by ’em. I’m not sure which posts she was referring to, but this could be one of ’em. And this is true. Designers who have strong developer kung fu are better designers for it. And developers who understand the issues of design are correspondingly empowered.
But I tend to agree with Stephanie. The reality of it is that there are a wide variety of personality types out there, and that translates into varying abilities and motivations for crossing over into the design or development realms one way or another. As a musician, I myself come from a deeply creative side (with some early code hacking expertise in the Atari days,) but have come around to being mostly a developer at this point in my career. I draw heavily on my design background when working today. But I certainly would want to get a good, web-experienced designer on my project. And I think that’s where the core of the debate has led to: Web designers who understand The Code create designs that make better sense within the constraints of the digital medium, and understand what the user interface objects are that the web-surfing masses are familiar with. Conversely, pencil-necked code monkeys understanding design principles won’t shackle their creations with masses of cruft and flotsam just because it worked 9 years ago and why not copy/paste that in?
There are so many faceted roles now applied to the web production line. We are all part designer, part coder, part marketing stooge, part librarian. There is no escaping that. But if the Industrial Revolution has taught us anything, it is that things will continue to specialize in the name of efficiency and progress. Multitasking sucks. For some of us (moi,) it sucks more than for others. It takes time for the brain to switch gears between the too-sexy-for-my-shirt design aesthete and the l33t h4x0r. Throw having to be a project manager, writer, or manager into the mix and you get all kinds of crazy flying around.
My take on it all is: Embrace what you are good at. Do what your passion dictates. Challenge yourself frequently, but never lose sight of your foundation. If your foundation migrates, then great! But always be aware of yourself and live in The Now™. If you do what you love, you are more likely to get good at it, more likely to stick with it for the long term, and good things will tend rise up around you.