We’re All Just Designers With Different Specialties

Posted by Taylor Haney on Tue, Mar 25, 2014

In our latest UX and design post Daniel Beadle, Art Director at Boston Interactive tells us to not be limited by our job description; creativity is important from every angle on web projects. Interested in guest blogging? E-mail taylor [at] mitx [dot] org.

Creativity is an essential part of every web project. It’s something that everyone involved should tap into. From the user experience guru to the back-end developer, from the earliest planning stages to the post-launch fixes, creative thinking is always at play.

When I started out in the agency life, there was a very clear separation between the design and development teams, with an odd sort of rivalry between the two. To the designers, the developers were there to do whatever the design team instructed. No questions asked. To the developers, designers were there to make their lives more complicated than they needed to be. Designs were generated by one team then handed off to the other with a nod and a “good luck.”

Times have changed.

As the web inevitably and continuously changes, so must our processes and thinking. The various disciplines that go into making a digital experience have become much more intricate and specialized. In spite of this, we must resist the notion that our specialties make us incompatible.

BI blogThose in user experience (UX) are essentially structural designers; those in design proper are mainly visual designers; and those in development are interaction designers. As a whole, these specialties fall under the umbrella of experience design. Because that’s what websites have become: Experiences. A website, if done right, will make a user say “Holy crap, I love this. I have to tell people about this.”

But how do we get there? By not limiting ourselves to our given role. By following what interests us and what is in our best interest to know. By thinking creatively every step of the way.

Typical web projects are additive, where each field builds upon the other. User experience informs design and design is brought to life in development. And just as a visual designer should understand user experience, a developer should understand good design. After all, UX and design are essentially the planning stages, while development is the execution. To achieve the right look, a front-end developer must know the fundamentals of good design: balance, grids, typography, consistency, etc. Every person involved in a web project should have an awareness of their peers’ disciplines and understand that it’s where this awareness ends that collaboration begins.

We collaborate when we acknowledge a blind spot in our awareness and we eliminate that blind spot when we share. Designers and developers should be communicating as much as possible throughout the process of building a website; not just when designs are handed off, but both before and after. Discussing a great microinteraction without a developer in the room is about as useful as using a trash can as a suggestion box. And as important as microinteractions and code-based animations have become, it’s critical to keep in mind that a design is only half-done when it goes to the developer.

A good developer will not only maintain the integrity of the visual design, but build on it and create interesting interactions that the designer may not have even thought of. It’s the teamwork between design and development and the unique ingenuity of the latter, that takes a design the rest of the way.

When I talk about collaboration, I don’t mean to imply that a project manager schedules daily check-ins for all parties. I mean that those engaged directly in the project take it upon themselves to share their work as it builds and use feedback from others to overcome roadblocks . This is the value of a developer with a designer’s eye; to know when something isn’t working as much as when it is. These frequent and informal checkpoints can significantly streamline the quality assurance process, transforming it from a project wrap-up to an ongoing conversation as pages come to life.

In truth, everyone involved in a web project is a designer. Some focus on visuals, others on interactions. All of these are critical pieces of the whole and contribute to the success of the project. If we free ourselves from the limitations of our job titles and think imaginatively about what we do, that success is guaranteed.

describe the imageDaniel Beadle (@DanielBeadle) is a visual designer, writer and artist in the greater Boston area. As Art Director at  Boston Interactive, Daniel works with clients  to strengthen their digital marketing strategies. Daniel has been designing digital experiences for close to a decade and takes every opportunity to teach best practices to students and junior designers. In his free time Daniel enjoys writing and creating digital art.