The Benefits Of Wearing Multiple Hats

By admin | November 17th, 2013

Strategic Design

Designers and developers are typically one’s yin to the other’s yang.  Designers are always taught that “form follows function,”  but, in the case of interactive design, they aren’t always equipped with the skills to provide functionality. This can hinder a project because a designer might not understand what it will take to make their design come alive. Sometimes they create something that simply won’t work or design something that would take far too many hours (read: money) to create. Developers, meanwhile, aren’t always design savvy but are the best of the best at making things work. The right combination of form and function can make or break a project. Sometimes one takes precedent over the other, and sometimes they need to have equal footing in order to be successful.

I’m a designer, and until now I’ve never had the opportunity to work with a developer.  My first love was visual art and design, but over the years I’ve acquired a good deal of front-end development skills that allowed me to “wear a lot of hats.” Every piece of interactive design I’d made prior to working at Cabedge had to be developed or programmed by me–which had some benefits but also set inherent limitations to the scope of the project. If a client wanted a simple site that looked great and that they could update easily, I could meet that demand without issue because I had a decent amount of front-end development skills and the ability to utilize pre-established CMS systems like WordPress. I didn’t have to hire a developer or wait for one to fix/make changes to live projects. However, if my client wanted a mobile app or a site with a lot of dynamic content or complicated back-end functionality, that was out of the question because I simply couldn’t do it. I either had to refer them to someone else or figure out a polite way to tell them, “Sorry, I can’t do that. How can we re-envision your project to fit within my capabilities?”

At Cabedge, we do things a little differently. Every project has the support of our team of designers and developers. Interactive design is no longer limited by what I can or can’t do in terms of functionality. I no longer have to sit and scratch my head trying to figure out code to solve a particular problem. I can ask our developers, starting with Joe and Brandon, for their opinions on the best solution or what they’d end up doing from a functionality standpoint before I ever design something. This allows me to create the client’s vision without the confines of having to figure out how to make it work on my own.

That being said, because of my experiences I think it’s incredibly valuable for designers to learn at least a little something about development and vice versa, especially with the continued rise of interactive technologies and experiences. We’re building this into our culture here at Cabedge and have seen the benefits for our clients.  If a designer can be thoroughly grounded in HTML/CSS best practices and learn some JavaScript/jQuery/PHP, I believe it will do nothing but boost the relationship between that designer and their developer. There will be a better understanding of the time and effort required to create different types of projects. There will be instances in which the designer can handle the front-end development, saving valuable time for the developer to focus on more complicated tasks. Meanwhile, developers can benefit immensely from studying design fundamentals and identifying best design practices. If a developer builds good design sensibilities, they can effectively critique their designer’s work from a functionality viewpoint while still respecting the designer’s role in creating what they believe to be the strongest visual solutions.

This approach doesn’t have to be constricted just to the relationship between designers and developers. Having an understanding of the mindset and process of your partners, co-workers and peers can produce incredible relationships that lead to better ideas and more effective collaboration. So if you’re more of a beret kind of person, try on that beanie and see where it takes you.

David Saunders is a creative strategist for Cabedge Design, LLCan Atiba Company – a Nashville-based interactive strategy firm, specializing in strategic web design, development, business strategy, organic search, paid search, digital marketing and brand experience.

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