So there's been a pretty decent sized debate going on through the webosphere. Designers should know how to code. Developers should know how to design (or shouldn't need to design). I considered weighing in on the 37 Signals blog — but the comments were already closed. Call me slow (yes, I've been on the road, had a birthday, and had my mom visiting with her birthday. . You'd be right. Oh well.
I do have one thing to say. Well, I probably have more than one, but I'll start with that. I recently did a couple sessions at the HOW design conference. One was on “Mistakes Print Designers Make on the Web.” Yes, I definitely agree there are common mistakes from the print paradigm. Many times I can tell how people's brains work when they ask for help on lists. I can tell they don't understand the web or come from a print background. However, that does NOT mean I think they are useless. Do I think they should know how the web works? That the web is a fluid, not static medium? Am I willing to help them learn (if they're going to be in my “designer stable”)? He77s yea. I am willing. Because I think they are very important to our industry.
Do I think that coders should not use a graphic medium. Lord no. “Designing” (or so they call it) using the constraints of “what's easy to do with code” is really a sad, and less attractive, way to work. I say bring on the tough comps — we'll work it out, or we'll ask for a small revision. We'll come up with a way to make it work accessibly. A way you might not have thought of before — but a way that is equally lovely. But lord knows I think you design types are valuable. I quit designing years ago. Why? I'm a tweakaholic. I make more money hiring people that are more creative, better trained and faster. My clients save money with those same people. The designers are freed to be their creative selves — but yes, it's nice for me if they understand the web. It's nice if I don't have to lead, guide, explain. That said, because I know my craft, I'm willing to help them at the beginning. And no, I don't expect them to know how to code. Just to have an overall understanding that the web is not print. Everything will not have line breaks where they want it to. It won't be glued down. But I, with my experience, will guide them through what can and can't be done. In time, they will be one of my favorite designers. They will understand, but they will send it to me to code. Because that's what I do best.
Do you create the site with HTML? Do you create it without a graphic program? Well, gawd bless you. But I'd venture to say your designs are likely boring. I think 37 signals rawks in usability. I have no bad words to say about them. But what I'm seeing from their recent blog posts in this area is just silly. And no, I've never seen a super creative design come out of that group (at least that I KNEW was from them. I'm certainly not barring it).
Personally, I welcome the challenge of the design minds. I find that if I create the site IN HTML, I do what's easiest to do with HTML/CSS. I don't challenge my abilities. I don't push the envelope.
Yes, the site is about the content — the message. People are generally looking for information on the web. I teach that all the time all over the world. But there's another side of it. There's the package that same content comes in. Is it readable and usable? Good. That's important. Does it work when the text size is large. Does it work with assistive technology. Excellent. Accessibility is even more important. But goodness knows that a majority of your readers are going to be influenced by what it looks like. Yes, even the colors. Study color psychology. Look at eye patterns. Immerse yourself in usability and interaction. Heck, watch your mom try to navigate things — I just did. It's eye opening. How it looks is important. Sorry, that's just the facts. Why do you think company's spend so much on their Superbowl commercials?
And let's not leave out how you interact with the database — how well that content dynamically appears. How much sense it makes. How usable the interface is. There are many things to think about. 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.