Visual Designer : A Developer’s BFF

Developers are often cast into a group and stereotyped as "visual design challenged”.  The fact is, a true Visual Designer picks colors and creates designs for applications that make my attempts look like grade school arts and crafts project.  But that doesn’t mean developer’s don’t care about design.  Actually, I think most developers put a tremendous effort into trying to make their applications look good.  It’s just that the results aren’t always award winning..

I used to get insulted when people would mention that developers weren’t good at styling applications.  From the first day I started coding, I was the only one working on my applications.  The application was my creation, and I was responsible for every aspect of it, including the design.  By hearing generalized statements about how developers are bad at visual design, it was like telling me that I don’t have the entire skills I need to build a successful application. 

Luckily, I’ve grown up a little since then.  While I still don’t like hearing I’m not good at something, I can certainly respect that there are professionals in the visual design world who can do a much better job of making my applications look good.  I can spend 2 years writing the most beautiful code, but at the end of the day, the user only sees the User Interface.  UX is perhaps the most important aspect of an application, because it encompasses all aspects of the application.  If the code was buggy, the UX will be poor.  But more importantly, if the code was perfect and the UI design was not, the UX will be sub-par.  Want proof of just how important the UI/UX is?  Take a look at Facebook vs. MySpace. 

MySpace was the clear favorite two years ago, so what happened?  The MySpace page was ugly by default, and users could do anything they wanted to make it even uglier.  Sure, customizing your page sounds like a good idea, until you realize that you’re not that good at it.  Facebook took a different approach – a fixed  UI that looked good out of the box.  Facebook users didn’t need to spend time making their page look good, and more importantly, you didn’t have to look at hundreds of other bad looking sites.  Take another example, the iPhone.  Apple cares about it’s image so much, that all iPhone applications need to follow design guidelines, and must be approved before they can be made available to iPhone customers.  Still not sold on the importance of UI?  Remember geocities?  How could you not.  An entire domain of horrendous designs.  The negative experience associated with those bad designs is something that sticks with you.  I don’t remember if I ever found anything functional on geocities, I’m sure I did.  But that’s not what I remember.  I remember the horrible color choices, images with choppy edges (that of course weren’t transparent), and JavaScript errors. 

There’s a point in here somewhere.  Oh yeah – designers are a developers best friend.  Designers make developers look better.  After I spent 2 years on a project, of course I want people to think it’s the coolest thing they ever saw.  But my late nights of coding are essentially going to be judged on how good the application looks, not how well I wrote the code.  I remember the days of getting beta feedback like, “It’s not colorful enough, can you add some color to it?”  I would go back to my desk, bummed that no one shared the same excitement as I did that the project was complete.  But in actuality, it wasn’t complete.  It was functional, but that doesn’t make an application “done”.   So, I’d go back to my desk and throw a few different colors around the application (usually different shades of blue) and try again.   I spent weeks just experimenting with different colors to see if I could produce something a *slightly* more visually appealing.  Weeks that I could have spent on my next project.  I certainly don’t miss those days.  Today, visual designers take the code that I wrote, and bring it to life, and they do it in far less time than I ever could have, with far better results.  They might hand me back a wireframe or a mock-up that I need to convert to code, or if I’m lucky, they’re just modifying the XAML or CSS directly for me.  And when I hear comments about how cool an application is, I know that without my code, that would have been nothing more than a static image.  I bring designs to life, designers bring my code to life.  It’s amazing that I ever did both the design and development.  And it’s even more amazing that I resisted change at first. 


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