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I can't design, but I can code...
Web Designer vs. Web Developer

 9:31 am on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I reckon I am a reasonable coder and I can make most designs work with strict HTML and CSS. I can also write solid PHP and knock together a decent MySQL schema. Plus i have a good grasp of SEO, Accessibility and all that other mystical stuff.

But what I can't do is "design".

I'm a programmer. A techie. A nerd. And as a breed we are not well known for our artistic flair. All my designs tend to look a bit boring or are just thinly disguised rip-offs of another page.

So, question: "Given that I am creatively-disadvantaged, could I still make a career out of developing web pages for people?"

I've done contract work in the past, but I had a third party handle the 'arty' design bit for me, while I concentrated on dealing with the clients, organising the site and the actual nitty-gritty of coding.



 9:57 am on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

The two biggest things that make clients happy with their sites are:

1. What it produces

2. How it looks

Okay, you admitted you have a problem with 2. So why not concentrate on 1 and the SEO. Outsource 2 if you really want, but personally I think the real money and business edge is with SEO.

How the database works, how well it is coded, whether you used PHP, ASP, Perl or something else really doesn't matter to the client.

Does it work (i.e. produce) and does it reflect a good image is really of primary concern to them.

An alternative choice would be to hook up with a company that needs good programming talent and will shield you from the "creative" element. That decision depends upon whether you want to "go it alone" or share the rewards of working in a team.


 10:03 am on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Given that I am creatively-disadvantaged, could I still make a career out of developing web pages for people?

I don't see why not. I think that most of us here have some skill at both the programming side and the design side of things. I guess some people lean more toward one than the other, but that's OK.

I come from an graphic design background myself, but have really got into the coding side of things because it gives me so much satisfaction - far more than I would get just making a 'pretty' page.

Maybe it's worth having a go at doing some creative stuff and see how you get on? Being a hippy type I believe that everyone has the potential for creativity, whether they realise it or not. Also, many graphic design skills can be learnt, people are not born with them necessarily. When I was a design student I used to read magazines like 'eye' (don't know if it's still about) which had some very informative articles about design theory.


Zaphod Beeblebrox

 11:04 am on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Definitely. Most of the webdesign businesses have people that can do some simple coding, but nothing elborate. When the sign a deal for a larger project, they will need outside help.

I've made a couple of bucks that way...


 11:07 am on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

But what I can't do is "design".

Well I'm the exact opposite to you, I'm a designer. So I teamed up with someone just like you and together we create beautiful stuff ;-)

Unless you absolutely want to do everything on your own, I would team up with someone else. The end result will be far better if you play to your strengths and get help with your weaknesses.

Maybe it's worth having a go at doing some creative stuff and see how you get on? Being a hippy type I believe that everyone has the potential for creativity, whether they realise it or not.

Absolutely correct. I think the problem is that ability gets "educated" out of us at a young age. Every child is creative and inventive. It's that child-like thought that needs to be tapped into to be creative.

Then, as Helen says, the theories and methods of getting ideas onto paper/screen can be learned.


Alternative Future

 11:11 am on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Snap I also sail in the same boat as GS, as for the design aspect I am no use the fact that I am color blind dont help either... ;-)

At work we have a guy that can do all the arty farty stuff with Dream weaver I then take that code and transfer it into the JSP's and place all the logic into it. It Works! Having him as my design eyes I can get on with the more nerdy stuff. My job is therefore in-between a UI designer and a developer. And there is a need for people like us...



 11:28 am on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Thanks everyone - that's good to hear.

So basically I either need to go read some design books or consider teaming up with someone who had artistic talent.

Can anyone recommend some good books (or preferably web sites) that deal with artistic design for web sites?


 11:35 am on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Can anyone recommend some good books (or preferably web sites) that deal with artistic design for web sites?

Most of the websites on this subject are either rubbish or deal mostly with code and CSS which you don't need.

I would go to paper - it's been around longer and the quality is so much higher.

There are some excellent books on design - just hit the local library. Also, look at a few books which show design by example - a lot of the best stuff I've ever done has been influenced by something I've seen in a book, or a TV commercial. Not other websites (95% of which are horrific!).


too much information

 12:56 pm on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm in the same boat and although I only do my web services for myself or trade for other's services I have found a way around being a designer and still getting the job done.

First, use templates, and use your skills to clean them up so that they will load faster and fit the needs of your code.

Second, have your client sketch out a rough "design" that they are looking for, then use CSS to create the layout and make the functional changes that are needed for usability and "common sense".

Believe it or not, I think you can actually learn how to design while working as a developer...

Now if they would just add partial opacities to CSS and curves and other shapes to <div>s I would definately be trying to make a career move!


 1:00 pm on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Can anyone recommend some good books

Not books, but topics you may want to look at.

Typography - for me. the mainstay of graphic design, for us (WW) a very rarely talked about subject? Which is confusing. We spend a great deal of time dealing with type, and typographic hierarchy with no real knowledge of the art and science behind it. There is excellent reading on the topic - University libraries with art dep's are a good resource if you have access.

Colour Theory - Why do some colours work together? Why do some not? What are the cultural associations with colours? And how do different users perceive them? Colours can superbly enhance content or remove its stickiness altogether - I am very particular myself and find that a bad colour scheme triggers my 'back' response as quickly as blink tags! But a good scheme makes the 'inspired design' folder in my favourites.

Composition - A good understanding of composition is an excellent tool for creating that wholesome 'professional' layout. Cramped and claustrophobic designs are visually hard to navigate, ones with too much white space look incomplete or lacking but why? Its composition interesting layouts use a variety of composite features and blend them so they marry one another without causing conflict.

Art History - OK this may seem a bit over the top. But to understand why a painting or sculpture or any piece of artwork is successful, is an incredible asset to have. Then you can apply it to web design, whatever facet. We are stood on the shoulders of greats, and these people have shaped us as creative individuals. If you can apply some of their logic and free thinking to your creative processes the design side will be a more soulful and successful project. Also you can apply the same ideas thoughts and rules to more than web design - Thinking about a new wallpaper for the lounge? New paint job for the garden shed? It will amaze you how influential the greats have been.

Those are my tips there are so many other areas of design to consider but for the web, but a good grounding in these areas will be big help to you. As you can tell I am a bit of a hippy too and feel the same way about the creative process and Helen and TJ everyone has the capacity for it.

Good luck




 1:15 pm on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I have been teaching and working professionally in Art , Design , Typo' , Painting , Sculpture etc for 35 years now ...and I have got to say it.....you just wrote probably the best article I ever saw or ever will see on the subject ( JEEZ..... I'm jealous! )...
I would like to place it on a site I'm building ( wont be up for 6 months or so yet ) ..With a link back to you of course .....can you sticky me


 1:26 pm on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I don't know much "coding," but I do have a solid understanding of HTML and CSS. I know how to implement scripts and do some basic modifications to them. Throw in a few miscellaneous nuggets of information about a wide range of web-related topics, and a desire and inclination to keep learning, and you've summed up my webmaster skills. Though I don't know as much technical stuff as most others here, I'm definitely of the "techie" mindset and I can't design.

However, I work with my brother, who is a very talented graphic designer. When we want to create a new design, he normally starts out making a mock-up in PhotoShop. I point out little "tweaks" and things as we go along, that will help me do a neat, lean job in the markup and styling.

When we started this about a year ago, he came strictly from a print-design mindeset. The result was that I wound up having to use way too many graphics, table designs, image maps, and other such undesirables.

However, over the course of time, he came to understand what I'm able to do and what kinds of design techniques are available to me without resorting to the above-named methods. Now, when we're designing a new website, he's able to throw together a design that does a fantastic job of combining his artistic flair with my technical abilities, without sacrificing one way or the other. In fact he's putting together a really slick design right now that it looks like I'll be able to bring in the page for about 4-6kb of HTML, maybe 2kb of CSS, and about 10kb images, using CSS for layout and achieving an extremely high text-to-code ratio. Not bad for a page that looks like it was designed for print, but is fluid for the web and will work on all web-enabled devices!

All this to say, it seems to work well for those of us who aren't too skilled in design, to work with a professional designer who can come up with the creative ideas. The caution is that it does take a learning curve on the part of the designer, to learn what kinds of designs he can come up with that are suitable for the web (most of them start by wanting a webpage to look like a magazine page). It also requires the webmaster to know how to describe to the designer why such-and-such a design won't work, but this-and-that will, etc.


 1:33 pm on Mar 12, 2004 (gmt 0)


I'm in the same boat. A book that has helped me is The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams no, not that Robin Williams. It's a very easy read.


 12:19 am on Mar 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm more or less in the same boat.
I remember my very first days of web design in April 1997 when I looked at Paint Shop Pro and gulped and thought: "I'm going to have to make my own graphics. How the hell am I going to do that?"

My first graphics were large words in pale gray with a dark blue line underneath them. (ie. talentless and awful!)

I think since then, I've learned how to use PSP fairly proficiently, learned about colour theory, use of whitespace, proportionate elements, screen positioning etc. in the same way that (on the coding side) I've picked up CSS, HTML, standards, javascript etc. I still don't use PhotoShop and I've never used a WYSIWYG web page creator in my life... because the page layouts would be gruesome.

The Robin Williams book mentioned above is a good resource, as is Dmitry's design studio on the web (I forget the URL).

I would go for it, absolutely. As a coder with a grip on functionality, usability, cross-platform compatibility and a little to learn about graphic design, you're in a far more enviable position than a DTP graphic designer who wouldn't know what HTML stood for if it danced on his head singing: "I'm a markup language and I use hypertext, geddit?"


 12:58 am on Mar 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think one key element is to browse the web and look at sites to see what's out there. In effect develop a critical eye. Judge what's good, what's bad, and why. Very often the reason why a site is designed in a particular way has little to do with artistic creativity, but is down to practicalities.

Some of the most effective sites (like that of a major book seller) have little discernable design at all, but they present the information the user wants, and never confuse anyone. The design doesn't get in the way.

Others, of course, are all about design, trying to project an image for a corporate name. And that often comes down to fashion. A few years ago it was frames and javascript dropdowns which set the limits of the design. Now it's the need to have a left-side nav bar.

And of course what may seem an elegant design to someone from one cultural background, can look awful to someone from a different one. For example to a Westerner a Chinese website can look completely over the top. Busy, busy, busy, with not a square centimeter of empty space.


 4:51 am on Mar 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I am decent at both, but if you need to improve your design, then just do a little bit more each time and you will notice that you are improving.

Sometimes I have writer's block on the design part and that is ok. Most of use do, but I usually come back to it with fresh ideas.

When you code and the program works, that is it. It works. There are no gray areas and no opinions to get. You know it works. But designing? Well, that can be a gray area and some times I get into ruts. Perfectly normal to me.

Zaphod Beeblebrox

 12:07 pm on Mar 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Just keep in mind that if you're not creative, you're not creative. Don't try and force it.

Simply use the best of both worlds and have someone else do the stuff that you can't do yourself.

It's better to pay someone for a 100% good design than create a 85% good design yourself.


 1:04 pm on Mar 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I want to add it's exactly this point which makes web design such an appealing. It's about the only field I can think of which requires an integrated application of art, science, computational logic and literary expression. How renaissance.


 1:51 am on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

Odyssey: late 50's to early 80's, I created. I painted, I wove, I knitted, I dyed fabric and wool, I made miniature furniture from scratch for miniature houses, I wrote - songs, stories, books, I was a "designer" of interiors for expensive homes.... I LIVED "create it and it will be good". Much of what I created was NOT initially good, but as I lived in various media, it (and I) got better.

In 1984 I discovered computers. First I transferred hundreds of thousands of words into WordPerfect (the DOS version); while doing this, I found DOS batch files and WordPerfect macros - simple programming. And that caused me to wonder, "what if?" and "what ELSE can I do with this?" So I added learning simple programming to my other stuff - including computer RPGs, which are still a major escape for me....

In the years since, I've managed to keep hold of creativity while implementing the "other brain" - I'm not a programmer by any means (the major languages are ALL Greek to me!), but I can still write a more-than-decent batch file, WP or AS400 macro, and have branched out into CSS, html, php, etc.

I think you CAN do it all. It's a matter of reframing your attitudes: if you think you CAN'T design, you won't be able to. I never once approached (nor do I to this day) something new on the scene with the attitude that I don't know how to do it, so I CANNOT do it.

A friend of mine took some classes in retraining the mind to access both right and left brain schema. She's doing very well now with design (was her problem too), as well as programming (and SHE does know major languages - made a TON of money when "antique languages" became a big hook about Y2K....)

Zaphod Beeblebrox

 11:33 am on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

vkaryl, I must heftily disagree with you... :o)

Believe me, when I try to design something, or create something new on paper or whatever medium, it will look too amatueristic for words. I simply don't have a creative mind.


 11:42 am on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

I work with a design company. As you'd expect designers also tend to make better sales people than geeks, so there's an added bonus.


 1:15 pm on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

Zaphod...you probably just weren't taught well ..

Most art teachers in school upto age eleven have no talent at all as its not considered important as a subject ..

So only those of us who are hyper talented don't get put off ....

You can still do it reasonablly well tho ..

Just need to change where you're coming from..
Same thing with maths ....

I'm always amazed at how many people think algebra is complex based purely on having been badly taught when they were 10 years old .....

my 2c


 3:22 pm on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

I am in the opposite situation. I can design, but I can't code. heh


 4:22 pm on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

While it is true that you can learn and improve your skills it is also true that everyone has a limit.

If 5 people were given the same education in design you would still get 5 levels of varying quality. Education can only take you so far, raw skill will take you all the way.

Do you really think that michangelo or van goth got there because they were taught well? Or if some other people had the same experience they would be just as good?

You are either born with it or not - accept what you can do and improve that and use someone else for the rest


 4:58 pm on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm in the fortunate position of being both a qualified designer and programmer with experience... now if only I can get my head around SEO... ;)


 5:32 pm on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

Do you really think that michangelo or van goth got there because they were taught well?

"michangelo" and "van goth"? I have no idea who those people are... :)

Perhaps you meant Michelangelo Buonarroti (who was taught by Ghirlandaio and then Bertoldo di Giovanni) and Vincent Van Gogh (who began by copying Millet and was helped by Pissarro)?

Clearly "education can only take you so far.."

To be serious though, there seems to be an interesting range of responses to this question. Personally I feel that everyone has some degree of talent. Some have more than others and some are "well nurtured".

However I'm not looking to paint the Cistine Chapel, I'd just like to be able to put a website together that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is technically competent.

To this end I think a bit of education can definitely help, so I'm going to dig out some of the references mentioned above and get to work 'improving' myself - that Robin Williams book sounds particularly useful to me.


 6:15 pm on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

grahamstewart: I love Robin Williams work. I have several of her books.

I'd be interested in knowing what other books or sites you run across that you find useful.


 7:00 pm on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

"It's about the only field I can think of which requires an integrated application of art, science, computational logic and literary expression."

Not only that, you can make your website as simple/complex as you like, AND you can do it yourself - unlike coding something enormous like an OS that would require many layers of complexity and many heads to inplement


 1:52 am on Mar 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

vkaryl, I must heftily disagree with you... :o)
Believe me, when I try to design something, or create something new on paper or whatever medium, it will look too amatueristic for words. I simply don't have a creative mind.

*laughing* So you're saying that because I started out on the creative side, anything I've learned about the programming side must therefore be amateurish?

I think each person should do hisser best to enable BOTH sides of hisser nature. NO ONE should believe that heesh cannot create simply because heesh is primarily so far in hisser life a "programmer" (insert "mathematician" or "scientist" or "brain surgeon" or whatever....)

In fact, "amateurish" is as much in the eye of the beholder as is anything else. I've been to a multitude of sites purportedly created by "designers" which simply suck rocks through a straw (to quote a Texan friend of mine). And I've been to no doubt an equal number of sites whose implementor is a code-jock instead of an artist, and which exemplify "usable AND attractive".

USABLE is the point. ATTRACTIVE is gravy.

[This is a personal opinion ONLY; your opinion may and quite probably WILL vary.]

Zaphod Beeblebrox

 10:48 am on Mar 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

So you're saying that because I started out on the creative side, anything I've learned about the programming side must therefore be amateurish?

Not at all, if you're lucky enough to be talented in both fields...

I just think of a guy I was in highschool with, he simply couldn't pronounce english properly to save his life (I'm dutch, BTW). He was, on the other hand, extremely talented in science and math.

Some people simply have it, some people don't.

When it comes to solving problems I can be extremely creative, when it comes to designing a nice logo, I suck *** big time.

This 37 message thread spans 2 pages: 37 ( [1] 2 > >
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