A website project can be a lesson in conflict and compromise. A delicate dance between the designer and the developer. Their goals are the same – to please the client and the audience. Yet they often approach these goals from very different mindsets, which can easily result in a collision.
Graphic designers tend to focus on aesthetics. Balance. Elegant typography. Beautiful color palettes. Dynamic images. Developers, on the other hand, tend to think about function, usability and concise code that behaves and does its job. Both tend to be somewhat possessive of their work.
Then, of course, there are personalities that can get in the way. Being on a website team can be a rather intimate experience. You spend a lot of time together between meetings, emails, IMs and phone calls. It helps to actually like the person on the receiving end of your communications.
One of the bigger issues are file formats. Lots of designers, particularly those who deal mostly in print, think nothing of sending over a bloated Photoshop file with hundreds of layers that carry highly descriptive names such as “Layer 42.” This can have the developer cranking up Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to my nightmare,” in short order.
PhotoshopEtiquette.com is an excellent resource to get up to speed about how to set up files, folders and other design elements so your developer will love you, or at least not want to claw your eyes out.
A designer can get more than a bit peeved when their delightful design doesn’t render correctly in some browsers. This is usually due to the browser, not the developer. But, sometimes it can be due to the developer who felt the need to tinker, usually because they felt tinkering would result in better function.
Before the advent of web fonts, such as Typekit and Google’s Web Fonts, fonts were a common bone of contention. Either I didn’t have the font, my copy was from a different foundry and slightly different, the copy was all rasterized and, therefore, uneditable and a myriad of other woes. So, it was a hunt for the right font, which takes time. When a small text edit or revision came up (and they always do) something that would have taken me a couple of minutes turned into a day. I’d need to get with the designer, who always seemed to be in a meeting with another client, wait for them to get back on our client’s site, have them make the change and send the native file back to me, where I’d incorporate it into the slicing file. Yikes!
Then, of course, you have the designer who fancies his or her self to be a developer and the developer who fancies his or her self to be a designer. I hear there have been wars fought over this. The conversation seems to always, and rather quickly I might add, erode into something along the lines of “Please shut up and let me do my job.” This does not usually make for a quality method to build a trusting and lasting relationship.
Next up is the famous communication chasm. I’d call it a gap, but it’s usually wider and significantly deeper. In a nutshell, the party of the first part and the party of the second part refuse to give up their trade jargon. In this scenario, the parties face each other, with glazed looks, and say something such as, “huh?” Generally, the replies also include more, rather select, four letter words.
In the immortal words of Rodney King, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”
Mutual respect is at the top of the list. Because, when we start with that, an amazing event starts to happen. We start to listen. We start to communicate. We start to see that, in the off chance that we don’t know everything, the other person might just have something of value to say and add.
When we get out of our own way, we start to see that the other person – whether it’s the designer or the developer – are a part of the audience. Does the site function and usability work for the designer? Does it load quickly? Does the design work for the developer? Does it make sense? Are they captivated and motivated to do something (contact the company, move along a path, buy something, etc.)?
This is the place where new ideas happen. Feedback from someone outside your profession can bring new and important thoughts to the site. They see and do things we wouldn’t think of … because we’re too close to things. This is the onset of true, useful and valuable collaboration. That place where we’re, authentically, working together to make something. And it all starts with respect.