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Jun 19 2008

The Well-Designed Web

Recently 37Signals posted an article on why Web Designers Should Do Their Own HTML/CSS. I’ve been thinking about my reaction for a few days, and have finally come to a conclusion. I feel they’re putting way too much emphasis on the designer.

Knowing HTML/CSS Can Help Designers

Knowing the particular constraints, as well as strengths, of the medium you’re designing for is never a bad thing. It helps make a more informed designer, and a more thought-through solution. But did we expect Andy Warhol to weave his own canvas? Or Bob Dylan to sing well? Knowledge of implementation details isn’t required to create great works of art.

A Few Points

In my experience, good web designs come from good designers who know the web, regardless of their skills in a text-editor. 37Signals argues:

I’ve worked with many web designers in the past who only did abstractions and then handed over pictures to be chopped and implemented by “HTML monkeys”. It never really gelled well.

Their reasoning why this didn’t work is:

The things that got strong attention were all the things that Photoshop did well. Imagery, curvy lines, and the frame. All the around stuff, never the it stuff.

My response to this is two-fold. First, if you’re not getting good designs from your designer, than they’re probably a poor designer. Pretty pictures does not a good web design make. And that’s all there is to it. Take a bad designer, teach them HTML/CSS, and you’re still going to get bad designs.

Secondly, and much more importantly, if you are getting good designs from the designer, but they’re just not translating well to the markup and styles, then that’s the fault of your “HTML monkey,” as described. If the person doing your XHTML/CSS coding doesn’t ‘get’ your design, or your designer, than you’re going to end up with a poor product, no matter how good or bad the design is.

The Cornerstone to the Well Designed Web

So the cornerstone is the developer, not the designer. If you have a good developer who understands what makes a design good, understands user interaction, and has a sense of aesthetics, you’re going to get a good product. Yes, it’s important for your designer to have an understanding of how to build a website. But it’s much, much more important to have a developer who understands what makes good design.