Designer, Coder: Separate roles or one?

~ 29 February 2008 ~

Update: By “Coder” I mean front-end code.

Oblige me, if you will, and allow me to ask you a few questions. It’s related to the Extensible CSS series but also to another topic I’m dealing with.

1) How is your current role defined: Designer, Coder, or both? Freelancer or part of a team?

2) Do you agree with the statement I’ve made on occasion, that those who can code as well as they design will always have an edge over those who do only one? (See #3.) Or do you believe it’s better for designers and coders to specialize in one role?

3) Is it more “productive” — a team can take on more projects, get projects done faster, or however you define productive — to have a single team of designers/coders or one team of each? In which scenario are the resulting user experiences produced “better” (however you define better)?

Feel free to briefly answer any or all of the above questions.



Veer Veer: Visual Elements for Creatives.
Stock photography, type, and killer tees. Genuinely recommended by Authentic Boredom.

1   Blair ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both.

2) I think those who do only one have the potential to produce more elegant, effective solutions—specialization, just as in nature, has certain benefits. That being said, those who can do both have an advantage in that they don’t have to “play telephone” when it comes to reconciling their design with someone else’s code, or vice versa. In other words, by removing the potential communication gap between designer and coder, there’s less likely to be a disjunct between vision and implementation. That and, you know, extreme specialization can mean a sudden change in climate spells your demise.

3) I don’t know—I’ve only ever worked as the sole designer/developer in both corporate and freelance environments. So I suppose that colors my previous answers just a bit as well. :)

2   alessandro chinazzo ~ 29 February 2008

Hi there!

1 - I’m a xhtml/css coder, freelancing
2 - I totally agree. css coding is strictly related to design IMO. I often get .psd files which can’t be coded to look like they should
3 - defenitely the latter


3   Sam Brown ~ 29 February 2008

I’m a Freelancer so I tend to both on most occasions, I believe those that specialise-in-both will ultimately rule the roost, and definitely a team of both designers & coders, there is great disparity in separate teams.

4   Maxime ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both, leader of a team
2. Those who can code as well as they design will always have an edge over those who do only one, a real one!
3. A single team of designers/coders of course

5   Ben ~ 29 February 2008

1) Designer

2) I think it is better if you specialize with the caveat that it is even better if you have familiarity with other specialties. What I mean is that although you may not code specifically, you have enough familiarity with the process that your designs reflect an appreciation and knowledge of that side of the process.

3) It is better, in my anecdotal experience, to have a combined designer and developer web team (one team, many specialties, lots of general knowledge). Regardless of how it’s set up though, you need to establish a good communication and collaboration process.

6   greg.newman ~ 29 February 2008

I’m interested to see the results of this survey myself.

1. Both
2. I have been told by many many clients that I am more advantageous because I do both. They say they appreciate the fact that I can speak code in layman’s terms and at the same time switch to design mode.
3. I think small is the best way whether that means a team of left/right brained workers or not. I think it can be done both ways.

7   Marcelo Wolfgang ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both
2) Well sometimes I go for a long time only designing, and coding in actionscript, and when I come back to html and css I feel a little ‘out of place’ and regain my html+css abilities take a while, which is not good. But I never a met a coder who could code my designs like me, maybe because when I start coding I’m better prepared to what I want to happen within the code
3) Working in a team can help with design and/or code ideas and your partner can show you new stuff that maybe sometimes your 150 feeds in gReader don’t get :)

8   kbrandon ~ 29 February 2008

1) Currently I am a balance between Designer and Coder, and I am not part of a team.

2) As a freelancer agree with the statement “that those who can code as well as they design will always have an edge over those who do only one” However I think that when a team is involved being a specialist in one role allows the team to advance with focused resources that are able to go deep into one area.

3) I think it is more “productive” to have a team of designers and a team of coders. My preface it that there needs to be good flow of communication between the two in regards to how they can both sharpen each other.

9   David Barrett ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both.

2) I’m not sure… but I have noticed that those designers who can’t code XHTML and CSS also tend to not understand user interaction very well. That doesn’t apply to everyone obviously, but it happens often enough to be common.

3) I’m not sure. I do know that, unless your project management and work queue is pretty tight, if your designers can’t code and your coders can’t design, one or the other will be idle at some point.

10   Leonardo ~ 29 February 2008

1- Both; team.
2- Agree.

11   Jonathan Longnecker ~ 29 February 2008

1. I am a designer/coder

2. I think a designer defintely has an edge if they can code. Their design is going to keep in mind what they can and can’t do on the web from the get go. And if they’re good, their attention to detail will benefit them in both areas.

3. I have tried sending my designs off to a”Slice and Dice” 3 day CSS shop and was pretty disappointed with the results. Not that the code was bad, but they weren’t familar enough with the details of the design to get it right. I had to redo a lot of it myself. If we’re just talking XHTML/CSS coding, I think a single person is best for the project.

12   Flavia ~ 29 February 2008

First of all, my compliments for the really interesting information you convey here.
My answers:
1) I’m currently a coder with a say on UI guidelines, in the past I’ve been both designer and coder (never been designer-only, though).
2) I’m sure if a designer knows at least the basic principles of code and viceversa, (s)he has a wider view of what (and how) can be accomplished and what could instead pose problems.
3) Keeping in mind number 2), I’d say it depends on the project and on the resources. In my current situation, we have a team of coders and a team of designers working on each project, this “separation” seems quite effective for us.

Have a nice day!

13   Nate Klaiber ~ 29 February 2008

1) I am a programmer who also does markup, but I let the designer handle the fine details.

2) I think it is important to know both roles, honestly. As a programmer, I plan for much of the interaction that takes place in an application. Coordinating those efforts with the designer helps them understand the hooks used in different areas (for unobtrusive JS interactions, etc). I don’t think specialization in this area is really necessary.

3) I work with a small team, and sometimes our positions overlap. It is good to understand the different parts. I work with the designer as he builds the interface, giving feedback on different items. As a programmer it is also good to have a good knowledge of HTML, so I can understand the build out process and plan my hooks accordingly. Then, as a systems administrator on our team - he has to understand how/where everything plugs in as he plans for server optimizations like caching. So, while we have 3 separate positions - it is good to have a knowledge of each.

14   Beau West ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both, though I lean towards being a “coder”. I am part of the company’s development team, but am the only one working on any web projects.

2) People who can code and design definitely have an edge, though it’s not always a good thing to be a one-stop shop. Creativity happens a lot more between multiple people. Both designers and coders should at least have a grasp of what the others’ job entails.

3) One team, consisting of designers and coders, will have much better communication then if they’re separated. That communication is key to an excellent product.

15   Tim Van Damme ~ 29 February 2008

  1. Designer although I find it a strange name because 25% of the time I’m working in Photoshop, and the other 75% I’m writing HTML and CSS.
  2. Specialized is better but make sure you have other skills. That’s the reason I learned how to use TextPattern.
  3. Single teams are better because they need to know each other in order to work together.

16   Rob ~ 29 February 2008

I tend to feel I am a bit both. I am developer, both backend and frontend and I dabble a bit in the designer’s arena.

I work as part of teams and also do a bit of freelancing on the side.

I have experienced that working in a team with designers who know about coding and coders who know about designing is very productive.

17   Ryan ~ 29 February 2008

I am a freelance designer. I code css and xhtml and have a partner who does the rest of the coding. While it is beneficial to know how to code with such a small company, I have always found that it limits my creativity. When I went to school for web design I knew nothing about code and came up with some fantastic mockups. Now, I look at my design with a production point of view and wonder as I sketch whether “that idea will work with the code”. Before I didn’t care, and the developer always managed to solve the problem.

18   Jeff L ~ 29 February 2008

I think you need to clarify what you mean by designer. At my agency, we have two types - user experience designers (wireframes etc) and visual designers (graphic artists).

We also have front end webdev folks, and backend software engineering folks. There’s isn’t much overlap.

Now, we certainly have some visual designers than can code, some coders with usability experience, graphic artists who can pretty things up but shouldn’t really be ‘designing’ anything, etc etc, but there is not much room in our daily routine to do a lot of work outside of your major specialty.

1) Personally, I’m a front end coder (xhtml, css, javascript)

2) Yes - I think designers who can code have a better idea of how the designs will need to be implemented and can do more to either keep the design easy to implement (for tight budgets) or push the envelope where appropriate.

3) I have no idea….

19   Nick Watts ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both. Although I’m a better coder than designer.

2) I work a lot with design agencies who don’t have an in-house “web guy”. And I do often wish their designers were a bit more web-savvy. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had tell designers that, no, you can’t use that obscure font for body text.

3) I’ve never worked in a development team although I have been asked to make updates to a site that were clearly produced in a team environment. This wasn’t a great experience for me, as the front end mark up (CSS /xHTML) was inconsistent from page to page, and the back-end (PHP) was way more modular than it really needed to be. Cue wading through very deeply nested includes to make any sense of the code. Not much fun, bit I think I was unlucky.

20   Marc ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both, Freelancer
2) Not an economic edge, but definitely a market edge or a “moral” edge (lol). So far my CSS skill has just pulled me into a lot of situations where I spend a large amount time on CSS rather than other things like what a 404 error page should say. That sounds bitter.
3) Separate teams tend to get things done faster in my experience; a single team will bounce excuses around and sort of insulate itself from outside pressures. On the other hand, with separate teams you’ve got to be careful that somebody is treating the client right, and that developers are working for the client and not for a sense of team competition, etc.

21   marcus ~ 29 February 2008

1. Mostly coder with a bit of design.

2. I do agree that those who can do both will have an edge over those who can do only one. However, it takes a well rounded person to be able to do both design and coding well. Each task relies on a different part of the brain, and requires a different way of thinking to tackle each problem. Unfortunately, most people buy into the myth that they’re either left brained or right brained and don’t make the effort to develop skills that aren’t controlled by the dominant hemisphere of their brain.

3.I can see advantages and disadvantages in both approaches. If you want the best talent sometimes you will have to work with designers who have no interest in the technology on the back end, as well as coders who are looking at optimizing code and don’t care so much for presentation.

22   David ~ 29 February 2008

1) Freelance, both.

2) People have different skill sets. Because design and development can be very different beasts, there will always be a separation. That said, I think that those who know how to tackle both make good team leaders and managers because they can bridge the gap and speak both languages. That said…

3) It is definitely better to have one team of designers/coders. I have worked in several positions in a team on either side of the line and I can say from experience that when there are two separate teams things can get ugly fast. Unless there is supper tight communication and a good project manager, both sides can start to get annoyed with the each other. This feuding gets worse the less each team knows about the other discipline.

23   Ty Hatch ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both

2. Agree. I think that as a designer, knowing how to code helps inform your design and can improve the end results. We can’t all be Inman.

3. Depends on the scale of the project. If it’s small, one could argue that having a designer/coder is best, and on a larger scale project having specialists would be best. But having designers who can carry on intelligent conversations with their coders will nearly always result in a better end product.

I feel prompted to add in a #4: Communication skills. It’s very helpful to have a well-rounded set of skills, but if your communication skills lag behind your design or code skills, then there will probably be problems. It’s all about how you’re able to communicate to your teammates and clients/partners that has the biggest impact on how well a project turns out.

24   Wolf ~ 29 February 2008

Define coding?

1) My role is defined as designer.

2) I believe you need specialization to do reasonably well. The coders that say they can design or vice versa often excel in one field while severely lacking in the other. There are only a few silver birds out there who can do everything, but if you look closely, their skills will always lean to one side or the other.

It’s also rare to find someone who is both interested in hacking up the queries - and - bothering to deal with the typographic details of a website.

In the beginners’ guide you link it becomes clears we are talking of coding as writing XHTML/CSS. If you can’t write XHTML/CSS you are not a web designer, and you will have severe trouble to keep up with your peers who can. I would go as far as to say you cannot design for the web without an intimate knowledge of HTML and CSS.

3) I work fastest when I slice up my own designs. Slicing other people’s designs is always slower. It is impossible to put every little detail in the mockup, especially when dealing with specific interaction design issues.

* A note: we do not code, we write markup.

25   Eric DeLabar ~ 29 February 2008

  1. Both.
  2. Being able to do both accelerated my path up the “corporate” ladder because it gave me a means to communicate effectively and act as a translator between the design and coding factions of the company, as well as the customers, who tend to speak more “design” (loosely defined) than code.
  3. When possible, a small team of a designer, a coder, and somebody that can do both produces better results, but more often than not, we tend to have a team more heavily weighted to the coding side which tends to create a not-so-user-friendly (but usually very elegant) end result.

26   David Paul Ellenwood ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both
2) A knowledge of both is almost necessary to be good at one or the other. There is often a give-and-take between the layout comp and the actual mark-up. Without an understanding of both design and mark-up, one or the other is going to suffer.
3) As for the team I work with, the designer also does the mark-up, creating static pages that a separate developer then adds the proper server-side code to. This tends to work quite well because it eliminates some of the vagarities between what the designer wants and what the developer understands.

27   Chad Crowell ~ 29 February 2008

1. I am both, and a freelancer running my own business. The most interesting growth I’ve made in the last year while freelancing was the realization that I am not a good graphic designer (I knew this already-just had to accept it) and started to outsource layout and graphic design to colleagues.
2. I would say there is an edge for a designer who can code, AND for a coder who can design, but, with respect to the above, knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you deliver a better product to the client by bringing in others who can de certain parts of the job better. I was always the “1 man web show” at companies I worked for- there was no choice- but once I had the ability (need?) to work most efficiently, I quickly found where I could have others do things better and faster.
3. I think every project I’ve delivered has come off faster and better since dividing up the design and coding. The fact that I understand design and that the designers I work with understand building sites (but maybe don’t like to) helps us know where to draw lines and ask for help.

Great topic Cameron I really like people’s answers, especially since this has impacted my workflow tremendously this year.

28   Jan Rezac ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both. I’m also a freelancer and a part of the team.

2. I know some very good web designers who can’t code.. so it needn’t be true.

3. I think single team of both - designers can often look on coders work and make sure it’s OK.

29   Matthew Pennell ~ 29 February 2008

1. My job title says Designer, but I’m almost entirely occupied with HTML/CSS/JavaScript work in my day job. Freelancing, I’ll call myself a developer - HMTL, CSS, JavaScript, PHP. I tend to consider myself a coder, with a finely-tuned design sense that he can’t translate into actual skills. ;)

2. I’d agree that combining the two is beneficial, but only if you’re great at both. Also it depends on what you mean by code - Shaun Inman is a great back-end coder as well as designer; but there are some fantastic designers and front-end coders who know nothing about server-side development or database design.

3. We work in one team of designers, front-end coders and Java developers, and I think it works pretty well.

30   Blaz ~ 29 February 2008

1. I’m both. I work as client side developer in my company (UX, templating, CSS, JS). Also do some design. Beside the work at my company I also do some work on my own.

2. Programming is a plus. But I realized I just can’t keep an edge on programming so I oriented myself more on the client side. For me UX and design if far more important than programming backend features because directly affects users.

3. It all depends on the projects. Here in my current company we only work on one project which involves a lot of partner websites.


31   Marty Stake ~ 29 February 2008

1. Coder. And part of a team of developers who are passed off web designs from a design team.

2. I don’t think the most important thing here is a developer specializing in design — it’s specializing in user interface and information architecture. Design can glossy-coat those other two things. I believe you can completely hone yourself in and become a better coder if you focus on UI/IA and code rather than lump design in there too.

3. Can’t answer for sure - I’ve only worked as a developer with an accompanying design team. I do know that I have to apply my knowledge of UI/IA to things that don’t get totally fleshed out in design and passed off to us developers in order to really “make it work”.

As coders we realize that designs are pictures, and we need to breathe life into the PSDs we get. We have to imagine all the scenarios in which the design can be taken - something designers rarely can forsee unless they have a development background. So..

I think the best combination would be a dev team that gets designs from a “web design” team that have *some* development chops. This is the only way to ensure they produce designs that actually will work they way they envisioned.

32   Jarad Johnson ~ 29 February 2008

To preface my response, I have been asking this question for months in my head. It seems, from my observations, that those who are willing to accept their strengths over their desire to operate without disruption will in the end come away with a more professional well rounded product.

1. Designer (limited code.) I work as a part of a 4 designer team, with a separate 2 man development team, at Departika.

2. I think this question is often asked in a much to general fashion. I do believe that there are financial advantages to knowing both, as you wouldn’t have to farm out work. However, when you separate the two tasks and let those devoted to each respectfully handle their sides, the product is much more visually pleasing and functions beautifully.

That being said, you have to take into account the knowledge and expertise of the designer. If the designer knows little to nothing about front end code, and mainly works with print, you still won’t accomplish the advantage mentioned above. Only when the designer has at least limited experience with CSS/HTML will they be able to design in a way that is both beautiful and functional. Also, the knowledge of online grid systems, and other useful web design tools add to this advantage.

3. I work with a small group of designers/developers in a close office environment. Although I see the advantages or knowing both, it seems those who know and accomplish both are either excellent at what they do or awful at what they do. When you have a varied office that isn’t afraid to admit others might be better in certain areas, you will end with a fantastic product.

33   tGman ~ 29 February 2008

I’m a Designer.
Define coder?
I do html/css and toss in some jQuery goodies.
Now that I’ve stepped into the realm of validating my code, I’ld like to tout that as being a coder, but it would highlight the flaws in other works designed by the company.
We each work on our own projects.
A programmer project for example may get the design treatment of the programmer, and not truly be a team effort. It will be more of an application with a UI rather than a designed look.

34   Ryan Burrell ~ 29 February 2008

1) My title is “Content & Design Specialist” but I deal with a lot of design regarding not just flat XHTML/CSS but working with dynamic solutions like Symfony and .NET.

2) I definitely agree that being able to use both portions of your brain, for design and development, will give anyone an edge over others who don’t have that capability.

3) In an ideal world, every development group would be a “dream team” of individuals who have both excellent design and aesthetic skills as well as the ability to development complex programmatic solutions. However, the reality is (for myself included) that rare are the individuals who possess such qualities. Out of necessity, organizing a development group into frontend, backend, etc. seems the way to go.

35   Justin D ~ 29 February 2008

  1. I do both (often more coding) and I work on a team.
  2. Yes, I do believe that those who can code as well as they design will always have an edge over those who do only one.
  3. A single team is better.

36   David Guillory ~ 29 February 2008

  1. Both, though only the design part is in my title.
  2. I think you’re at a distinct advantage if you can do both, but it’s important to know which you’re better at.
  3. Our studio generally operates as a team of designers who can code. HTML/CSS is a baseline, and then there are different proficiencies in PHP, actionscript and javascript development. When needed, we build the team to include dedicated programmers who are comfortable working with designers, and leverage designers in the studio who don’t code, but are good with user interfaces. It just depends on the scale and timing of the job, but it’s important that everyone on the team has an appreciation for – and basic understanding of – the roles that they don’t specialize in.

37   Adam Salsman ~ 29 February 2008

  1. Coder
  2. I do believe that those who can code and design will have an edge, but I feel it’s better to separate those roles out. My many experiences with designer tell me that they can (though not always will) spend large quantities of time on the minutiae of a design without committing to the whole of the design first.
  3. Breaking these roles out can and does lead to a more productive system — as long as the designers stick to designing and the coders stick to coding. When either one starts crossing into each others’ territories, turf wars can explode and suddenly you’re stuck in a situation trying to explain — for the third time — why we don’t use tables except for tabular data.

38   Luke Larsen ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both and I work on a team.
2. Yes I think that someone who can code as well as design will have the upper edge on one that can only do both. By knowing how to code it helps the design. This also goes the other way.
3. A single team is the way to go.

39   Shaun Inman ~ 29 February 2008

I don’t think you need to be a design superstar and a development rockstar to get the upperhand. Just having a basic understanding of the other discipline can help inform your design or production decisions and streamline the collaborative process.

Eg. A designer with a basic understanding of how elements are nested and CSS capabilities can anticipate and avoid problems that might arise from certain otherwise arbitrary design decisions.

Eg. A developer with an understanding of basic design principles (especially whitespace and typography) is able reproduce with higher fidelity a design they’ve been handed without fearing the “wrath of a nit-picky designer.”

40   meekish ~ 29 February 2008

I am a back-end (Ruby) and front-end (XHTML, CSS, JavaScript, ActionScript) programmer/designer freelancer.

I do think it gives me an advantage in designing a web site to know the restraints of the technologies I’ll be using to implement it; but it’s a double-edged sword. Knowing the limitations of CSS favors designing more “safely”. I’ve received mock-ups from designers that challenged me to stretch the CSS paradigm a bit; something I probably wouldn’t have done were the design my own.

Regarding usability, I find it challenging not to consider the back-end implementation when crafting the user experience. So while I’d say it’s certainly possible to both program and design and do exceedingly well, it requires an extra helping of discipline.

41   Brian Artka ~ 29 February 2008

1) both and both

2) I think that this depends on the situation. As a part of the team, specializing will most likely be better, because you have a strength and the other members will have their strengths. As a freelancer, you need a good mix of both. In both cases, having a good understanding of both design issues AND code is a necessity. In other words, yes, the person who knows both well will be a better choice, they can communicate in two different languages. This is never a bad thing.

3) This depends on the size of the project. If its a smaller static site, there is no need for a team; lock me in a room for a few days and I’ll get it all done: from design to code.

If its a large project, dealing with millions of users on an extranet, a team is by far the best choice. One person cant handle the client, the front end, the app coding and the management of the project all by themselves.

42   Greg Benedict ~ 29 February 2008

As an owner of a small web company, we find it essential for a designer to understand the basics of development, and for a developer to be able to continue the original flow and intent of the design. They are known as sweepers or generalists. In fact, we’re looking right now!

Where that begins to change is on larger projects. You can get more specialized due to the amount of work. However, the basic understanding of the other person’s role is still incredibly helpful for a coherent end to end solution.

Having said that, I have yet to see someone who is great at both. The thought processes are just too different (left vs right brain). I myself have been a sweeper for 10+ years, doing design, development and computer support. I’m much better at development than design, but my understanding of design, type, IA, etc has gotten my to where I am.

Bring on the sweepers! We need you!

43   Matt Balara ~ 29 February 2008

1) Designer. At work I’m an Art Director, and in our company designers push pixels, and developers push code. But I enjoy both sides, and wish I had more time for code.

2) I agree with you. Definitely.

3) I’m with Brian, it *is* about size. I reckon smaller runs better with a few good generalists, but big runs better with a few good generalists backed up by many good specialists.

44   Kyle Meyer ~ 29 February 2008

1) Design, CSS/HTML, and Javascript
2) Definitely, knowing the difficulty of how hard a design will be to code is an asset for keeping the project timeline and budget in mind. Experimentation with Javascript also opens new doors in design.
3) The more integrated a diverse team the better.

45   David Yeiser ~ 29 February 2008

(1) Designer mainly, part of a team.

(2) If you’re extremely good at both I think you have the upper hand because you can implement ideas effectively—you know the intricacies of both, the constraints, what can be done, how to do it, etc. You’re a better problem solver overall.

I agree with what Shaun said as well though, a little knowledge of the unfamiliar (whether design or development) can go a long way.

(3) That’s tough, in theory I suppose you can get things done X amount of times faster than one person (X being the number of total people). But I think everyone knows that’s not reality: management, communication, bureaucracy, etc. normalize any advantage a team might have over an individual. It’s a very gray area though, not a clearly blanketed answer. (IMHO, of course)

46   patrick foster ~ 29 February 2008

1. Designer/coder/freelancer.

2. I think specialization in one or the other produces better results, but I think its hard to sustain that in a business model sometimes.

3. The best work I ever did was when I shared and office (as designer) with a code guy. We could collaborate all the way through.

47   Ron K ~ 29 February 2008

I have been designing for over 30 yrs and designed/built web sites since 2003. However, actual “coding” = valid css, for a little over a year - a result of discovering the blog. As a result, my personal site(s) has gone untouched for over a year. Now I am ready to tackle my personal site and my research has found this site, this thread.

For complex projects I agree with Shaun Inman and Jarad Johnson. For all others, follow your passion(s) as they change. It goes without saying, the more tools you have in your toolbox the more opportunities to follow those passions.

48   Sergei Muller ~ 29 February 2008

1) Interactive Designer, which I take to mean both because we do design work as well as XHTML/CSS coding and technical research.

2) I agree.

3) I’ve worked in both situations and I find that there’s much less back and forth if one person designs and codes. It allows the individual to plan out the code while busy with the design.

49   Noah Larsen ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both

2. I personally think it’s better to do both, however, specialization is part of the assembly line process that so many corporations like to use. This practice is not going anywhere (especially for larger scale projects), but I believe all designers need to have a strong understanding of code, and all coders need to understand the foundations of good design, as choices by one inevitably affect the other.

3. I think this depends on the scope of the projects being talked about. I will say, for me, it is much faster to do all of the work myself. I can’t remember the last time I completed a faithful mock-up. Generally I get it close, and finish the rest of the “designing” while coding it up.

50   Devon ~ 29 February 2008

  1. Both
  2. I think its entirely subjective. There really is no right answer, because one situation would prove one configuration wrong, while another does the reverse:
    • Designers might think you’re a better coder.
    • Coders might think you’re a better designer.
    • Management might think you’re mediocre at both.
    • Some other coder/designers might think you’re amazing at both.
  3. Essentially, I guess what I’m saying is that if all you need is a {insert either coder or designer}, then get a specialist. However, for a project where both skills are needed, at the very least have someone who is skilled in both areas directing the project.
  4. It think it’s more productive for a smaller team to have people skilled in both with at least one specialist in each corner. For larger teams I think it’s more productive to separate the two camps, with one person skilled in both coding and designing in some sort of management/coordination position. For the best user experience, you definitely need someone who understands both areas.

Sorry, I’ve ranted a little too much. Good topic!

51   Andres ~ 29 February 2008

1. I specialize, though I’m neither. I’m an IA, with background in both.

2&3. It depends. Work is done in multiple environments and they all produce seemingly successful results according to how they measure success. Large agencies and consultancies, small boutique shops, internal teams and freelancers. How you measure “better” or “productive” varies according to context. I believe you can perform at high quality and productivity in all contexts, you just have to work with the constraints of each and plan accordingly.

52   Shane ~ 29 February 2008

1.) Designer & Coder

2.) If you can do both well, then you have a definite edge over most people. That’s like asking if a guy can shoot, jump, and play defense will he be a better basketball player? The key factor is being GOOD or GREAT in both.

3.) As far as a company goes, I think it is more efficient to have two separate teams.

I think your chances are always higher when you specialize in one thing to be able to become truly GREAT!
(back to basketball analogy, most of the GREAT shooters in history were ONLY shooters, and most of the GREAT defenders in history are ONLY defenders. Then every once in awhile a Michael Jordan comes along and does EVERYTHING GREAT!)

53   Matt Wilcox ~ 29 February 2008

1. My job title is “Web Developer & Designer” - I do both. I think it’s crucial to understand development in order to design well, and visa versa.

2. I don’t believe that specialising works for an individual. If you don’t know HOW a car is put together, how can you design one that handles as good as it looks? If you only know how to build a car but not why it’s shaped and weighted like it is, how can you design a desirable one? If you work in a team some of this problem can be mitigated as long as communication is good enough - but a lot depends on the size of the project being undertaken and the quality of the communication.

3. Both can work, and it depends on the team. If you have two teams dedicated to different skills then you MUST ensure that what the developers develop to is crystal clear (and visa versa). But if everyone has at least a good understanding of the other ‘teams’ skill-set then costly mistakes and assumptions can be avoided.

54   Les Reynolds ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both. Freelance
2. I agree, although I haven’t had any experience working in a one or the other role, or working with others who do. I have a project coming up that I will just be coding (xHTML/CSS and CMS), so it will be interesting to see how that goes.

55   Steven Hoober ~ 29 February 2008

Both, yup, yup.

If you are looking into it from an organizational point of view, I’ll happily share (off list) more on this, but you can get 80% of the way there by walking over and asking Aaron how I employed him and everyone else on my team back then. The interesting, but most fruitful part of it was getting the presentational code guys to think like designers, and teach their technical knowledge to the design-centric types. A great system, which I strongly encourage.

Too bad my subsequent management blew it apart.

56   Hale ~ 29 February 2008

1. Coder - title is actually Web Developer
2. Those who can design on top of their coding skills will have an edge.
3. More productive to have a team of dev’s and designers that work together.

57   Sarven Capadisli ~ 29 February 2008

There is no need to pigeonhole any of this. It all depends on the size, complexity and scope of the projects and the team(s) assigned to them.

* Small team? Sure, one person can do a number of things.
* Large team? Sure, often it is better to keep everyone focused in their own areas (but still contribute whatever they can for the overall project)

So, one person having an edge over another is only meaningful with some context in mind.

58   Rebecca ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both, freelancer

2. I think it definitely gives you an edge to be a designer and a coder, though I don’t think it’s possible to specialize in both of those and be a good developer (.net, etc.)

3. One team

59   Nathan Borror ~ 29 February 2008

1) Predominantly a designer and front end coder (Actionscript, Javascript), my lame Python contributions are welcomed. We have amazing team of programmers so I take every chance to learn as much as I can from them.

2) Renaissance men always have an edge.

3) The best experience I’ve had is being on a team of designers and coders with the caveat that at any time we can duck out to a coffee house if we need to hunker down and get something done.

60   Jim Jeffers ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both, part of a team.

2) Yes, for web I think it’s a necessity. If you can’t code in the languages that produce your design it’s hard to say you really understand the platform you are designing for.

3) I think it’s more productive to have a mixed team. From my experience, when labor is divided into separate departments there is a lot of rework involved as things get broken in communication meltdowns. Further more, disagreements and understandings amongst separate groups have created situations where teams would actually sandbag their time in an effort to give the other party less time to react to improper implementations by their counterpart. Intermixed teams are definitely better.

61   David Sparks ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both. and I currently do Print design as well as art strategy and direction. Small office and we wear many hats. I’m also a freelancer once I get home at night hah.

2) I do. If you can do both you’ll have an edge. Right now I’m in a freelance to permanent job position with a local firm. If I’m hired I will be getting paid more than I am now and I’ll be doing 95% less. Nothing but xhtml/css coding. no design at all. they keep those jobs separate but they currently don’t need any designers. If I hadn’t taken the time to learn CSS I wouldn’t have this opportunity. That being said I do find myself heading to more of a CSS expert than trying to do everything.

3) While I’m a one man wrecking crew at my job now it would seem its probably more productive to have projects divided among a team. focusing on details but getting them done faster.

62   Krystyn ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both. While my first “real job” was in print design, I’ve been coding since BASIC class in 7th grade. ;) Freelance and part of a team.

2) I think it’s best if everyone involved is at least familiar with both. My strength is design and layout related code, and in my current position I collaborate with someone who’s strength is scripting and backend code.

3) Small team. In my experience anyway. It may seem like it takes longer and there may be a few nights of sleeping at the studio… but when I worked for an ad agency with a large team, it took just as long with all the bureaucracy. And the work, in my opinion, wasn’t as good. It seemed all the good ideas got diluted trying to make everyone happy.

63   Hamish M ~ 29 February 2008

1. Hybrid (since it sounds cooler.)

2. Depends on the project, but I would say yes. It means you don’t need as big a team, coordination is easier, etc.

3. I think for larger projects, it makes sense to have a division between the designer and the coder. Particularly if you have a sort of Model, View, Controller methodology.

I think there should be some cross-over too — that is, someone who does coding only should be knowledgeable at least in basic design concepts, and vice-versa. That way they can keep each other in mind when working. Makes things go more smoothly in the end.

Just my 2 cents.

64   Daniel ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both (though lately my server-side coding skills have been atrophying somewhat in favor of clientside js). I’m freelance.

2) True generalists are rather rare, I think, so have an edge by default.

In the web world, at least, I’s consider any designer who didn’t understand at least CSS and HTML to be of fairly limited use; trying to build a complete layout without any understanding of how it could be implemented is… it’s just wrong, man. I can only think of a handful of tasks (icon design, color selection, concept layouts) where you could get away with that.

But that’s only the start: as sites get more ajaxy and effects-laden, a lot of UI design is getting more and more dependent on js coding skill as well… there are a lot of interaction options nowadays that a “pure” designer won’t even necessarily know are possible. A designer who can at least use the canned effects from scriptaculous or yui will have an edge; one who understands how they work and can modify them will have the whole knife. (One who can build them from scratch has, I guess, a broadsword or something.)

3. The ideal cases are, a) One generalist responsible for the entire front end, from graphic design to HTML/CSS/JS — this obviously only works for small projects — or b) a generalist as the lead designer, managing a team which includes both designers and front-end coders.

Worst-case scenario is the situation where a team of pure graphic designers throw a photoshop mockup over the wall to front-end developers, who then have to try to turn it into something that works (and can end up wrecking it in the process, or else getting into endless back-and-forth arguments between the teams). That sort of thing happens less often than it used to, fortunately, but I still see it now and then (mostly in corporate environments).

65   Jeremy ~ 29 February 2008

What an excellent set of questions with numerous invaluable responses already worth the read. I will need to dedicate some time this evening reading them all.

About me: I am a self taught designer, who, like many, were wooed the “big names” on the net like Zeldman, et al, and converted to standardized markup and css-based design after being firmly en grained in the old way of doing things. Though I have never called design and coding a career, rather a high-school and college side-job, I have extensively used my skills in the development of my two online businesses. I would call myself a knowledge-hungry amateur, despite over 9 years of practice in the field.

With that said, I can now answer…

A) Both. I know CSS, and HTML like the back of my hand, am very dangerous with PHP, am getting close with Ruby and the RoR framework, and am trying to forget ASP. When I get paid for my work, I am a freelancer, when I don’t I am a member of a team with business partners earning indirect income for my work, though that is probably not the same definition of team you were asking about.

B) No matter how useful or well-coded your program is, if it is hard to use or looks ugly, it would never be as popular as if it contains both good code and good design. Note: the iPod, or most anything apple co stamps a logo onto. So yes, I agree.

C) I’ve read somewhere that there is some “law” of project management that adding a member to a team nearing completion is dooming the team to further delays. A team that starts a project, if they have the skill and competence to complete the project right out the gate, should stick together until the project is resolved if they desire a highest possible level of productivity.

66   Dave Wright ~ 29 February 2008

1) Designer leading a small company with one other employee who is a coder.

2) Both myself and Bryan (the programmer) are familiar with each others territory but we each have our specialities. Aside from the aesthetics, I also handle the information architecture, user experience and project management. Bryan’s programming skills cover markup, database work, AJAX, domain management and browser/platform compatibility issues.

3) I’m going to have to go with small team. Maybe you could find one person who could cover all of those bases but in my experience a ‘divide and conquer’ attitude where we each play to our strengths is more productive.

67   Andrew ~ 29 February 2008

1. Co-owner of a 2-person company. I design and build frontends.

2. I believe it is crucial to have someone on the team who bridges creative and technical development. I do not believe that most coders are tuned into the value of branding and visual appeal. In my capacity, I’m in at the inception of a project to help determine requirements; I personally handle the awkward transition from PSD to HTML; and then I work closely with the backend developer. It makes everyone’s jobs easier, and it guarantees that the live site looks as much like the mockup as possible.

3. I think it makes sense to put people on teams by project, rather than discipline. However, in my current situation, the talent pool is so small that the point is kind of moot.

68   Jeff Croft ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both, part of a team.
2. I believe the best path for most people is to become an expert on one side of the picture, but have a solid understanding of the other. Most people who are true “hybrids” and don’t lean one way or the other are “jack of all trades, master of none” types. I have known a very few people that are exceptions — that is to say, they’re really, truly great at both sides — but for the most part, I think specialists are more valuable. but again, that specialist does need to have a basic understanding of what the other side does.
3. I think definitely one team. Designers and developers need to work closely together.

69   Rahsun ~ 29 February 2008

1) Started as Designer / Developer but now just titled as a Developer. Everybody in my group can do multiple things so we understand each other. We each just tend to focus on specific things a lot of the time.

2) If you are a designer learn to code, if you are a coder pick up up a book on design or take some classes. Both are important, know both.

3)Most designers I know tend to do both.

70   Chad ~ 29 February 2008

1) Designer, Creative Director. FTE on a small startup team

2) It is better to know both, but I also think it is better to specialize. I see a major gear shift when going from design mode to implementation mode. When designers are able to stay in design mode as much as possible, they’re more likely to produce good design decisions. Likewise, when frontend coders spend the bulk of their time working on code, their skills stay sharpened and efficient.

3) I think it’s more productive to have a slight separation. Design and implementation often happen at different times. While the design project from last week or last month is being implemented, the design team can be working on the next project. This way, the next project is already designed and ready when the coding is finished. Obviously, designers need to work closely with the coders to ensure they’re implementing correctly and to make adjustments to UI design flaws revealed in the implementation process.

71   Jake Toolson ~ 29 February 2008

I started out as just a designer but finally came around to teaching myself Javascript, PHP, and AJAX (yah yah… insert name here).
I do feel accomplished because I’m able to do both.

I do however feel if you can have a team it makes things a lot easier. Plus I also think now is a good time to insert a link to an older article you wrote Cameron. You discussed why you begin with “the back end first” and get that working before moving to the aesthetics.

72   Tracy Osborn ~ 29 February 2008

1) Designer + coder

2) Actually, I have a small bit of programming experience as well (1.5 yrs in Comp Sci program before I switched to Graphic Design) and my company hired me based that I could understand Java since all of our back-end code is based on. I don’t work with it, but it helped me better understand loops and other things when I code them into the jsps that our sites are built off of. So, while coder + designer is better than just designer, I’d say that coder + understanding back-end code + designer trumps all due to flexibility. :)

3) Unfortunately, being the only front-end person at my job, I can’t accurately answer this — though, I would LOVE to have another person, as I think that splitting up the duties would lead to more productivity.

73   Remy Sharp ~ 29 February 2008

1) Coder, though I code back end too - just as well I might add :-)

2) Yes and no. Having both skills, from my experience leads to a developer/designer that has a better understanding of the whole shebang. They can also build a web site without any additional resource - so this is going to work in their favour.

However, where I’d say no, is the experts, or the really talented designers and really talented coders. I’ve not come across someone (in person) who fills both those skill levels. Of course they exist, but I’ve found they’re exceptions to the rule.

I believe designers and coders/developers both fundamentally have the same ‘design’ skills to do their job, but it’s the articulation that’s different.

3) From experience, from a small (i.e. 5-10 man) company: small worked well when their skills were mixed, but it worked a lot better in a large (200+) company, when the individuals either design or coded in separate teams dedicated to that job. It came down to resource, and allocating resource, i.e. from the design team to the marketing dept.

Personally, I think that the individual should *try* to acquire as much skill from each area, but definitely have some understand of coding if their a designer or visa versa.

74   Andrew Hahn ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both
2. Yes - those who can do both will have the edge. But it’s very difficult to be excellent at both.
3. I don’t know, since I’ve never worked in either situation. Off the cuff, however, I’d say a single team - having a close working environment seems preferable to throwing a job over the preverbal fence.

75   Chris M Johnson ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both. Working as part of a team.

2. Definitely agree. I work in a group that utilizes the two team approach (one design team and one development team) and the fact that I have a role on both teams has helped secure my position in the group.

3. Having the two separate teams leads to a disconnect when the actual implementation is underway. Having a team of people that do both the design and code helps to cut down the transition time and overhead in the hand off.

76   David Joyce ~ 29 February 2008

I’m an independent freelancer that develops and designs. I came into design with an IT degree.

I think having the coding perspective allows me to know what my limits are from a design standpoint, and I can push those limits as I learn new techniques and methods. And honestly, I’m not sure I would trust a lot of developers to know *how* to layout out some of my designs.

I was doing some work for a bigger corporation and I came up with a cool “elastic” design and they thought it was a fixed width layout. I told them I’d lay it out for them, but the bureaucracy wouldn’t allow it. So now I prefer smaller clients =)

77   Stewart ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both
2) I agree that the coder/designers have an edge.
3) I have definitely found more success in an integrated team.

78   Michael Dick ~ 29 February 2008

The designer should be responsible to code his own work. If he doesn’t want to code then tell him to go be a print designer.

This is the web…it’s powered by code and the designer should have a understanding of the code if not a better understanding.

When my code improves, my interfaces improve. It all goes hand-in-hand.

79   Furious ~ 29 February 2008

I feel that while it’s good to focus on a specialty to excel and that too broad of skills lowers the quality of those skills, however, There is an important relationship in designing and coding.

I think that to effectively design, you must become part of the coding process to truly understand what works and what doesn’t in design. Read, design, code, and repeat. I’ve been designing for a few years using apps like fireworks to generate code up until last year. This was the point when my eyes opened, and I really began to see the beauty in the relationship between design and code. I will never go back to using anything to create my code again.

Ideally I intend on being knowledgeable in the area of dynamic coding and back end scripting creating for myself the all around designer/developer role. I plan to specialize in front end design still as that is where my love is.

Thanks Cameron for being an inspiration to me. Congrats on the LDS gig too. What a great opportunity to work for such a huge and successful organization that is guaranteed to provide lots of continued work.

80   Sophie Dennis ~ 29 February 2008

I’m going to annoyingly answer these out of order:

1) I am both in exactly the way you mean - design + front-end coding. I work in a small 2-person team of equals, but previously ran a larger one.

To skip straight on to:

3) An integrated team is always better. When we had a larger team we analysed our timesheets and found we needed more coding resource than we did design resource in simple number of hours. Which means in small operations designers who can code are invaluable.

back to

2) Anyone who can design AND code AND do both well will always have an edge. To be able to do two things well which seem so fundamentaly different you have to be a pretty smart, talented person. Smart, talented people tend to have the edge in most things.

I say this as someone who would honestly say they code better than they design, and holds in awe those who design better than me.

But as someone else mentioned, there are lots of people who design AND code but don’t do either well. The result is websites which are neither well designed, nor well built. Renaissance (wo)man = good, jack-of-all-yet-master-of-none = bad. The latter might well be better to concentrate on improving their skills in one area first

At least understanding both will always give them an edge. The problem I have with specialists is when they have no interest in learning about the stuff they don’t specialise in. Designers who can’t code only design bad websites when they don’t really understand websites. The fact they can’t code is a symptom that they lack any real desire to understand the medium they are working in.

81   DanMc ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both. Design, Animation, HTML/CSS, PHP, .NET, Javascript, Actionscript
2. I definitely feel that people who have skills in both areas can have an advantage over people who only specialize in one or the other. Then again, it depends on what kind of team you’re on and how well they can work together.
3. I’ve only ever worked on single designer/developer teams (or alone) so I can’t really compare. I would imagine you get better results that way, though.

82   Wednesday ~ 29 February 2008

1) Developer is the word on my contract.

I do not use the term “code” to describe the [x]html/css authoring process as a matter of principle. It’s my firm belief that if your markup is describable as code, you’re not doing it right.

I’m also uncomfortable conflating what I do with programming work — leads to too many stupid assumptions.

Outside the workplace, I try to just skirt the topic or invoke more casual concepts like “markup monkey”.

2) yes; 3) single team, preferably really really small.

83   Dave ~ 29 February 2008

Ok. Even though there are several great responses here, I still feel the need to post my thoughts on the important subject.

I’ll answer to number two.

I do think that those who know both code and design equally well will have a leg up on the competition, and you’ll have more flexibility and freedom in choosing the projects you want to work on. My only concern is that an individual not try to stretch themselves or let their employer stretch themselves too thin at trying to be the “master” of all code/design/etc. A trend that I’ve seen in my experience is that small firms will want one person to do everything, which sometimes results in less-than-quality products and services.

It’s my opinion that a person who has the opportunity and talent to specialize in an area, will find it more rewarding and the quality will be better.

84   Wilson Miner ~ 29 February 2008

A topic near and dear to my heart.

1) I’m the only designer and dedicated front-end coder on a four person team that includes two programmers and a “people person.”

2) I absolutely think that the person with the “hybrid” skills is going to have the edge. I’ve been on the hiring end looking for designers and coders at small companies and big ones. Every time the hard part was finding the candidate that understood both worlds. Even if the job description was a pure visual design rec and didn’t involve any code whatsoever, nobody wants to hire a web designer that doesn’t understand how the web is built. It’s better to have somebody thinking about the implications of what they’re designing before they hand it off, even if they’re not the ones who will be building it. In ye olden days, print designers often started out doing production work. By the time they got to be big fancy agency art directors they might think all that stuff was beneath their massive egos, but at least they knew how separations and overprinting and all the esoteric aspects of print production affected their designs.

3) I think in bigger companies and on bigger projects the separation of disciplines is unavoidable. We can talk all day about how it’s better on small teams for people to know how to do everything, and that’s absolutely true. But big companies are big companies and they’re never going to be able to work that way, no matter how much lip-service they give to how “agile” they are. For better or for worse, they have layers of accountability and four guys in a room with no job descriptions working on god knows what is always going to be at odds with that. The thing you can do in big companies is make sure the designers work with the developers, physically, in the same room, on the same project at the same time. Two people working together on the same problem can go a long way, but it’s surprising how many project managers and creative directors don’t see the point.

85   Daniel ~ 29 February 2008

1. Current role: Designer and Coder, full time employee.

2. I agree, there is an advantage because each role informs the other. I know the constraints that CSS will impose and design with that in mind. Making my design look perfect in CSS and making my CSS easier/faster/cleaner to develop.

3. I am the only web designer in my department but if I were to hire an additional team member I would look for a designer who also knew coding or was willing to learn. That way we are on the same page and they understand that design does not stop when they hit the save button in Photoshop.

86   Jubarr ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both, freelancer. I do all things.
2. I think you need to know both areas to create really good things, so you have advantage over people who specialize in one area, and, it will be have the fun.
3. I have always worked alone, so I can’t compare, but if you ask me, I’ll choose a mixed team to work with.

87   Michael Locke ~ 29 February 2008

I label myself as a Web Consultant that encompasses all of the skills mentioned including extensive knowledge of SEO, SEM (i.e. internet marketing).

And yes, knowing it all does give you a HUGE advantage.

88   Jared Christensen ~ 29 February 2008

1) Designer, team.

2) Yes, though having the directive to emporarily focus on one skill can be beneficial. This happened to me; I took a job where I was specifically told I would be doing no coding at all and though I’ve lost a bit of my edge, code-wise, I gained immeasurable understanding of visual design and UX. Specialization as a career path is not such a good idea, but it can be great for substantial growth in the “stages” of one’s career.

3) The most productive teams understand each others’ roles. Only certain people need to be experts in a role, but everyone should be as familiar with the concepts behind everyone’s role as possible. T-shaped people, you know?

89   Benjamin Wiederkehr ~ 29 February 2008

1. Designer (who codes the site he designes himself with a strong focus on clean code). Freelancer and part of a team at the same time.
2. I think a designer that knows how to code his designs will allways have the advantage at least to foresee possible problems.
3. I’d rather have a team of both that works closely together – this seams the most effective way to create a site without the coder nor the designer having to compromises.

90   Aleksandar ~ 29 February 2008

1) Coder, designer whenever I can be.

2) Yes, much better to be both.

3) Team must have both people.

91   Jeremy ~ 29 February 2008

1. Both, although I primarily find myself sitting more on the coder side.

2. Agree. Knowledge, or at least familiarity with semantic markup and CSS will be more empowered to know what’s possible and what’s not when designing an interface. For example, min-width and max-width open up design possibilities.

3. I’m not quite sure where I stand on this one. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

92   Paul Mayne ~ 29 February 2008

Great response Wilson.

1) Both, as part of a team. A designer that knows the web and knows how to code.

2) For me personally, I know that having the ability to prototype my design is a great benefit to the work I produce. Whether it’s to spur on further inspiration or to deliver exactly the vision I have to programmers that can take it and finish it.

3) “better” to me means better quality. And that is achieved by collaboration all the way through. Integrating as much as possible when it is necessary.

93   Allen Pike ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both and more. Design, front end, and some back end.

2) Yes. Design with coding in mind and coding with good understanding of the design helps a lot.

3) Definitely better to have the designers and coders in one team.

94   Timoni ~ 29 February 2008

In the beginners’ guide you link it becomes clears we are talking of coding as writing XHTML/CSS. If you can’t write XHTML/CSS you are not a web designer, and you will have severe trouble to keep up with your peers who can. I would go as far as to say you cannot design for the web without an intimate knowledge of HTML and CSS.

Agreed. This is a weird distinction. I don’t think you can legitimately call yourself a web designer if you don’t know the basics.

(1) I am the senior designer, and design everything on the site.

(2) Yes, I agree. I’m commenting in part because I find this to be a very strange artificial distinction. I could never take someone seriously professionally if they told me they “designed websites” but didn’t write their own CSS/HTML.

(3) Having a small team (one designer, one front-end programmer if needed, one backend programmer) is the most effective way to make a great, cohesive product. You might be able to make a website more quickly with two separate teams, but it’ll be a bit bipolar.

95   Diane ~ 29 February 2008

1) My title is “Senior Web Designer” - and I do the design work and all the coding myself.

2)Completely agree the anyone with both skills has the edge.

3) We are a small team of 4. We all do the graphics, we all code, and 2 of us are the programmers who can also to the backend stuff. Our small team cranks out a LOT of work every month, and we move pretty quickly. I do believe that divorcing the coding from the design would slow us down. We can all immediately fix or change anything that needs to be done, no waiting on someone else to do something.

96   James Likely ~ 29 February 2008

1) Web Designer (Coder/Designer)

2) A person that can do both does have an advantage.

3) It is more productive assuming that you have a team of coders/Designers with similar skills.

97   Daniel Scrivner ~ 29 February 2008

1) Both designer and coder, and part of a larger team.

2) Completely agree that people who possess both skills definitely have an edge. (Also biased, because having both skills helped me get my current job with Tribal DDB - over candidates who possessed only one, or were not quite as good at doing both.)

3) Think it’s best designers and developers work within their own teams, but as part of a larger close-knit culture. Designers and developers alike need to be able to go to each other for advice, help and insight. (Can I do this? I’m thinking of doing it this way, do you know of any other way?) This type of back-and-forth interaction is what ultimately produces the best end-results - which are projects that look and work beautifully, as one coherent work. I’ve learned this myself from personal experience.


As in business, I think possessing expertise in both the design and manufacturing of any one thing is a huge plus.

Clients don’t want to deal with anymore parties than is absolutely necessary. And why should they. Overseeing the design and production of anything, with two separate teams of people and deadlines, can be a huge headache.

Specialization is very important. But when it comes to front-end web design and development, I think those who can design and code their own work have a HUGE advantage over those who specialize in just one area. That’s my opinion, and it’s been my personal experience.

98   Bram ~ 29 February 2008

I feel that a designer who can code valid xhtml/css certainly has an edge on a pure designer. A coder who can’t design, that’s something else.

When I’m designing, I’m often allready thinking how I will be coding something. Sometimes, I even think of how to code something (for example, a JS effect or so) before designing it. When you would hand over your design to a coder, it might happen that something else turns out then what you had in mind yourself.

As for the coder who can’t design, he’s probably best to pick up on PHP or smth else too, because else he will be simply too limited…

99   Hugh Roper ~ 29 February 2008

1. My current role is a freelance designer and xhtml/css coder. Like, Tim Van Damme, I also build most of my work on top of textpattern.

2. I agree that those who can design and code have an edge, though unlike me, those who write javascript and actionscript have even more of an edge.

3. I’m still thinking…

100   Nic Marson ~ 29 February 2008

1. Currently I’m a coder in a team, but for most of my career I’ve been both and designer and coder.

2. I agree 100%. Having worked with many designers, who are only designers, I’ve found they lack vision of the final product. Not to mention the scope of functionality that exists.

3. When working with a team it’s ideal if everyone can do each other’s job and specialize in the what they do the best. If one person is the best designer they should do that most of the time. If someone else writes awesome code they should do that most of the time.

101   George ~ 01 March 2008

1. both
2. I recently got a new job, and during my interview it came out that the company had been looking for someone for over a year and a half… i was like wow, why so long? There answer: there are many designers out there, but to find one that is good and also a coder is hard to find…
3. Team, it’s always good to have the big guns handy when needed.

102   Zeke Franco ~ 01 March 2008

1. Both. My title at work is Front-end web developer and designer. I work in a team, but I’m the only person that works directly with material for the web. I also work freelance and do all of the work—unless it’s a complicated illustration.

2. I believe those that can do (or understand) both have an edge. But I believe in the corporate world coding is valued more than design.

3. I believe it’s more productive to have one team, but with a few who do both and a few who do one thing.

Banter: As with George (Comment 101) I work for a company who spent over a year trying to recruit someone who understands design, front-end code, and web 2.0 with it’s long series of endless tubes. Knowledge of dump-trucks was a bonus.

103   Gerrit van Aaken ~ 01 March 2008

1) Both.

2) Depends on the project. Information-oriented websites will need a good generalist. Emotion-driven websites need a designer who doesn’t have the technical limitations in mind that slows down the creativity process.

3) From the efficiancy point of view, it’s always better to have only one web designer who does it all. There are no misunderstandings in the communication process. Doing it all by yourself is always faster, but not always more creative or rich.

104   Rob Landry ~ 01 March 2008

1) Both; I lead a small team in Portland, Maine.

2) Naturally, if you can do both well, you’re better off, but it’s not necessary. I do think you ought to have at least a working knowledge of both skill sets. Because the Web is an interactive medium, I think the advantage goes to the coder who knows design rather than the other way around (unless you’re a highly-sought after design superstar).

3) It’s much more efficient to specialize, and also to use a consistent design process so team members “know the drill”. Team members should ideally also have a working knowledge of each other’s task.

105   hgm ~ 01 March 2008

1. Both, primarily Design . Currently a consultant that does both and also assembles teams that do both and more.

2. Yes and No, mostly Yes.

Yes in that I’m of the belief that its good to know your medium inside out and have benefited greatly from understanding markup. I feel that it provides an advantage both in the quality of individual projects and in the work place its wise to be multi-skilled.

Sometimes however understanding your limitations too clearly impedes pushing the envelope creatively. Or by knowing what all your options are, you end up adding in “cool” bits that aren’t focused on your primary goal. I love the answer above about focusing primarily on one area or the other for “stages” in your work to keep improving your skills.

It also depends on how you define design - which is more than pretty skinning or visual effects in my book. A good designer must understand the flow and functionality of a web site or application both from a business perspective (what it needs to do) and from a user perspective (how it needs to work).

Understanding the “guts” is will help but isn’t necessary to accomplish this. I have known some extremely talented web designers that don’t touch code, just as there are fantastic photographers that have never set foot in a darkroom. But I think they are the exception rather than the rule.

3. Match team structure to your needs. I have worked on and set up teams of both and its really a question of scalability. When an organization is small enough to produce sites sequentially its great to have a single group and the flexibility that allows is efficient. However when you begin to increase the volume of work you can take advantage of the process stages to overlap multiple projects if you have team members that specialize in design and those that code.

Agree with all the comments on the importance of communication and have seen the most success overall with a single unit within the larger structure that contains subunits of each skillset.

Great question Cameron, and very much appreciate this site.

106   Ollie Kavanagh ~ 01 March 2008

I don’t think its absolutely necessary to do both, I know a lot of teams that have a Design team, then a Front end team (for CSS etc) then the back end team.

Personally I do both which I think is very beneficial and does give me an extra edge, its also allows me to make sure every part of my design is coded exactly as I envisioned it and no errors are made.

As a designer I think its very important to know everything about the team and and its functions, what is and isn’t possible from a code level as this gives you a much better headstart and allows your design to behave as expected and not be held back by delays from functions that won’t work or its not possible to code through the designer not knowing.

107   Steve Rose ~ 01 March 2008

1) I started as a designer. Now after several years I manage and direct design and development teams.

2) I feel that in general someone who can do designing and coding equally well will have an advantage over someone who specializes in one particular area. This is most obvious for smaller design/development teams for freelancers.

3) In my experience, when working towards fulfilling client needs and hitting company goals, having one team each of designers and coders is preferred. A good manager can accurately gauge and plan on each team’s output capability and turn that into a tangible number that executives can count on — thus making life much better for everyone. Each team experiences their own success and can collaborate in a way that fulfills the clients needs while at the same time works towards putting out a solid offering. It comes down to how well the manager can coordinate these teams however, planning is all important and communication is key. Now my post is too long…/sigh

108   john manoogian III ~ 01 March 2008

More “productive”? Not necessarily.

Higher potential for injecting your product / project with serendipitous brilliance that a two person designer/developer team would probably never conceive stumble upon? Yes.

A major advantage to being “bilingual” in code + design is that the challenge of seeing “through” both of these disciplines to the commonalities at their core will train you to see commonalities and patterns across many disciplines. The determination + abstraction skills of programming combined with the creativity and empathy of visual design packs formidable punch for any budding entrepreneur.

Here’s a speed presentation (20 seconds per image, speaking quickly) on the Hybrid Designer / Developer phenomena from Pecha-Kucha #19. (click images for the notes)

109   Paul ~ 01 March 2008

1. Designer, part of a team

2. A person who can both design and code will have a huge advantage over other people, but they will never design as well as a full time designer and it usually goes the same for coding. Saying that, it’s always a good thing to understand the other side of your field. It keeps you from using the phrase, “I don’t know how your supposed to build that, I’m the designer, that’s not my problem”.

3. I think having two teams works best. You’re able to work through more projects and some smaller tasks that way.

110   Mark Reeder ~ 02 March 2008

1. Coder - part of a team.

2. I believe any cross-discipline knowledge can give a person a big advantage. However, I also believe that a lack of specialization can lead to mediocrity. There has to be a balance.

3. 2 teams, but preferably where both teams have a working knowledge of what the other team does. Each team should be able to do the other team’s work, but specialize in their own and do it better than the other team could.

111   Brad ~ 02 March 2008

1. I am currently both, and I have a small team of coders/designers under me.

2. No one could disagree with real BUSINESS logic. One who knows more has more.

3. Whoever I hire to do design MUST be able to do CSS and be aware of dynamic coding enough to at least be in the workflow and not sound like a complete idiot. Typically the people do break into teams because I put everyone in a position they excel at the most and build the development process around what people can do best.

I remember my first web design job… we had 3 designers and me (the n00b) my first tasks were to create their designed websites. I got to the point where I could do apx 30 in a month. Nowdays I can make a hell of a site ‘design’ wise, and own my own business doing websites.

112   halans ~ 02 March 2008

1) I would consider myself “deviner” (or devigner des-igner/dev-eloper).

2) Sure, that’s a given, no?

3) Hmmm… Still think 2 teams is better, with separate responsibilities and deliverables, but they they should both now each others domain pretty well too.

113   mae ~ 02 March 2008

1.) I am both, designer and coder and also both, I do freelance works and is also a part of a team in my full time job

2.) I think it’s better for designers to know both, if they’re more knowledgeable in design that’s fine, but a little idea on how to code is even better because that way they would realize how to attack their design or if their design is so impossible to do.

3.) I don’t know about this, but I think that a team of developers must have at least one designer (or designer and coder) so that the changes could be made rather easily

114   Kathy ~ 02 March 2008

1. Both; part of a team

2. The more knowledge the individual members of a team have in anything, the better.

3. We’ve found that teams whose members can work (for the most part) interchangeably on any and all parts of the process are the most flexible and likely to work closely together. They teach and learn from one another; brainstorm problems together; understand the overall objectives better. However, it’s not cut-and-dried—everyone’s at different levels for different skills, and there are often a few members who are highly skilled in one or so areas.

115   Ryan ~ 03 March 2008

1. Both

2. Specialization is always good, but effictive communication is needed between those who are well equipped in both areas.

3. A mixed team of designers and coders is in my opinion a necessity, because each has his/ her relative opinions and can help move the work forward at an efficient pace… and each can provide insights to the project that the might not have seen. ( I am probably re-iterating what the rest of the commenters… haven’t read all the posts)

116   Nina Richards ~ 03 March 2008

1) Both, including server-side programing. Now freelance, used to be a team leader.

2) Yes, web designers that have both skills will generally have the edge over teams with discrete roles.

3) Production line principles would suggest that a team with a designer / coder slit would be more productive. This in itself may give an advantage in speed at the expense of quality and cohesion. The ideal scenario would be to have a team of designers and a separate team of coders with a number of members from each team that can do both. These team members would act as integrators, with skills across the board. In a small company, a team leader could fulfill the role of the integrator.

117   Alex Nichol ~ 03 March 2008

1) Depends what you mean by ‘coder’. I would refer to someone who writes their own markup and css a ‘coder’, but someone who writes php/ruby and ‘developer’. In which case, I’m both.
2) I’ve seen some design-only guys who are fantastic designers - far better than I am because they only do one thing. I’m really not sure how they make a living though. I found I started programming out of necessity, because good, reliable developers are so hard to find. I’ve freelanced as a designer and developer and I can say that doing both gives me a massive advantage - as a developer, I know what other developers need from me when I’m designing for a team, and vice versa. I’ve worked with some really talented designers whose grasp of basic markup/css is just down-right amateurish - and it’s cost me hours trying to fix the mess they’ve sent me. Same goes for the developers I’ve worked with.
3) In my experience, it’s most productive when you have a team made up of people who can do both interchangeably, but concentrate on a single task for that particular project. I want a developer who understands and respects the importance of every line and space the designer has put in, and will do their best to preserve the integrity of the design. Likewise, I want a designer who will deliver easily abstractable, well-commented, scalable markup to the developer so that it can be quickly integrated and maintained.

It’s also worth pointing out that these days, a designer needs to know a little bit about javascript if his/her styles aren’t going to screw up at the first sign of ajax!

118   Chris ~ 03 March 2008

1. Designer with coding skills
2. Having overlapping skills is an advantage
3. The best work is done when people feel free to play to their strengths and think outside the box, as long as they understand how this will need to fit in with others’ contributions. Teams are always stronger.

There is an analogy with the design and print world here. Any print designer worth their salt needs to know about bleeds, paper weights and coatings etc and have an understanding of “work and turn”, flattening and rip software … They don’t need to be a print expert, but they do need to be able to form a partnership wih those that are. It’s the same with designers and coders. Coders also need to understand that it is their job to try to realise all(reasonable) design intentions in the most efficient and accessible way.

Individuals will always have a primary strength on one side of the equation or the other, but it is increasingly necessary to combine both in order to work productively in the field. There are too many designers who have no idea how this new medium works and therefore cannot design properly for it. And equally there are still too many coders who think that the web is their make a fuss about making things “pretty” .

In fact both design and code are about effective communication with a target audience across a selected medium. The new media a more challenging and flexible than the older print world, but the principles of good communication - such as hierarchies of information, a concept familar to both graphic designers and semantic coders - remain true.

Communication via digital media demands command of an increased range of tools both artistic and technical, but as always, the message is king. In my experience, the delivery of the message is best realised through the collaboration of experts. That has always been true of copywriters, graphic designers and their printers. Coders are now an essential part of that scene. One person can combine some/all of these skills. But th ebest work is done when those whose minds work best natively in each field combine their talents in a seamless and mutaully respectful team.

119   Sean Johnson ~ 03 March 2008

if you’re a WEB DESIGNER then you should be able to code your designs into HTML/CSS

if you only design you’re a graphic designer

if you only code you’re a web developer - also you should be expected to code more then just HTML / CSS / Javascript.

a web designer looks after the front end and the developer the rear (oh!!) if you only do half a job then well.. you only do half a job!

120   Dawn ~ 03 March 2008

1) My job title is “Designer”, but I am both designer and coder. I work in a team.

2) Absolutely. A designer needs to think about the coding of a site while they’re designing it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to code someone else’s design who put no thought to the coding, and it turns out to be nearly impossible.

3) I think its more productive to have a team of designer/coders than teams of each. That being said, the people who make up the team I’m currently part of have different areas of specialization; I’m better at CSS, one guy is better at flash, etc.

121   Matthew A. Gonzalez ~ 03 March 2008

1)My job title would say that I am an assistant coder. But I like to think of myself as a coder with OK design skills.

2) The more you know, the more efficient and effective you are.

3) Group them in together. The better these people get to know each other, and the more they work together, the better the process becomes over time.

122   Megan ~ 03 March 2008

1. both

2. Yes and no. I think it really depends on the person and making the most of your own abilities. I’m not a super-great designer but I do okay. I’m good with front-end code along with many of the other things that go along with web designing (usability, accessibility, communication, writing, interface design etc.) It’s hard to expect anyone to be great at everything, so you have to go with what makes sense for that individual.

For a team, the best thing then would be to find people that fit together well. You could find someone who is a super fantastic visual/graphic designer but doesn’t have a head for code. Are you going to let that person get away because they can’t do the code part too? That depends on your situation. You could match them with someone who can do great code (front-end and back-end) and have a great team.

I also think that one of the keys is to have some overlap between specializations. Even if the designer doesn’t do code they should have some understanding of how it works, just as the coder should have some understanding of graphic design. Each person on the team can learn a lot from the others.

Most of all, for a team to work well they have to be able to communicate with each other and have an appreciation for what the other members do.

123   Mr. Darcy Murphy ~ 03 March 2008

1. “Web Designer,” and I’m the sole coder in the company. Though we have a “Graphic Designer” I work with daily, the company uses the coding abilities as the defining line between the roles. We work in-house for a medium sized business.

2. An emphatic agreement. Though it’s not so much the coding that helps, it’s the understanding of the language of the web, of which HTML/CSS is only one part.

3. Absolutely “better.” I believe that specialization is important, but I also believe that communicating well is important too. For instance, I’m a good designer, but I’m an excellent coder. Our Graphic Designer is excellent at design, and knows enough code to understand why it works the way it does. It allows us to do what we do best, while also understanding each other. It’s what separates a team from a pair of individuals.

124   Keanen ~ 03 March 2008

1) Both. Not part of a team but not freelance either.

2 and 3) I agree that those who can code as well as design will always have an edge. I think a designer who cannot code front-end work is not very valuable since many of the design factors directly relate to the limits and strenths of the medium. One large team I have worked in had some designers were actually print designers and they didn’t understand what you should and shouldn’t do on the web.

The only thing that limits designers from front-end coding is either lack of ambition or fear.

I cannot say the opposite is true about left-brain programmers, however. Let’s just face it — real design skills aren’t something you can really aquire. You can hone them if you have them or you can pretend you have them and just copy others’ work.

The more coding skills you can aquire as a designer, the more open your job possibilities become because you won’t always have to rely on being part of a big team to get the job done. And if you are part of a big team, you will understand the whole process more completely and work with others in your team better.

I always try to keep learning… you have to in this business. The more skills you have, the more valuable you are to your employer.

125   Terry Tolleson ~ 03 March 2008

1) Designer

2) There are two points to this question that make me disagree with the statement, “those who can code as well as they design will always have an edge over those who do only one.”
(a) You would have to be incredible at both to have an advantage over someone working in only one. Would someone who has mediocre skills in both have an advantage in getting hired over someone great in one? Yes. This is an idiotic mindset that will cost someone down the line. It has been my experience that, while great designers can be great developers, they are not the norm and those with skills in both are not necessarily excelling at either. “Jack of all trades. Master of none.”

(b) I believe an understanding–be that by experience or adequate study–of development (front-end or otherwise) is sufficient for a designer to be more than capable in creating an effective web presence when working with someone proficient in any form of development. Likewise that a coder who understands the process of design would be better. Ultimately, I think a specialization results in a better end product.

3) Not sure if I understand this question correctly. I think it better to have a single team that has specialized coders and designers on it. They work closely together, but when it comes down to production, the designers design and the coders develop. I am hard pressed to think of two “departments” who work separately being better than a single team of mixed practices. Also, a single person doing both is hard and often times, just plain draining.

I am redesigning my site and, this time around, I have enlisted a rather clever coder to help me realize my idea. I believe the end result will make my current portfolio look more like the amateur hour that I feel it already promotes.

126   Mark Priestap ~ 03 March 2008

1) Both
2) Yeah, so long as both of those skills are supremely good.
3) It’s probably more productive from a “getting projects out the door” point of view, but from a quality of product point of view, I think it is better to have guys who do both.

One issue with non-specialization (forgive me if this has been said already) is if someone up and quits. It’s a lot harder to replace a do everything guy than a one tool guy. For small shops it could be a death blow.

127   Kevin Barber ~ 03 March 2008

1. Our team has a “designer” who is also an efficient coder (front end).

2. I *totally* agree with your statement that designer+coder is a more valuable skillset.

3. I think it is signficantly more productive for one person to have both design and coding skills. This person can design what is efficiently coded, create more flexible designs, and of course save revision by thinking of both sides before he even begins. I’ll always work with a designer who can code efficiently. In a larger company, I’d seek two (or more) of those people with strengths on opposing sides…. not one designer and one coder. That’d be like needing two people to open a door… one person to unlock it and the other to push it open… it’ll always be more efficient with a person who can effectively master both (and in this particular case, work with a graphical artist when needed).

Note This does NOT apply to a graphic artist. This person is best suite to graphics only, and supporting your “designer”.

That’s what’s worked well for us, so here’s to our 3.5 cents (adjusted for inflation)

128   Daniel Ryan ~ 03 March 2008

1) Neither and both. I do User Experience, specifically HTML, CSS, and Javascript. I don’t design the sites, I work from comps from our design team. I don’t code the systems that run the sites, that comes from our programmers. I marry the two and add the interactive layer (animation, ajax, etc). Strictly speaking that would make me a coder, but I spend as much of my time sweating the esthetics of the implemented sites as I do actually coding the templates up.

2) I think everyone will lean towards one or the other, but those who have at least some experience at both seem to excel more at their jobs, at least in my experiences.

3) Having worked in both scenarios, splitting the functions up into teams seems to get results that our clients and their sites’ visitors enjoy and use more. The separation gets more eyes on a project coming at it from the perspectives of each area in ways that a person or team doing it all might not realize.

129   Beth ~ 03 March 2008

(1) Both, but officially, I’m Website Manager, so I’m expected to be able to do it all.
(2) Absolutely. Since code and design have to work together to be transparent to the end user, it cuts through a lot of issues when you have a coder who understands functional design and a designer who has a handle on basic coding and what it can do.
(3) I guess it depends on the team and how it functions. Some teams work beautifully in compartmental mode, where designers do nothing but make the interface usable and the design appealing, and the coders make it all work in the background. In my case, it’s helpful that I, as UI and content designer, have an understanding of how and why the code does what it does, and that my advanced coder knows look-and-feel and functionality, and how his code makes it happen or (lucky me) improves the experience from what I could do on my own.
Take it back to the print world, you had the aesthetic folks who only cared about what something looked like and the functional folks who cared far more about making the product usable rather than pretty. Then, you threw in the people who actually knew print production and how it could make or break a piece. If you can get three people that work seamlessly together, that’s good. If you could find a balance of all three in one person, you held onto them for dear life.

130   Sergio ~ 04 March 2008

1) Both. Mostly Freelancer.
2) I agree (knowing things is better than not knowing things).
3) It depends on the project.

131   Maaike ~ 04 March 2008

1. Both. I’m a freelancer and sometimes I’m hired as part of a larger team.
2. I agree with you.
3. It depends entirely on the type of project and the people involved.

132   Dan Volkens ~ 04 March 2008

1. I am both and work as part of a small team, typically one designer and one programmer.

2. I feel that those who can do both do have an edge of those who are specialized in some cases, but this can be debated on a lot of fronts. Most times, one who does many things doesn’t do any one of those things better than the one who specializes in one thing. Jack of all trades, master of none? :D

3. The designer/coder can be more productive up to a certain point. When taking on too many projects, the workload gets overwhelming sooner than if the design and coding were handled separately.

133   bart ~ 04 March 2008

1) Both
2) Those who do both have an edge…of course
3) Team of designer/coders is more productive…less chance of misunderstandings and going back and forth

134   Justin ~ 04 March 2008

1. Both.

2. I would say that if you can do both you have an edge. I have the benefit of working with graphic designers who design websites at our company. I’ve received some weird stuff where usability apparently wasn’t thought through. They just designed the whole site and all I really got was a decorated site with a bunch of pretty graphics. If they would’ve known just a little about CSS/HTML or how browsers handle font sizes, and web standards/best practices, we could’ve avoided a lot of the problems and issues that arose. In my eight years of designing websites, the best sites I’ve seen is from people who know both. Some of the best stuff I’ve seen is from people who can design really well and then learned CSS/HTML. When you can do both, you fully understand the system and how it works. When you can only do one, you’re basically guessing at the other. Let’s face it, web design is different from print design and it probably always will be, thus it requires a different set of skills.

3. Single teams without a doubt.

135   tzMedia ~ 04 March 2008

I Am Designer… “Hear me roar”.

136   Daniel Hillesheim ~ 04 March 2008

I wholeheartedly agree with Justin.

@Justin: Very well put. You took the words right out of my mouth.

The thing I would like to emphasize here is something Justin pointed out. He said, “..the best stuff I’ve seen is from people who can design really well and then learned CSS/HTML.” For me this is the crux of the matter. Design cannot be taught. Concepts can be explained, theories revealed, but a true designer has an innate ability to capture the project in spite of the medium. Coders who try to learn design have a steeper hill to climb. Coding is coding, anyone can learn it. But, artistic ability can never be “taught” to anyone. Although skills may improve, they will never reach the abilities of those who have this natural talent.

Anyway, back to the original point. Being able to do both is a great advantage - unless you’re a coder that wants to design. I think that’s where you start to find problems.

I would say that having a single team would be better, but I’ve seen success both ways. Ultimately, you have to trust the people around you to perform, so I could go either way on this one.

137   Oldřich Vetešník ~ 04 March 2008

1) I’m a coder working in a company - the production and development level has around 18 people, there isn’t enough time to design much but I can do it, though I need to get more skill. I do freelance webs for family or myself too so I guess the answer is both.

2) It’s definitelly better when you know both. If you work in a group, you don’t have to know - say you are a coder - too much about drawing designs. Understanding a design is more important than only drawing it, so if the draw-er doesn’t know how designs work, he makes ugly mistakes (which result in the coder screaming “Who the heck designed this? How am I supposed to code this?”). Yes we have one designer like that in our company.

3) Bigger group can get more projects done faster, though it’s very hard to maintain quality level. Mostly, you have a pre-done template which gets re-implemented (and really ugly coded sometimes because programmers don’t know a bit about semantics), cutted, styled and thats it. Then it goes to data-fillers that get low wage, they code ugly codes and don’t know a bit about web standards or semantics. I think best experience is in small group of high skilled people, not too many projects on board, that’s it.

138   jah ~ 04 March 2008

1) Both and both.

2) you’ll always have an edge if you can code (or at least have a sense of what you can do with coding) because it will broaden your horizons on what you can do (and what you can’t do) on a project. it’s the same thing with offline print designers: those with some level of knowledge about print shops will also have an advantage over those who don’t. IMO one of the worst things (a plague imho) about web developing and design is that usually, the people in charge of a business (clients, account managers, ceo’s, etc) don’t really have a clue about the technologies involved (ajax, xhtml, accessibility stuff, etc). That and recycled designers coming from print to webdev, or that don’t even bother to learn at least proper xhtml. it sucks. time is lost when a badly conceived design is turned back from production by the coding guys. oh, and they usually have a bad temper :) you don’t want to mess with their r’n’r time watching star wars movies.

3) it depends. for large projects I would stick with mixed teams of devs and designers, so they can brainstorm and develop things together, in a tight knit. for smaller projects, maybe separate, so they can roll things out faster (less time spent on ideas/brainstorming - or from a brief created by another team of senior creatives/dev’s). if you’re using separate teams, and if the teams are a bit big, a traffic manager is essential to ensure good communication between departments and that projects are delivered as scheduled.

and well, let’s return to the real world.

139   Bermon Painter ~ 05 March 2008

1) I am both (but I also wear a couple more hats and deal with web analytics and usability studies). I work freelance on the side but I also work full time with a dedicated team.

2) I would agree with that statement. It’s not too difficult to find just designers or just coders. If you can find an individual that can design and code then they are worth their weight in gold because they are very difficult to find.

3) In my full time job our team is an experiement for the company. Until now they have had a dedicated team of designers and a dedicated team of coders to manage all of the companies online real estate. It takes ages to plan things out and produce results. They decided to create a small team of 3 (a developer, a designer/coder/usability/analytics - me, and a business manager who understands the web and has experience running a .com). In two months we were able to completely redesign a fairly large news site for NASCAR news, migrate everything to a brand new CMS while continually adding new features through quick iterations.

140   Vernon ~ 05 March 2008

1) Both and as a Freelancer. Also, by coding I don’t only mean XHTML/CSS but also dynamic PHP and MySQL database powered websites with custom functionality.

2) In the freelance world, I believe that if you have the ability to do both, and you concentrate your efforts on growing in both areas, you will always have an edge over those who do only one. However, if you are working on an in-house team you may be tasked for just one area.

3) I believe that the fewer number of hands in the pot is a better situation. A team can definitely get projects done faster but, as you say, that doesn’t necessarily mean more “productive”. I believe that if you do have a team working on a project then each member should have specific roles and responsibilities. I think that “better” can only be defined when you confine the pool of talent/teams which you look at.

141   Dennis West ~ 05 March 2008

Hey Cameron,

1. I’m both designer and coder. I also do print design as well for my full-time gig and freelance.

2. I do agree with you that those who can do both will have an edge. It’s nice to go into a project and know from the start as I’m designing it how I’m going to make it work through the code. I guess it’s possible that that might keep me from pushing boundaries, but I think it works well. I have a friend who’s a designer only and gives PSDs to the web people at his work and he seems frustrated by not knowing how to do it himself.

3. As I’ve always pretty much been a one man shop whether in my full-time job or in freelance, I find that I much prefer being involved in all stages of production and so I believe that a company would be more productive to have the designers and coders able to do both—though I suppose their responsibilities could be more focused if it was a big enough team.

As a designer, I’m always thinking about how useful it is to be able to code, but I’ve known many programmers who don’t have a design sense at all and I wouldn’t be comfortable handing over a design and expecting them to execute it faithfully. If the coders could be designers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to do the designing, I think it would just mean that they have the sense to understand what’s important about the designs and will be able to maintain the integrity.

Make sense?

142   Chrissy Cowdrey ~ 05 March 2008

1) Both. I work within a team from 9-5 and then freelance on the side.

2) Absolutely. I think anyone with both abilities have an edge over someone else who can only do one. It sets them apart and ideally puts you ahead of the really great designer who can’t code or vice versa in the job market.

3) In my experience, having a team with designers and coders separately expedite a project. But again, having all the knowledge helps I think.

143   Annie McCance ~ 05 March 2008

Here are my humble answers to your noble questions:

1) I am a devigner- half coder, half designer. I work both full-time in the entertainment industry and as a freelancer with my own clients.

2) I might be biased but- I think designers who have to physically make the webpage have a significant advantage over designers who can’t. The designers who have no coding experience are usually print designers who were asked to design a webpage and it’s frustrating. My new mantra (from a recent slideshow I can’t remember the author) is: “Digital Media is as different from Print as a Speech is different from a Conversation.”

3) I have never worked on a team project with designer-only and front-end coder-only types (I guess I was that person.) I have worked with PHP/ASP.NET guys who slowed up the process considerably though… sorry.

144   David ~ 05 March 2008

A brilliant print designer who knows nothing of the web will face similar challenges to a brilliant film actor who’s never performed in front of a live audience, much less a thousand seat Broadway house. The venues are really different. There are superficial similarities in the skill set (to the outsider), but vastly different techniques and compromises needed to pull off a convincing performance.

Film, tv, and theatre have had a lot longer time to live together than print & web have. Actors these days are more likely to have moved back and forth and “get” the different techniques needed to succeed (notwithstanding some notable failures). There will be a time (fairly soon, I think) when designers will be equally schooled in the various strengths and limitations of the print & web media.

When we discuss “designer” vs. “coder” I think the key thing is, does the designer understand the strengths of what code can do but also the limitations of the web medium? Film directors, designers, and actors moving to stage can have a hard time understanding that nothing is “out of the shot” until it’s completely offstage. Conversely, stage practitioners can have a hard time adjusting to the fact that the “audience” is 2 feet from your face, not 500 feet away at the back of the theatre.

Film/tv/stage or print/web — these are modes of communication that seem quite similar at the basic level, but for the practitioner there are critically important differences in techniques to make them work for the audience.

Admittedly, this is not a perfect metaphor for the designer vs. coder question. But it’s a reasonable way of examining how skills & talents may not easily translate across different media. So I definitely believe that the designer who understands code (at least to some degree) will have the edge over the designer who doesn’t.

At the same time, “Citizen Kane” is an example of a designer who didn’t understand code at all (Orson Welles had never worked in film) demanding ridiculous things from his coders (cinematographer Gregg Toland and writer Herman Mankiewicz) that had never been done before in that medium. The resulting product remains the single biggest leap in cinema history thus far.

So there’s at least one example of an ignorant designer bringing code to a whole new level.

145   Philip Renich ~ 05 March 2008

1- I’m a coder first and designer second. I do both (plus back-end dev) but know that my grey-matter lends itself better towards coding/programming. It’s that whole logical math side of the brain thing (though I also play a bit of music). My experience flows only out of freelance, though more and more I would like to create a small team of people to work with, and feed off of their creativity and inspiration (not just in design).

2- I was going to say yes, but I think it depends on the situation. If my client is a “Mom and Pop” kind of business, and I’m not a web firm, they aren’t going to want to deal with a designer and a coder I don’t think. One person to communicate with, to see face to face. However, if the client has the gusto to handle dealing with both sides of the coin, then I think the benefits of specialization may outweigh a duel-y.

Then again, a freelance coder can always outsource the design and the client never sees more than one person. (or vice versa) But you do risk the “playing telephone” loss of communication someone else above mentioned.

I want to say yes, especially as it is my situation, but think you need to pick and choose your battles (both as the client and the contractor).

3- I think the productivity would be better to have the separate teams. That way you don’t have everyone in the team tripping over each other trying to do the same work.

However, What I see as more important is that those who specialize understand one another. Without mutual understanding of the other skill set, at least on a basic level, and how it works, is going to make for hard forward progress no matter the situation.

146   Samy ~ 06 March 2008

I believe that a designer has to have a fair amount of experience in HTML/Javascript coding in order to make truly great user experiences. When designing for a specific medium, a designer has to know the possibilities, the behaviour and the rules of that environment to use its full potential.

147   Tanny O'Haley ~ 07 March 2008

1) Developer

2) Yes, however a jack of all trades is a master of none. So I may be a very good coder and a so, so designer or the opposite.

3) to have a single team of designers/coders. That way they are a team, not competing with each other.

BTW, in the Autocomplete example I have to hit the tab key twice to get to the button next to the field.

148   Paolo Sordi ~ 08 March 2008

1) Both
2) Since CSS, code and design are strictly connected, now more than ever
3) A single team

149   Hector ~ 12 March 2008

1. Both—designer and front-end developer.
2. If a designer can code, the more likely he/she can understand the nuances of website development.
3. It is a huge help if you have a team composed of designers and front-end developers on one end of the spectrum and another team on the back-end (programmers).

150   Guz ~ 18 March 2008

1. Both, part of a team.

2. I think that if we’re talking ‘bout XHTML and CSS, it shouldn’t even be considered as code. It’s just formatting and structural language. I understand that real code is .net, PHP and so on; CSS and XHTML are too damn dumb and obvious for designers just feel they don’t have to learn it. Now, I was a programmer my self, and I think designers should design and mount the page in XHTML and CSS, and if needed, the REAL programmer should make it work with his magic.

3. It is much more productive to have separeted teams; one team of designers that just design it in photoshop and a team of designers that mount it in XHTML and CSS… Here we take turns, so everyone codes and designs once in a while.

151   Yunus Tunak ~ 18 March 2008

1 - Both

2 - Edge is a truth for interface projects. Same goes for flash or other environments and even 3rd part applications like MOSS, think of a designer who knows nothing about code, he will be totally clueless or can manage to do something but i bet the final product will be much different then his initial design.

3 - Combo men are hard to find but a team of such would be undefeatable :) How can i describe how to code my design to a man who doesn’t have an eye for design and vice versa..

152   Caroline ~ 20 March 2008

1: I would consider myself more of a coder, but in the front end sense, rather than any .net, server side scripting. I work hands on with a design team who do “code” but not in the same sense as me.

2: I think it really depends on what the focus is on the role. I work with designers who can code xhtml and css, but don’t really take into consideration SEO or accessibility, whereas that is what I work with, alongside some scripting (javascript/xsl). I don’t think there is ever an advantage so long as people can focus on something and learn it well, and then learn something else. Jack of all trades master of none is always a problem, but choosing carefully what you specialise in is far more affective.

3: Haha…we’re still trying to figure this one out, so I’ll get back to you on this one!

153   Earthceuticals ~ 22 March 2008

Visual elements are so important. Thes are what determines whether the reader stays on site long enough to see your test. Good Stuff.

154   Ruan ~ 31 March 2008

1) I have done both but currently am specializing as designer.

2) I agree that the person who does both have an edge - provided they are good. On the other hand doing both can leave you not doing either justice.

3) I think larger companies/projects benefit from separate teams whereas smaller companies/projects and freelancers should do both. If I had to do both again I would have to adapt my design to this.


Authentic Boredom is the platitudinous web home of Cameron Moll, designer, author, and speaker. More…

Come in, we're hiring

Full-time and freelance job opportunities. Post a job...

...view all jobs »


A selection of fine reading, available for a limited time only:

In Print

CSS Mastery CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standard Solutions A solid round-up of indispensable CSS design techniques by Andy Budd, Simon Collison, and Cameron Moll.

Mobile Web Design Mobile Web Design A guide to publishing web content beyond the desktop. Tips, methodology, and resources. Now available.


Letterpress Posters Letterpress Posters The unassuming beauty of a freshly letterpressed print.

Wicked Worn That Wicked Worn Look. Techniques for that worn, aged, distressed look.

Mister Retro Mister Retro Machine Wash Filters Turn the dial to “Instaworn” with these filters.

Blinksale Blinksale Dive in and enjoy shamelessly easy invoicing from Firewheel Design.

Basecamp Basecamp My preferred web app for internal and client project collaboration.


HOW Conference HOW Conference Austin, June 24–27. Pentagram, Adobe, P&G, et al.

Web Design World Web Design World Seattle, July 20–22. Practical sessions on web design.

An Event Apart Stimulate Salt Lake City, September 2009. Entrepreneurship and design conference.

Feed Me
Articles: RSS
Linkage: RSS

Follow me: Twitter