Four years ago, I was hired by Clearleft as a visual designer. Although it was recognised that I could write good front-end code, the nature of projects at that time meant different roles were segregated. After all, it is easier to manage projects when the component parts – user experience, visual design, and front-end development – can be pieced together like a jigsaw.
Responsive design has seen the boundaries between these disciplines blur; a nightmare for project managers, but a blissful existence for me.
Happiest when exploring the intersection between design and development, I can now take a website from visual concept right through to production-ready code. I can move between graphics application and browser at will, making changes late into production. The whole process feels like a two-way conversation between designer and developer, fluid and fleeting, yet set entirely within my own mind.
Still, there are times when I’m responsible for visual design alone. This inevitably leads to discussions about handover. There is never a good time to hand over a design, be it to a developer or even another designer. No amount of documentation can hope to describe the many rules, nuances and edge-cases that go into designing a website. Not working directly with the medium is anathema to the act of design.
A single-handed approach has its downsides, though. In seeking full ownership of a design and its implementation, a broader perspective can be lost. Critique and code review is essential.
Recently, we have started holding weekly design reviews. Not only can I share my work with others in the company, but I’m forced to articulate the micro-processes that have taken place internally. Anyone in the company can attend, and some of the most interesting discussions have touched on how developers interpret visual design comps. In short, it is easy for both parties to make assumptions, and only closer co-operation can prevent this from happening.
After a decade of self-contained practice, designers and developers are now having to open up to each other. In this new world, is there any room left for artists?