Inside the critical, collaborative relationship between web designer and web developer
There’s an important reason why architect and builder are two different jobs: expertise.
Website design and development require distinct skillsets, specific knowledge and different parts of our brain to function. Designers imagine possibilities, and developers deliver reality. There’s a hilariously accurate meme that shows the two sides to creating a unique button on a website that beautifully captures the relationship between designer and developer.
At COHN, we’re incredibly lucky to have a talented designer (who knows dev) and a brilliant developer (who knows design) that work hand-in-glove to create our outstanding, award-winning websites that bring the best-in-class form and function together for our clients.
Design vs. Development: Finding Common Ground
Fresh off the launch of our own award-winning website, we sat down with Digital Art Director Gabriel Tarin and Senior Developer Paul Wood to pick their brains about the mind-meld dynamic between designer and developer.
Website projects start with visual design, obviously, so Gabe how early on are you talking with Paul about ideas you have for a new build?
Gabe: I think before we unpack that, I just wanted to say, I think there’s a cliche in our industry that developers and designers hate each other. Like it’s us versus them. But I think a lot of times that type of thing happens because the designer doesn’t have enough experience with code. Or the developer doesn’t have an experience with the design. We’re really lucky here because Paul has design experience and multimedia experience, and I know enough about code to be dangerous. That’s honestly why we have such a healthy relationship.
Paul: For it to work, you both need to know a lot. You probably need to know a lot about what each other does.
Gabe: Back to your question, though, the collaboration really begins after the website discovery when we have the functional requirements. You start to think, “It would be neat if a feature could do this or if the page could load like that.” Some of the design decisions are going to be really good or really bad depending on Paul’s perspective on what’s possible.
What’s an example of when you had to work through a design element you wanted to see on the page?
Gabe: I think IOTAS is the first time we ever did a site where we had a scrolling trigger, which means is as you scroll through, you’re actually kind of moving through the site rather than going up and down on the page. There were a ton of different transitions happening and other things being triggered as you scroll. And that was a pretty big feature. And so that was something that we needed to involve Paul with right away. “Hey, this is what we’re thinking. This is how we think about animating it. I think this should go that way.” And Paul was able to give us guidance on how it would actually work and what we should prototype for the client to explain our design.
Paul: Usually, it’s doing some technologies that I haven’t used before, like with IOTAS and the trigger effect. It’s all layered, scroll-triggering, which we had never done before. I enjoy the challenge. I don’t like running into things I don’t know how to do. It bugs me. So I have to figure it out. A lot of developers will say “I can’t do it or you can’t do that.” When really you can, but it just depends on how much the developer knows or wants to take on. If that makes sense.
Or on the COHN site, that cool thing where once you finish a blog, it automatically loads up the next blog for you to read?
Paul: It’s sort of an infinite scroll that fires a transition animation at the end of the web page while simultaneously loading the next page using PJAX. The animation finishes at the exact same layout as the new page. It’s a way of seamlessly loading the next page without doing a new page load. It’s been on my list for a long time to figure out. It’s not a simple feature.
Gabe: We talked to Paul about it and made sure he could do it first. That was one of those things where in the early stages we talked about creating a website that was not necessarily a catalog or brochure, but it was actually a new way to experience the brand by consuming content to navigate throughout. It goes back to the question about how designers and developers work together. If you have people who are able to speak each other’s language, you can work it out. Figure it out.
Paul: I do have one major complaint about designers. It’s when they design layouts with perfect title lengths. They like to stack fixed height columns next to each with no room for wrapping titles, and I’m like, “What happens when the client or SEO gets ahold of this title and it becomes three times longer? How’s that going to stretch? What am I supposed to do there?” That’s probably my main thing.
Gabe: It’s why we have to design for worst-case scenarios. We can usually work through those things.
Is there anything about COHN’s size or brand focus or integrated marketing team that also fuels our digital success?
Gabe: Our size helps for sure. Because we are small, it makes us so nimble. I’m able to have these direct, uninterrupted conversations with Paul.
Paul: I can’t argue with that. I’ve been the sole developer at every job I’ve ever worked at, and it’s helpful to have someone like Gabe to work directly with.
Gabe: I really don’t like it when we have to hand off our designs to a third party that the client is using to develop the site. It doesn’t set up the client for success. In fact, I know that one of our clients ended up having to fire that third-party developer afterward because they weren’t able to deliver our designs. The site was broken everywhere. The other thing is I really can trust Paul to bring the design to life because he has that design knowledge.
Paul: Also, I really understand WordPress and what it can do. I think a lot of younger developers just rely on these new slick builders that are easy and are trendy right now, but in a few years that tech will be obsolete. I guarantee it. Whereas we have been developing on WordPress since the days of Internet Explorer and we know exactly what will work for the lont-term and what won’t.
Gabe: The fact that Paul has all that knowledge is huge. If Paul and I were in a commercial kitchen, and we were going to make a burger, I could have a recipe for the world’s best homemade burger. This is the kind of bread we need. This is how the patty needs to be. Imagine if Paul is able to actually make the bread from scratch instead of using storebought, and imagine if I don’t need to write down the recipe for the bread because he already knows how to do it, these things are going to make a huge difference. All I have to do is tell Paul, let’s make this burger and he already knows how to do it.
Paul: Good example.
Why should a client use a marketing agency like COHN over one of those new easy builders?
Gabe: Sites like Squarespace and Wix have gotten really good at creating nice, simple brochure sites. Sure, they all look alike and have the same functionality, but not everyone needs a “brand experience” for their website. Take the COHN site again, for example. We wanted it to be an experience for the user to actually consume the site in a way that’s different than just a catalog of information. In that way, the website is doing more than just providing information. Or the Donor Alliance site, which we’re currently developing. It’s far too large for a builder like Wix or Squarespace. It has to do much more than what those are capable of doing.
Paul: Another thing for the Donor Alliance example is when you are programming from the ground up, you have much more consistency over the entire site. So clients that really care about their brand and consistency wouldn’t want to use one of those builders.
Reimagine your website with COHN
If you’re thinking about a new website in 2024, we strongly encourage you to reach out and meet our talented digital team to get started. Our design and development process is deliberate and built for innovation, so your website will age gracefully over the years. Let’s talk!