WordCamp Raleigh 2011 Presentation: Bridging the Designer-Developer Gap

Well, that was nerve-wracking.

Here are the slides

And some additional commentary

I suppose, if I’m out to talk in a manner that challenges folks to leave their comfort zones, I’ll be bound to have someone in the audience who won’t like what they hear. The whole aim of the talk was to challenge folks to expand their skills to stay relevant in the medium. For print designers, it means that designing for the web is not just a matter of pixels but HTML, CSS and JS (and I admit that I am largely ignorant of Javascript).

After speaking with my colleagues and friends who were there, the consensus is that anyone designated “web designer” is one who implements a graphic design into the language of the web itself; this means that a graphic design education that ignores these languages is deficient for this medium.

If you think that finding the easiest, purchaseable solution will be enough for even the shadow of a career in a design consultancy, you are sorely mistaken. I’ve seen plenty of tweets from programmers (or in common parlance, developers)—self-taught, school educated or both—who sneer the idea that someone who can implement plugins is considered a “developer,” and for the same reason, any designer who thinks they can slap a logo on a prepackaged theme and call it a day is…eh.

I guess they can keep the title. Just as false prophets, we will know them by their work.

I was happy with the open discussion from the audience towards the end of my session; I was not expecting that. When I spoke last year, I had an audience that didn’t have to feel the need for commiseration. They were looking for direction, and my talk last year was a very gentle nudge. This year, I could see that the talk encouraged discussion from that has been bubbling under the surface.

One takeaway that seemed to stick was it was a matter of communication. Yes, but it’s only the first step. You can’t communicate clearly the concepts that you have little to no grasp of, so, yes, by all means, be a better communicator by knowing what you’re talking about.

Reception was far more positive than I expected, and I am very thankful for each and every one who thanked me for my presentation. I was worried that the message would be lost in the midst of the discussion at the end; that people would walk away thinking it was a whole lot of nothing. Judging by the responses from everyone, I’m glad that it wasn’t.

Perhaps the best part was after the talk when someone approached me, saying she knew HTML and CSS and has a background in writing, and just wanted to know how to make a WordPress theme. I tried explaining the hierarchy to her and realized she needed even more basic information, so when I had the chance I sat with her for fifteen minutes and explained the concept of template tags and how WordPress prevents designers from repeating themselves. Yes, Virginia, there are such people who have such a need to learn even this most basic of concepts. Contrast her willingness to learn, cf. the flippant attitude of merely leveraging money to meet a goal, and you see the diversity in my audience.

Maybe I could’ve handled it better. When I was asked, “why should I learn HTML when I could just buy a theme,” I imagined I had a look of sheer disbelief. I wasn’t thinking “how dare you,” but rather, “sir, it is this very attitude that I aim to combat,” because relying on buying your way through a craft doesn’t make you a better craftsman. I believe in craftsmanship. It’s the philosophy behind the cryptic “code is poetry” dictum surrounding WordPress. And I will be spreading the word: we can always, always do better.

Posted on: May 24, 2011 at 2:46 am under: WordCamp
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