Web Engineering: Absolving the ‘Gap’ Between Development and Design

Web Engineering: Absolving the ‘Gap’ Between Development and Design

All too often people speak of web developers and web designers as if they were in two completely different camps — the designer as the architect and the developer as the construction worker. But building websites is more integrated than this model suggests. The “great divide” that exists between development and design is a mirage that’s been created by the different software and languages relative to those disciplines. Here are three reasons why web development and design are, in fact, different flavors of the same profession.

Both are primarily concerned with the user experience.

UX is paramount. Developers and designers halfway across the world from each other can agree on this. The major motivation in choosing one website design over another in the mockup phase, or in choosing one animation scheme over another during the development phase, or in deciding to relocate page elements post-development ultimately comes down to optimizing the UX/UI. Creating excellent functionality relies both on how presentable the site looks and how quickly the site renders content. Even back-end developers have the ultimate goal of handling data as quickly (and securely) as possible, all in efforts to enhance the UX. In effect, UX governs each step both designers and developers take.

A change in one directly affects the other.

Both design and development are intricately coupled and cannot be thought of as independent of one another. Aside from minor touches to some HTML attributes, any change in the HTML structure or edits to the CSS stylesheet will affect how a webpage is presented to the user. One can’t reorder, recolor, or reposition elements without in some way changing the user interface. Even a “simple” decision such as changing the styling of a button’s text might have an effect on the percentage of users that follow through and click on that button and generate a lead. Also, designers must be aware of how they arrange content with respect to the ease of coding it. More heavily embellished mockups tend to require elaborate coding structures and classes.

The end-goal is the same.

Web designers and developers are one-in-the-same; they just approach their work from slightly different angles. If we were to think of a website like a car, we could imagine that the designer is the engineer behind a CAD program, and the developer is the engineer cutting and connecting the physical elements and then testing the final product. Both are engineers. Both have to consider the end goal while working: optimizing function and the driver/passenger experience.

Since the end goal of optimization for web purposes is not all that different than of that for cars, then perhaps the time has come for web development and design to merge under the same moniker; as we astutely learned from the car analogy, maybe they should collectively be called Web Engineers. What are your thoughts about web engineering?

By: Kendall Fears
  • Bryce Thorson

    Great analogy for the designer & developer relationship.
    I’ll have to respectfully disagree and say that I do not think we should be consolidated into the same group simply due to the fact that we have different strengths and weaknesses in the manner of which we solve problems. Developers generally think more analytically and designers more creatively (insert ‘you-don’t-say?’ Nick Cage meme here). I think that playing off of our strengths and weaknesses, simply acknowledging and accepting ‘the gap’ in our talents would benefit us more as a whole, as it allows for a more synergistic approach to finding solutions to our industry’s everyday problems.
    As for the naming issue, I think there does need to be more of a standardization to it. With your addition of “Web Engineer”, I can already predict what the the job listing titles would look like: “Web Graphics User Designer Experience Engineer Interface Developer needed for website Engineering Development in HTML.” 😀

    • Kendall Fears

      Thanks for commenting, Bryce! I see what you mean about developers and designers tending to have different strengths and actually agree with you! It was not my intention to argue that they do not; it was my intention to argue that they are much more integrated than what usually gets recognized, and that the amount of separatism between the fields can be minimized to the point that they could be viewed as different specialties of the same profession. A web page is not just its design, and neither is it just its function. Engineering concerns itself with functional design so it seemed natural to call us “Web Engineers”.

      Even if you disagree with that part — what do you think about minimizing the gap in practice? Do you think that developers should be involved in the web design process from square-one? I’m curious what your perspective is on that, being a ‘Web Engineer with a focus in Design […]’ yourself 😛

      • Bryce Thorson

        Kendall, great response and thanks for taking the time to clarify. I can see where I missed what you were saying. I can also understand your point about how a web page is both a culmination of design paired with function, and that the industry would probably be more harmonious if we knew more about each other’s craft and expertise. If I am interpreting it correctly, I think your question about whether developers should be apart of the design process from the beginning is fantastic. I think there are some aspects of the project process in the design phase that a developer could really benefit from. Animation elements of a site are an example that I can think of where a developer/designer conglomerate could greatly increase the efficiency of the process.

        (Taking your idea a bit further)
        My only concern with broadening skill-sets in any industry is that you will always lose some area of specialization. If you have a team of jack & jill’s of all trades you will inevitably run into a problem when you need more expertise in a certain area. I’m interested in what you think in regards to the likely decrease in specialization where there is a broadening of skills in an industry.