Designers and Developers

Go to an interactive design or web conference and ask an audience to raise their hands if they are “designers”, then again if they are “developers”, and I am always surprised to see that as much as a third (and sometimes more) of the crowd will just stare back at you perplexed, annoyed, or with playful contempt.  Turns out the label “designer” and “developer” are pretty ill suited to describe many of the ranks of folks who build applications, interactive content, and websites.  More than two distinct populations, these folks form a continuum of personalities, training, passions, and skills that span across uber-design (say, graphic illustration or photography) to uber-development (writing low-level drivers for devices, or algorithms for image processing)… while the majority of folks might be comfortable with one of these terms, for many they fail to deliver any real insight.

However there are a few statements I’d go on the record as making about the two populations that I think are unequivocally true (and are correlated in numerous quantitative research projects we have conducted):

  • Designers tend to wear black clothes, often turtlenecks, as much as 67% of the time in winter months
  • Developers like free t-shirts received at tech conferences (or as morale boosters at work), where as designers tend to use these shirts as extra materials for collages and cleaning up acrylic paint from their art-boards
  • Most designers can’t do math or quantitative thinking above a high-school level, rather, they make decisions purely through emotional intuition and guessing
  • Developers don’t understand modern art, don’t attend techno or electronic live performances, and only read non-fiction books
  • And contrary to popular belief, Santa Claus is a designer, not a developer…

Yes, the point is that any characterization of “designer” or “developers” is bound to fail, and the above examples are merely a yarn.  But I bet I had (many of) you on “designers wear black”…

By now you’ve heard about Microsoft Expression, a new product family from Microsoft “for professional web and interactive designers”.  Yes, “designers”, not “developers” (haven’t I fully undermined the validity of those terms yet?)  Coupled with our Visual Studio product line for “developers”, the two product lines together aim to radically improve the process of collaboration amongst teams of “designer/developers”.  We think role specific tools will help users with different skill sets, sensibilities, and passions to feel more at home in their tool of choice, while simultaneously allowing everyone to just swap projects/files and iterate along the way from concept to delivery of a project. 

Back in December of 2006 we shipped Expression Web (the rest of the Expression Studio is coming really soon (this quarter)) and we decided NOT to include it within any of the MSDN Subscriptions that many developers and organizations use to stay up to date on all things msft platform/tools.  That was a tough decision because clearly design/experience is becoming a more integral part of the development process.  Not to mention many developers do “design”, and many more still might want to do “design” in the future, why shouldn’t they have access to the product? – or so the question we asked ourselves, and boy did we hear it asked of us from our customer base!  As we listened to the 1000s of points of feedback on this decision, we turned our attention to Expression Blend, and the similar question of whether the interactive design tool in the Expression Studio would likewise be included or not in MSDN subscriptions. 

Along the way of this dialog with customers and numerous in person meetings and visits to studios and dev shops where real work between designers/developers is taking place, one thing kept striking us over and over again was: whether or not “developers” will actually use Expression or be more satisfied/active inside of Visual Studio, the larger issue is that by not having access to Expression Web/Blend, we might introduce complexity in the designer/developer collaboration that has been so much of our focus in building the Expression family.

As of today we are adding Expression Web to MSDN Premium subscriptions (and the greater Team Edition offerings), and it will be available for download immediately.  This is the full product license, per other products available in MSDN subscriptions.  We are also going to include Expression Blend  in these subscriptions once it ships. By doing so, we know that we are doing the right thing for not only “developers”, but hope this will also benefit “designers” who adopt the full Expression Studio and work on teams collaboratively with “devs”.  So much of what we are delivering in our platforms (ASP.NET, “WPF/E”, WPF) can only fully be exploited and realized when both the visual/interactive/emotional design is coupled with the functional, programmatic, deployable and secure manifest—and that is the focus that drove this decision, irrespective of what you call the person who does what on the project.

Check out Soma’s blog on the subject for another perspective.

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