Programmers aren’t Designers but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

by Don Burnett

Recently on another blog I publish about Microsoft adding Expression Blend and Expression Web to MSDN. I reluctantly said I thought it was a good idea Microsoft is providing their designer tools to developers.. The developer community should understand and be able to use the toolset. Why is it a good idea?  Mainly to improve windows platform applications and to make them competitive with Adobe Apollo and MacOS X applications they will have to embrace design. That means (in a lot of cases) throwing out old design methodologies and  specifically their Winforms applications.

When I tell a developer he shouldn’t be the “designer” I get mixed signals.. That’s because everyone believes they are an “artist” and yeah just because your UI doesn’t suck, doesn’t make you a designer.. 

Anyway, here is my response to this guy’s comments. I think I raise some good points about this..

“… I actually agree with you, the developers need to start embracing design too. Giving them the tools is a very good idea to start the process moving.

When you mention: “Most of our dev shops don’t have or will not budget for designers, so I hope MS is planning a lot of dev ed. ”

You make a very good point in that they don’t embrace designers, and they should and one of the things the developer shops will need to do is start making room for the designers and hire them and pay them. That’s a sad fact of life, most Windows programmers don’t understand the same principles of design that someone who is educated in “design” does. It also makes most “Windows Designers” starving artists. Development teams for Windows now need to add two new positions to their team and need to learn to work with them. Those two positions being a “designer” and a “design integration specialist”. Programmers in general do not make good designers because it’s a totally different methodology of thinking. 

The “design integration developer” (also sometimes known as the interaction designer) takes the design and wires it up to the developers functionality. This role is very important because the integrity of the design must be carried over.  In Windows design this rarely happens today due to how restrictive Winforms really is for user interface design. With WPF this could change. Either way as a team hiring manager you really need to be thinking about hiring a Designer and a Design Integration Specialist from the start.

Art folk (designers) don’t even think like programmers (in general) and it’s a very different mindset and you can’t usually get there from here. In my over 20 years I have only seen a very few people (less than 10) who could do both well. Programmers think of logic and code. Artists think about the asthetic. 

That’s been the problem all along with Windows applications, there hasn’t been room for the designer, but if you look at Adobe and Apple this isn’t the case at all. Their products looks and works so much better because they thought about design first and foremost and programmed around the designer’s work.

Microsoft needs to hammer this point home to their developers. My suspect feeling is about two years from now when all the developers who are trying to be designers release applications that look and work like randsom notes (remember when typefaces/fonts were new on the mac?). After many failed attempts and programmers keep releasing WinForm Apps instead of WPF and their sales decrease, then the development houses will see the need for the designer and start embracing them and hiring them.

That’s why  right now the people best poised to take advantage of creating new Windows applications with WPF are the design firms (like IdentityMine,, and others) because they know this.. Most of them have been developing on the Mac and other design platforms (such as Adobe) where they know design comes first.

Sure I am not saying knowing a little WPF won’t help you look better with your apps. Microsoft has raised the bar. But designs for applications like you see on the pages of these design firms is a completely different process than you go through for design, interaction and UI design.

You will have to go through and learn that process, and if you don’t have the “designer mindset” you won’t be as successful and your application will suffer. I am really hoping that Microsoft starts seeing that a good MSDN coding demo isn’t the same kinda of presentation that is needed for the design community to embrace the product. See this article if you think it is:

The same goes for a developer trying to be a designer.. It’s all about focus… You really can do one or the other, and developers probably should open themselves to a designer deciding what your app should look and work like. That’s what happens with the very successful development houses on other platforms like the Mac. Most Adobe developers are designers to start with and Apollo is aimed at the design community by default. Most programmers I know program because they like the idea of control and crafting the whole application themselves and probably will be resistant to the change. 

Why is this change important though? Because it really will affect the overall successfulness of the Windows Platform as a whole. Embracing change isn’t easy, but with new platforms such as Apollo where the designer can generate a very full featured application that runs cross-platform (which means the same app right now runs on the Mac and Windows), we will start seeing less and less (real) Windows platform applications as the lines start to blur and robust-ness starts equalizing more.

Remember the old saying “Change or Die..” we really are there with this, and a lot of folks aren’t seeing this yet..

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One Comment on “Programmers aren’t Designers but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!”

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