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Design Dev Manifesto

Updated November 2, 2014
Designer Developer Manifesto

Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

“..I found myself actually loving to wallow in code, although I was an artist who got into web design because of the financial prospects. Sifting through bits of HTML, constructing the scaffolding, learning the intricacies of how a well-built set of code was more functional than any photoshop document could ever be was challenging, but when I broke through a particular roadblock, extremely exciting.”

I feel the need to preface this by saying people who are into programming and know that they are just really good at coding need not fret. Team up with great visual designers, they are all over and sometimes it seems like there are too many of them.


Visual design for the web and development are almost inseparable.

It’s not a matter of my opinion. I propose we start recognizing the reality for what it is. Visual designers should become more cognizant of code and combine in front-end development skills with their visual taste. It’s best that we not leave those intricate details that get lost in the mockups to people who are self-proclaimed visually illiterate.

There is absolutely no disdain or turning up my nose at the ridiculously useful things that strict front-end developers do, but if you create interactions, and have to make decisions about visual design ever then it’s becoming more and more important to curate taste in your designs. It’s as simple as viewing top competitors, sites like awwwards.com, and keeping an eye on the best of the web. Ask your friend who churns out delicious visual designs all day to show you examples of sites like the one you are trying to build.


We need more interchange between disciplines.

Mostly I feel this is call to action for visual designers who believe those photoshop and illustrator skills are good enough. And this is a rally cry for us who grew up in visual design, tried our hand at code, and have gotten our code-legs. We know that great visual design happens in decisions made during the development process. We need to communicate these things to our teams of front-end development, and wherever these decisions are made.

When a mobile menu changes because of a structural issue, we need to be right there soaking it, and providing practical actionable ways to visually improve the existing solution. Now, I like to imagine a perfect agency somewhere who has literally thought of everything during wireframes, every single point of interaction from clicks and swipes and screen sizes. In this magical agency there is a team of 5 on visual design with a visual design genius at the front pushing with intensity for wholeness and clarity.

I like to imagine this, but the truth is these people are now either recognizing the for more visual decisions later in the process, or bloating the hell out their process towards the beginning to accommodate the thousands of visual decisions that need to be made. With responsive design, you would have to create a hundred mockups to show all of the different looks that would need to be created if you truly want to be responsive from the outset. A better standard perhaps is starting with 3 or 4 main sizes and accommodating further on in the process.

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This seems to crop up again and again for me. I will work towards exemplifying the combination of visual design and development.

On a broader level my greater life purpose is to be creative, and represent the spirit of love and life in my creativity. On a career level right now, I feel like Rufio leading a rebellion against the trickle down process of design. Visual hands off to Dev, and dev wishes they had 100 more mockups. Front End Dev should be highly informed by visual design, working in close proximity and purpose. A user experience centered, User interface literate front-end development team enhances the quality and feel of design work so much and is quickly becoming the standard. A development conscious, code-fluent visual design team will increase the quality of visual design, and make things twice as efficient.

Have you thought about this hover state? Yes, it’s here. What will the mobile menu look like, feel like, function like. Let’s collaborate on the intricate details and slowly move towards creating experiences that feel whole and fluid. I get burnt out, I get tired, this is not a sprint to finish line, but the conversation when it includes both visual designers and developers seems to always enhance the process.


Opposition or… The way it’s always been done.

None of this would be worth discussing if there weren’t 10 to 1 people in the industry right now stuck on the trickle down flow of visual design to development. Give us our designs! We’ll then create for you exactly what you ask. What collaboration? Well that mindset will be squashed by time in my opinion. Reading “Lean UX” by Jeff Gothelf, I was struck by the invocation to react to the responses of people who used a website and found problems, the need for this in our industry, and the prospect of how much this will help enhance the effectiveness of the web as we know it.

Now big companies have known things like this for years, and customer surveys and other ways to get feedback have been going on behind the scenes enhancing the way companies market to and service their customers, but the need to create this kind of disruption for small to mid-size businesses requires a certain amount of agility. This agility is a bold move. The move towards combining more front-end development and visual design is a practical way to apply this agility.

After an initial design there are visual decisions to be made in future iterations of design. Why not prototype them rather than mock them up? Visual designers, if you are growing the ability to quickly prototype your ideas in HTML, CSS and bits of Javascript you will be in a place to get the best results in development. Yes you may not be a deep backend guy who gets in and changes the user interface for the client on your content management system, or does a ton of stuff related to the database of your website. But every time you create in the actual material that the web is constructed of you are dealing with reality in a way user interface designers of not that many years ago thought they had no place in.


Maybe I’m wrong

If it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft, perhaps a combination of visual graphic design and front-end development will take 20,000. That’s 10 years of 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, instead of 5 years. And of course the field is always changing and re-arranging so consider the countless points of evolution that we have to continually be aware of. Retina this, HTML5 that. For instance, I’m big into WordPress.. What happens when the preferred CMS of many of the types of clients that I work with changes to something else, of course this will add another chunk of time to that 10,000 hours. However, some of the underlying principles for the craft transfer to the new arena, and the mastery builds on the understanding that one has built before.

I see some visual designers who are killing it so hard out there right now. Ridiculously cool stuff. They seem to have been born with an innate talent for creating delicious looking branding and web interfaces. If anything these could be the few exceptions to what I feel is the mandate of the future for visual designers to be fluent in code. Also there are front-end developers who work within highly integrated teams that have visual designers at their beck and call and fully trained to account for every interaction. To me, if you are in that situation, I look up to you in a way. What this article addresses is the fact that this situation is very rare from my perspective.


Then again, I’m in the thick of it, and to me I think this future is inevitable.

Even those designers who are killing it benefit from knowing how things work in code so that they can better rock the mockup. And the ideal of having visual designers with unlimited bandwidth and budget to account for every interaction sounds a bit like Alice in Wonderland to me. The future is fast approaching, and coming out of college and jumping right into the field this has seemed like the biggest disparity between reality and the lingering habit of web design teams that I can see.

Integrate, collaborate, Hybridize.

I’m seriously passionate about this, but that line sounds a bit like Corporate Ipsum to me. I hope you’re having a good day, and that this article gave you something useful to use. Feel free to tweet at me, or comment below with your thoughts!

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Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

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4 Comments on "Design Dev Manifesto"

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This is valuable advice and I believe it goes out not only to graphic design but to other professions as well. Mixing different people with different backgrounds can create magic. I saw that all the time in Academia.

Tim Brown

Thank you for your thoughts! 🙂

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