Schizo Jodi

In the world of web construction, tasks (and by extension, job titles) are divided into two distinct areas. The first area is called web design and encompasses all the visual aspects of a site from the color palette to usability and architectural aspects of the site’s organization. The designer uses programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver to pretty up the web real estate. She is also responsible for creating a logical and intuitive flow of information and might create site maps or what are called “wire frames” to conceptualize how users will access information on the site. (At a big firm, this might actually be a specialized position called the information architect.) In general, this person is not preoccupied with how the site actually works. She might have some programming ability in XHTML or CSS, but essentially the designer does not worry about the actual execution of the design.

That task is left to the web developer. This person might be building a database in Oracle or MySQL and then coding the web pages using a combination of XHTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, Ajax, and all other manner of gunk that comes together to tell the web browser how to access the page’s information and how to display it. This person has nothing to do with the design, layout, or architecture of the site. The only time a developer might do anything design-related is if she works with a program like Flash, where interactivity is being built into the design. Again, the actual design is often coming to the developer from someone else. She’s just the wizard who brings the design to life.

As I move deeper into my studies (and my freelancing), I find that most full-time positions at communications firms are clearly defined in one of the two above-named categories. At first I found this distressing. I was worried that I would have to at some point declare for one side or the other and focus my studies in design or development. Since anyone who knows me well knows that I suck big time at major life decisions, it will come as no surprise that I was dreading this choice.

Fortunately for me, these job titles do not define what actually happens in practice for most freelancers, such as myself. I have to be both designer and developer, and depending on the project, I have to have extensive knowledge of both areas. While this is pretty daunting in terms of the learning curve, I’m so relieved not to have to choose that I’m happy to double my work load!

It’s also important to note that the line between design and development is not so clear as it first seemed to me. For any given project, the design and the development sides are so intricately related that not taking both into consideration would be highly inefficient. In an industry where hourly rates can go through the roof, such negligence can get expensive fast. Designers must have working knowledge of development concepts and tools. Developers must do their work within the context of good design. If the relationship between design and development is not solid, the site will fail.

But wait, there’s more. By examining Jesse James Garrett’s model of the user experience, you can see how the many layers of design alone go into the construction of a successful web site. This model doesn’t even consider the development side of the project, or how it will work together with the design to create the final visual product.

When I first learned about this model, I found it extremely daunting. In order to create a successful website, all of the layers contained in the model must be addressed, and they must be implemented using the current arsenal of development tools. (An arsenal that seems to expand daily.) This is a lot for one lonely gal to manage. Nevertheless, I was happy to learn that my chosen field has so much depth and complexity to it. I know going forward that I’ll never be bored.

Now you guys understand why my rates are so high?! Yes? Okay, so quit your whining!