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Why do developers suck at design?

edited March 2006 in Vanilla 1.0 Help
Mark being an exception of course, but I was browsing the Sitepoint forums and came across the "Programming God of the Year"'s (as proclaimed by SP) site and his blog His site screams prepubesent teen who set up a website for trading runescape hints. How can people whos vocation is web work, be so aesthetically retarded?


  • lechlech Chicagoland
    From my experiences, I'd have to say that most developers don't exactly suck at design they accell at it. And I don't mean design in the aesthetic sense when I say that. Yes, they might make poor style choices, but I wouldn't say that it's aesthetically retarded, not in the least bit. Under-styled, maybe, poorly designed, not so much if options are left open to improve upon in the underlying code. Keep in mind, most devs rarely care about how things look, and focus more on the development tasks at hand rather than worrying about how things look. Style and design take a back seat nearly every time if there's a proper goal to be met. That and after pulling out all your hair at the end of the day over programming and network conditions, do you think that you would REALLY want to worry about how things look initially? Hell no. You're invested in the fact that things need to get done first even before applying the first coat of primer. The last thing you're thinking of is what color to paint it and whether it needs a spoiler. Style usually develops over time when the developer has tons of extra time to worry about it. In many cases, it's not even necessary due to the nature of the project, especially if you're sharing/displaying/working with code and examples because the main focus is being useful rather than looking pretty. And if you look around, there are hardly many sites focused around coding projects that look both look good while being extremely useful and friendly on the eyes to read said code. Especially the biggest ones.
  • I'd like to add at this point that in my experience programming is something you can learn (ok some people can have a natural ability to a certain extent), wheras i believe design is something which is much more innate. Teaching someone to be an artist i would say is impossible. They either have it or they dont. I for one do not, wheras with a few prods in the right direction I can (allbeit not fantastically; though that might just be cause i'm lazy) throw some code together and have it work.
  • Mini: I disagree; I would say that most people cannot learn to program, no matter how smart they are or how much work they put in. I also agree that most people are fundamentally incapable of producing good design.

    So you might as well ask "why are there so few astrophysicists who are expert jugglers?" Because they're two relatively rare, virtually unrelated skills. That doesn't mean they're mutually exclusive, though, just that you're less likely to find someone with both than someone with one or the other.
  • While the skills aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, the type of thinking that is involved in being a good developer (logical analytical mathematical) is a very different kind of thinking than what it take to be a good artist. People tend to excel at one or the other as they fabor different parts of the brain. While it is possible for someone to excel in both (I know of a few amazing coders/artists) it tends to be exceedingly rare.

    One of the things we try to do at is to team up people with different skills. Its always exciting to see what a skilled artists and skilled developer can do when they work together.
  • Some of us just suck at both.
  • I agree with Bergamot here. Learning design is something you can learn. It can be hard to learn how to put things together well, and this goes for design as well as coding. Anyone can learn how to hack together something in (say) php pretty easily, as well as most people can thow together an UI design with a big OK button at the bottom. Being good at either takes more work though, and I think many coders rather learn themselves more about development than about UI design.
  • I believe that everyone can make a good design, becuase everyone knows what looks good. But the real question here is, is their taste aligned with everyone elses? I do both, development and design, so I could argue that neither of them is anymore exclusive than the other. Everyone can learn both. But programmer who studied programming and a programmer who is gifted is just like a designer with a good taste, they excel, others just manage.
  • I suppose the real key is the definition of design. I think that given a bit of time i could make something which had a very functional design (a desk, cabinet, whatever) but i doubt it'd look 'good'. I can think very logically (except when it comes to girls, huh?) but i cannot think artistically. I suppose my initial statement was flawed, but it was on the basis that more people can think logically than artistically; which in itself is a debate and almost undoubtedly biased by the sort of people i converse with on a regular basis. As has been stated, though, the real talent is being able to combine the two (logistics and [what i would call] design) together.
  • gigingergiginger New
    edited March 2006
    Wrong thread!
  • edited March 2006
    I think it's vey much a thing of practicing. There was this online game that made me think about it, you had to solve things before the timer ran out, but instead of just one problem, there were two (with seperate timers), one was simple maths problems, like 4+7, but the other was colour combination, so you had to figure out what a greeny and a yellowy colour combined to (for both problems you got three alternatives).

    I could keep up with both pretty well, but I talked to a few others about it, and a few of them had quite a bit of trouble with the colour part.

    I don't think I have some pre-wired designer/colour combiner brain, I just think that growing up with one parent being an artist makes you think much about how things look and so on.

    My point (finally) if you're a coder and want to design things, spend some time learning, trying out, studying. You have to work to learn usability, it isn't some magic ability.

    Edit: Found the game. It's called Twinoo.
  • Something that I neglected to mention earlier is that simultaneously being a designer and a programmer is a clear conflict of interest.
  • 3stripe3stripe ✭✭
    edited March 2006
    Twinoo doesn't really work for me because most Westerners always read from left to right so you end up concentrating more on the left hand side... Most designers are terrible programmers (me me me for example) so none of this suprises me.
  • lechlech Chicagoland
    It's really a balancing act, as far as conflict of interests go, I'd tend to agree. You can't really max out either of the skills though as everything is potentially perpetual. So, over time, there is the possibility to excell at both, it's just the matter of identifying which one you're really good at now. However in the end, one of those skills will always lag behind the other or they'll both be on par depending on which you focus on more exclusivly. Also, some design, at least those which are both aesthetic and functional do make you wonder whether that person is more artistic or more of the programmer type as in many cases, it's literally impossible to distinguish. There really is no black and white to this discussion if you look at it from perspective because there's always a grey area. And in the end, it's the user/consumer making the final opinion on what looks ugly or what is functional. And that user/consumer half the time might not care for either as long as its doing what they want. A good example of this would be in a corporate setting where employees are confronted with an endless array of fugly data entry programs. While they could be more aestheticly pleasing for the user, most of the time, it doesn't matter because function will over-rule form instead of complimenting it when there's money involved. Otherwise, it's the sheer laziness factor, because who doesn't enjoy tormenting others with a broken or obnoxious design, the humor there is endless :)
  • I personally think that great designers are artists at heart - and the same is true of great programmers. Remember, there is usually about ten ways to accomplish the exact same thing in the code - but the artist will find the most elegant and all around best solution to the problems he/she encounters. I also completely agree that both design and programming depend mostly on practice with only about 10-20% of talent coming from natural ability.
  • I think programmers are great at usability design, though not necessarily artistic design. This is from my own experience at least. I suck with graphics and I never try to do much with them. My sites are almost all text-based with very minimal graphics. I do this for performance reasons and also my own lack of artistic skill. I know one thing - while my sites may not be the most beautiful to look at, they are extremely useable. I'm very keen on having a clean interface that makes sense. I'd imagine most programmers are like this, and it kind of comes naturally. Programming after all, is a logical practice, and interface design is kind of the same way..."Now, if I'm a user, what would I expect to happen if I clicked this?" That's my personal experience anyway.
  • /me wonders where Mr.J.Nielsen (enemy #1) fits into all this...
  • I don't know why everyone hates on Nielson and usability, there's no reason why a site can't look great and be perfectly usable at the same time.
  • True, but why make your site look so 'usable' that it looks uglier than a dog turd? He just dosn't get that aesthetics matter too...
  • I disagree. What looks appealing to you is different than what looks appealing to him. A persons sense of style is just like a persons taste buds = every it (almost!) has them, but every one has it differently. I bet he thinks his site is great, and thinks your site sucks. Why might that be?
  • 3stripe has a point though, his site does suck.
This discussion has been closed.