On programmers as designers

Turns out after my last entry that a few people sent e-mail saying they're tuned in. Huh. Sure, the stats show hundreds of hits, but I figured that wasn't for real.

Ever notice how most sites run by programmers have the worst designs ever? I remember thinking for years that 4Guys was borderline offensive (before the redesign). Slashdot is still hideous (it's called white space and padding, guys!). In both cases, it does illustrate that if you have really good content, people will overlook your design shortcomings.

So I decided I'd build a volleyball site because there's a lot of stuff in that realm that, as a coach, I need to unload and share. For the time being, success (i.e., traffic) isn't something I'm all that concerned about as much as I just really want it to be a place a core group will hang out. I'm even narrowing the focus to high school/junior Olympic volleyball.

The code template for the site is the uberasp.net code, so most of what I need to change is CSS for a "new" site. But I still need to make the header and logo pretty. I suck at this. I've worked with designers, but they unfortunately tend to go overboard. Worse, when you look around, it has all been done before.

I get stuck starting with color. There's a neat tool that helps me out, but I still feel like I've seen it all before. I do have a starting point for a logo, at least.

Eventually I'll come up with something, and I'm sure I'll hate it. The only designs I've really been proud of are one I did for a now-defunct community site for a client, and I kind of sort of like CoasterBuzz, despite being heavily into tables for layout (it's two years old).

Do you often pull double duty as a designer?


  • here's a good color palette page: http://slayeroffice.com/?c=/content/tools/color_palette.html

  • Nice tools, I think most programmers are seen as designers by most people, not that it is true, but for most people, if they hear you work on computers they think you are a network administrator/pc technician/technical support/programmer/designer/all round pc guru! :D

  • " Do you often pull double duty as a designer?"

    A graphic designer you mean? Sure. It's great to do that when coding gets too boring ;). However it's hard to find a developer who is also a great graphic designer, most developers deliver 'Programmer Art', which is erm... not good :)

  • Yes, I will admit it - I am a graphic designer who delves into programming. Probably I am not great a programmer. I think they are two conflicting trains of thought. Design is free-thought and creative - programming is ultra-structured.

    There are designers whose sites suck because the programming is bad - and there are programmers whose sites suck because the design is bad.

    Let's face it - we need each other

  • I program and design. I feel that I do very well at both. It all really depends on what you are inspired by. Great functioning code excites me just as much as fresh clean graphics do. I am an artist at heart. Before even touching computers I was an artist. After finding my way into the technical industry, I grew a fascination with coding. For me to be able to meld the two and be successful at it is only a testament to being able to work independently. Sometimes I think designers don't like the structure of programming and are put off by the vast knowledge needed to be a good programmer. Just the same on the other side, programmers seem to either get frustrated with graphics and the time it takes to create vibrant exciting images or feel they are above "design" because they are the true logic behind the web page.

  • It is good to know that a person can multi-tasks and is a multi-skilled person. Only being a one man army for any kind of professional project does not fit very well. A prorgammer must stay as a programmer and a designer must stay as a designer. If only one man do both at the same time; design and implementation including database and server management not to mention maintenance and marketing, you've read my mind... "It does not go very well."

    It's good to be both a programmer and a designer (vice versa) at the same time, only it must not be applied to one project alone. A pogrammer needs a designer and a designer needs a programmer. You must not be both. "There will always be something missing, or something wrong."

    If you disagree, your skills have already deceived you. Either way, this is just a slap of fact.

    By the way, I'm talking about the big ol' volatile database driven and resource hogging for both workforce and solution sites.

  • The war of the left brain and the right brain can often be a frustrating one. I spent 3 years as a CS major in engineering school and 3 years as a Computer Art major in art school. It's definitely nice to be able to do both the design and development sides of the house. But it's often frustrating when people expect you to be able to turn on a dime from one to the other. It's sometimes hard for me to just switch gears. Both sides take practice to maintain an adequate level of quality (probably the art side a little more than the programming). I often get told to stop what I'm coding and go off and design something real quick. Which can definitely lead to frustration.

    I completely agree with the feeling like it's all been done. I run into that feeling with much of my work. I use the Color Scheme Generator alot, but another trick I use is photos. If there is going to be a photo in the design, steal the entire color palette from the picture. Use the PhotoShop eyedropper to pull out some good contrasting colors and let the picture pull the design together. It usually works pretty well.

  • This happened to me just today:

    I work for a web development company. I write PHP, MySQL, CSS, and XHTML. The graphics are done by a really good graphics guy... as it should be. When I first layout a site in CSS I don't know what colors the designer wants so I make some up. I try using those online color picker tools, but the end product still isn't that great.

    So today my boss was talking to the graphics guy on the phone and pointed him to one of the styles I created. The guy's response was "is that header SUPPOSED to be that color?" My boss responded "Ryan's a good programmer, but is about as colorblind as they come" or something like that. I don't remember exactly. Seriously, I'm not colorblind, but making things look pretty is not what I do best.

  • I don't know how I managed to put my e-mail in the "Url" field. Doh!

    So this comment isn't useless: I have yet to meet a good designer who is also really good at programming. I would love to see the work of someone who claims to be good at both. If they are excellent at both congrats!

  • Looking for an answer to a problem printing DataGrids, I come across Jeff's blog (funny how clicking on one link leads to another). Let me jump in:

    "I have yet to meet a good designer who is also really good at programming."

    I'm working on it. :) I'm actually the other way around. I'm stronger with design, but I can hold my own with development. I'm certainly no Jeff Putz and no one is going mistake me as a guru, but I've done fairly heavy work on the code end of things (including working solo on a large membership reporting project at work).

    It's a competitive world and I'm working to separate myself as someone who is more than comfortable on both sides of the ball. Maybe I should pick one, but I don't have that luxury in a one person shop.

  • I got here from Beta StackOverflow, while reading I went to the sites you posted and said what on earth are those! They are still very ugly. CoasterBuzz was the thing that made me realize this thing has to be very old!!

    Anyway, after 7 years (and for more years to come) your point will still be valid. It's just irony that an article from a designer talking about bad design has a very bad design :), even if it's old

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