November 18th, 2010

The Many Languages of the Web

Fundamentally, web designers need to work hand-in-glove with web developers, but sometimes the web designer’s vision exceeds the capacity of the Internet to support it. There’s a perfect corollary in the offline world: the print designer. As web guru John Reeve describes:

Print designers work against physical limitations of the client’s budget and the printing process. Good print designers work very closely with printing companies and have a good understanding of how the printing process works. Print designers will use this knowledge to squeeze the most visual appeal from the client’s budget.

Web designers have limitations, too… When these constraints are ignored the web designer will end up with a web site that is extremely difficult to build with HTML/CSS or that is too large for anyone to wait around while it loads into their web browser. In the end, the effect on the client’s budget is the same. It runs out before the project is completed. (1)

But what does all this mean? It’s informative, certainly, but it doesn’t seem to answer our original questions. Except that it does.

“Can’t” is as important as “can”

In other words, it’s great for web designers to have a good grasp of just what web developers can do. Critical, in fact. But it is equally important to understand what they can’t do.

The former is pretty easy. Developers bring a number of essential skills, talents and abilities to the table:

  • Knowledge of leading web technologies and programming languages, like HTML5 and CSS3
  • Savvy to the ways that users/customers can “break” the user experience, plus the expertise and experience how to compensate:
    • Outdated browsers
    • Modifications like turned-off scripting, image-loading, etc.
    • Using a low-capacity modem or text-only browser
    • Information submission/usage in exotic formats

Faster, cheaper, better

It’s a given that web developers can turn dreams into reality, and they can do it faster and cheaper than designers can do it themselves, by virtue of their expertise and the economies of scale created by specialization.

But if designers have a better understanding of the limits within which developers work, it means they can avoid the waste of disappointed expectations, unfeasible ideas and unworkable sites. They can work more efficiently and take that “faster, cheaper, better” and milk every drop of value out of it.

Now you may be wondering how on earth to figure out the scope of something as nebulous as “can’t do.” The answer to this one is simple and straightforward: ask.

By communicating early, often and clearly, web designers and developers can get on the same page to mesh dream and do-ability. Together, they can achieve more, at improved cost.

Want a real world example of what we mean? We’ve got some great ones. Contact a PSD Cut-Ups rep for more information.


  1. John Reeve, “Do Web Designers Need To Know Web Development?”