Creativity and web development

About six weeks ago, at the time my new website launched (with its new name), I presented business cards to a group of colleagues – they wanted to see the new identity. It was an unveiling of the next step in my business development process, and the changes really have moved things to the next level. It’s quite different now than it was in August and I think part of it has to do with a stronger identity.

One of the persons who saw the card (just prior to the relaunch of the website) made a comment about my business name – “I don’t understand the use of the word ‘creative’ for a web developer.”

That really surprised me, so much that I couldn’t formulate a reply as this person left the meeting immediately. But I thought about it on the way home and posted this incident to the Women Designer’s Group’s mailing list – this is a great organization of professional female web designers and developers. I wanted to see what they thought about it.

There were, as you might imagine, a large number of responses. Some said that maybe this person hadn’t meant it in the way I took it. Maybe so – but the fact that the speaker is a graphic designer and the owner of a graphic design business struck me as quite important.

My strong opinion is that web design is an exceptionally creative field. Web design, by its nature, is so closely tied to graphic design that it cannot be separated. Web design, done well, is graphic design + marketing knowledge + usability expertise + psychology plus a number of other disciplines all rolled into one. It’s creativity backed up with technology and more.

As I said I got many responses from others on the mailing list. Some were outright outraged – withholding their response in the interest of maintaining good relations with the list manager.

Many others felt the same way I do – creativity can be found just about anywhere and a person can approach many things in creative ways, but to do web design well requires a skillset that overlaps almost entirely with that of a good graphic designer. The comment was evidence of some narrow thinking and ignorance about what exactly web designers do (and how they do it).

My card says ‘developer’ but I’m a designer/developer, I’m better on the design side but really do both quite well. I think development can be as creative as design, just without the pretty pictures.

Others pointed out that it could have been an industry issue – ‘creatives’ being designers, copywriters, corporate marketing types but not coders or programmers. Print design is creative, coding is not.

I’m interested in what my fellow designers and developers think… What do you think? If you’re a web designer, or even a developer who works on the backend, do you style yourself a ‘creative’ or not?

18 comments

  1. I think that anyone who can survive in the fast-paced/meat grinder environment known as “corporate graphic design” (print and/or Web) must be “creative” otherwise they wouldn’t still be employed.

  2. Creativity is not just a secret for those you mentioned above, a coder has to be creative the same as an engineer and the same as a poet or a painter.
    So why Debbie do you need to tell people you are creative on your card (because you know you are anyway!)
    Good luck in your venture!

    Kind regards
    David Pleydell

  3. Hmm, I didn’t intend it to be a statement about me exactly, but it is. I thought that my old business name was too limiting and implied that I only did web design. I wanted a word that implied more capabilities, and ‘creative’ seemed to fit. Plus in my locality it’s not used that much yet so it stands out more. It’s a Swiss Army word.

  4. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received the look from a potential client when I tell them that I was a graphic designer for 20 years before I delved into web design and that you really can have brains and braun along with beauty. We even market ourselves as graphic designers living in a web designer’s world. I have many very technical people on my staff and each one of them has to be creative to come up with new and innovative ways of giving our clients what they want.

  5. Funny you should bring this up as I was talking to someone about this yesterday. I totally agree with you except for one big caveat. I have received SO MUCH business in the last year on redesign work because it seems like there are alot of people who design well and really can not code and visa versa. Customers do not know sometimes how lucky they arewhen they can find someone who can do both WELL. It’s a very fine line but I believe there is alot of creativity in coding BUT alot of my pure designer friends would vehemently disagree with me. What I have also noticed is clients sometimes confuse design / coding and think you are there to be “code monkey” person as they design some god awful site they saw online in the mid 90’s . HA!! I am rambling but the bottom line is I see this attitude all the time and the best way to deflet it is run an awesome business and make your clients and colleagues believers!! Thanks for our time..

  6. Interesting point.

    To my colleagues in the IS department, I’m in the space of not being considered a “real” coder… even though I do a considerable amount of hand-coding in PHP, Perl, XHTML, HTML, JavaScript, CSS, etc. as well as performing editorial tasks and producing graphical elements.

    My counterparts in the MarCom department, on the other hand, acknowledged the creative aspect grudgingly – and still don’t remember that I was an established print artist before I ever heard of this place.

    I suspect it’s a matter of perspective.

  7. The internet is a visual experience. To employ the services of a developer/web designer who does not have extensive graphic design experience is an invitation to failure. I’ve been a graphic designer for over twenty-five years and a web designer for about 5 of those years. Whenever I review web sites of a clients’ competition I am astounded by the lack of design. In my opinion, the combination of design and function are integral to a successful site. It would be a disservice to sell a site without them.

  8. My website is still very much under construction. I agree that website design/developer experts are indeed extremely creative. For example, knowing how to use “Blender” animation software to develop an animation for a website and then finding a file format that is vector based, allowing fast loading and execution…well let’s just say that a graphic artist would be a little bit “lost”. Each person has their own area of expertise and interest. A graphic artist is probably more of an “artist”, but coding software is just as creative. To a mathematician, just thinking about the ideas behind math systems is just as creative as the other fields. And it can pay off big time in future software development.
    Creativity can be applied to ANY field of endeavor and simply defines a person as having an interest in exercising the “imagination” that was bestowed upon them by God. God intended for us to be like Him in that respect. To give up on the idea of “being creative” is to give up on being who God made you to be.

    There are only two kinds of people in this world: those who think school is a “drag”, and those who know that education is a lifetime process…without which a soul becomes lifeless.

    God bless your creativity.

    Arthur

  9. I’m a teacher of writing – it drives me crazy when people talk about “creative” writing as if fictional prose/poetry requires any different set of skills than solid discursive writing. Writing anything requires creativity – just as web design does.

  10. Being a developer/designer, I put the developer first because that’s where my passion is, I often find that people assume because I’m a developer that I’m not a creative. Even when I’m not building the front-end design, there is so much creativity involved in making the front-end seemly work with the back-end. You can take the most beautiful design mockups, plop them on the web and end up with a bad site. That’s where the developers creativity comes in. Turning the design into a fully-functioning, smoothly flowing, interactive and engaging site. If your front-end doesn’t match your back-end the whole package isn’t complete.

  11. One more thing and I wil leave you all alone!! HA.. GOOD COMMENTS BY THE WAY! I noticed the comment about having graphic design experience ect. I agree with that to a point. The thing that alot of people miss and I have seen this alot more lately is “cool” vs. function. The clients are finally starting to get that a website is more an identity and not just something you slap up on the web. The problem comes sometimes that a client has a super cool looking site that has the functionality of a pet rock(no offense to all you pet rock people).

    The one comment by someone about the original issue about using creative in the name. Wjo knows? I can on some level see their point but then again it was a designer and NOT a client although they could easily become one. Your website is very cool and I wish you all the best.

  12. Dear Larry
    I would love to hear your thoughts on how one can as a designer and not a client could easily become one?

  13. David,

    Everyone is a comedian!! Bad english grammar even in blogs is not good!!! Sorry about the trying to do 5 things at one time thought. What I meant to say was ANYONE can be a client and as I am sure alot of people here have experienced there will always be some rub between people that are PURE designers and people who code. There was a great comment earlier in the blog about math and creativity. There is creativity in everything. It really comes down to the individual NOT one vs. the other. OK… Back to coding ..I mean designing!! ha!!

  14. I fully agree. I do both well but do not consider myself a programmer…In fact I do not like programming but enjoy using AJAX tools such as spry or fun code that is third party to produce nice looling sites that have good navigation and are 508 compliant. I have been called a UI developer or designer but I am not a true graphics designer. More of a jack of all things…what ever I need to get what I invision done.

  15. I am a artist who has done some graphic design and has composed several websites.
    Without doubt website design and composition is a creative process.
    The skill that goes into a good website that is attractive,successful and aesthetically pleasing is just as creative as producing a painting or any graphic’s.
    All have to appeal to the audience to be successful.
    Website design is special in that it is a interactive event. A website has to be navigable,
    attract the audience in a matter of seconds or the viewer will move on and also be found amongst the millions of other website sites on the internet.
    The website designer.
    A painting can be viewed at length and revisited at will whilst it is hanging in a gallery. A name can also sell a painting. Hockney has no trouble selling his.
    The graphic image is very much the same except it is selling merchandise, again the product could help sell the image.
    In webdesign the immediate impression is all important or the audience is lost for ever or to the big guys such as Amazon.

  16. Having morphed into the SEO realm from the web site developer/designer side my main comment is that if you are not creative in some way (design or development) you will not survive. I spend a great part of my time working on sites that look great but do not work. Anyone in this field must understand you are writing/coding for two environments the user/reader of the site and the SE spiders or monitors. Creativity is invoked in both environments

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