Do you need to code to be considered a web developer? - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

What made Shakespeare the paragon of writers? There is a case to be made that, beyond simple raw talent, he had in his time, played many parts – he’d been both an actor and a director, before writing. Knowing stagecraft and understanding what delivering lines was like helped him to write plays which made the best use of his medium.

Knowing one part of the business made him better at another.

Now, to bring that lesson bang up to date: If a Web Designer is to have greatness thrust upon them, do they need to code? To be truly great at the front end of a website, do you need to know everything about the back end?

Thanks to the leaps and bounds in the development of themes and plugins, it’s entirely possible for someone who knows, essentially, nothing about coding to build a perfectly functional website, which will be responsive and secure and pleasing to both the eye and the search engine.

With a decent design sense and a bit more knowledge and experience, a Web Designer can put together a site which, to the untrained eye (in other words: the average client) will be indistinguishable from the best and biggest sites out there.

Yet it is still very much the case, throughout the industry, that the front end Design and the back-end Coding are perceived as very different disciplines.

Designers sweat the small stuff on the layout, the font and colour, the images and animation; they’re the ones who make sure the User Experience is right and that the site fulfils the client’s brief. The Developers then use tools like HTML, CSS, PHP and JQuery to make that design function as a website.

These two disciplines (one possibly more flamboyant, one arguably more precise) are quite different and require different skills and sensibilities, but are very complimentary. At their best, Designers and Developers work together – and it’s possible, of course, for both skill sets to exist within the one polymath person.

What a piece of work is code

It’s like the argument of form over function.

As Steve Jobs (heard of him?) once said: “Design isn’t what it looks like, it’s how it works”. That’s why Apple products (at least under his stewardship) were not an example of form over function. Their physical form was gorgeous and groundbreaking – but their UX was revolutionary and intuitive as well.

The self-described ‘Web Designer’, Jeffrey Zeldman maintains that “content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”

So, both of these industry leaders maintain that Design and Development work hand-in-hand. Of course they do, any website needs both form and function. But any Web Designer worthy of the name will know that and build a site effectively and sympathetically, with that in mind.

Let’s flip that on its head, then: if it’s important for Designers to at least be familiar with the nuts and bolts of code, is it equally important for Coders to understand the end-user issues of design?

The ‘off the shelf’ themes and plugins a Web Builder might use, can seemingly render all these questions moot. You can just drag and drop, right? True, but you can make so much more of them, if you have a decent knowledge of coding.

Take, for example, the WordPress theme Avada. It’s the most popular, most commonly used theme out there but, with some advanced customisation (which it’s designed to allow), no two websites created with it need to look alike or function alike.

Perchance to theme

So, there can be limitations of functionality, which mean that these solutions might not be right for every client, but that means they’ll be perfect for some clients!

There is no denying that a website built from pre-existing elements is quicker and cheaper to assemble, and that might be everything some clients need. The benefit of a carefully-selected Theme, from a reputable Developer, is that it has already been tested to breaking point and all of the bugs (should) have been fixed. A paid-for theme will bring with it a certain amount of support and the ongoing updates you need to keep your site relevant. It’s like having a whole team of Developers working on your site, at a fraction of the price.

Indeed, when you think that ThemeFusion’s Avada has been downloaded over 480,000 times, at an average $60 a pop, you realise there’s a lot of money to be made in this WordPress Theme lark. Hmm … Maybe it’s time to stop developing websites and to start developing themes.

So, what’s your take?  For a website to be as great in the act, as it was in the thought, does the Designer need to be a Developer, and vice versa? Did you start at the front end and work backwards, or do you feel that Development and Design are two separate crafts that never should directly meet?

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