Designer or Developer, which are you really?


I came to Microsoft roughly 7 months ago, and I kept hearing “Oh designers will love this” and “Developers will love that“, and for me this did at times irritate me. You see, I’m neither really at heart, and if were to choose one or the other, I’d say I’m a designer. Yet my role clearly is a “Developer Evangelist” so shouldn’t I be a “User Experience Evangelist“.

Nope, that’s a totally different breed and Shane’s way more switched on this field then I’ll ever be.

I mean this as typically most folks live on a gradient scale, and if you were to plot which tool you have open the most you’d be surprised which end of the gradient you sit in. I typically sit in Visual Studio 2008 (VS2008) these days more then I do with Expression Studio, and that’s simply put because VS2008 has had huge productivity gains in Silverlight then Expression Blend (May Preview). That will change once both products are released I’m sure, overall though it’s an interesting proposition to behold.

You see, Microsoft are smarter then most people give them credit for, as if you were to build a platform in which you wanted both sides of the brain to play in, how would you approach this? given that we all have various positions on the gradient. They simply build two sets of tools, Visual Studio 2008 will cater to the bulk of the Developer mindset. Expression Design will eventually cater towards the Design side of the brain, whilst Expression Blend will kind of sit in the middle. Empowering both sides of the fence to well  – Blend – together.

Up until now we’ve had a really strong focus on Expression Studio for obvious reasons, it’s new and we realistically can’t overload you folks in brand confusion. Silverlight has been announced, WPF is being strengthened every day and Windows Vista was launched, yet we aren’t done. No sir, Visual Studio 2008 is the next wave to hit the developers shores and this is where you’ll see gains in the WPF and Silverlight investments, as with simple but elegant updates to “Split View”, Visual Studio 2008 itself starts to hint towards the middle piece of the gradient. It can allow a guy like me, whom is more of a “Interactive Producer” to play quite well in Visual Studio 2008 without having to open Expression Studio should I not wish to. Yet, life will obviously be much easier if I do, so let me make that clear.

The point is, this is Microsoft in a nutshell, we typically have this massive eco-system surrounding these two tools, and you have a lot of movement in which you can hitch your own career roadmap’s around.  The power of Expression Studio and Visual Studio 2008, mixed with service cloud and all the of the platform foundations (get ready for Windows 2008 to hit soon), Microsoft is getting its posture right. There is more work to be done, but think of this a sky scraper being built. The whole has been dug, it’s got the first few floors laid, we’re working on the Elevator Shaft each day and slowly we’ll have the skyscraper built. It’s not a sprint, it’s going to be a marathon but if  you stick around, invest in us long enough you’ll soon get access to the penthouse suite (for those of you whom hung in on that analogy i thank you).

When we say Developer vs Designer, we don’t mean you’re chalk or cheese, but we simply say that if you live on the gradient, there are tools that sit on both ends but both creep inward towards the middle.

This is Visual Studio 2008 and Expression Studio in a nutshell. Like it or lump it, that’s that.

Comments (4)

  1. Gary Barber says:

    What ever happened to using Designer / Developer not Designer or Developer

  2. Chris Tavares says:

    I would argue that the space in question is a plane, not a line.

    "Developerness" and "Designerness" are two independent variables, and as such should be a 2-d plot. If you put dev on the X-axis and design on the Y-axis the corners would be:

    lower left (0,0): Knows nothing about either

    upper left (0,1): Design genius

    lower right (1,0): Dev god

    upper right (1,1): sublime designer & developer (hire!)

    I suspect that you’d see clusters around high y, low x (primary designers) and low y, high x (primary devs) but there are people who sit in the middle.

    It’d also give you a better picture of where the various tools sit.

  3. Don Burnett says:

    I don’t agree with this position really at all. That’s why developers go to school for computer science and designers go to school for art. They both use computers but in reality they have very different disciplines, finding someone who is really good in both is lucky. I am afraid that the kind of thinking going around has a lot of developers thinking they can put on that art hat.

    It’s a lot like when MS-Word got fonts for the first time and everyone’s documents started looking like randsom notes until overwhelming style manuals prevailed.

    I am not saying there aren’t great designers and developers who do both, but there is a reason people go to school for one or the other. Most developers aren’t designers even with good design tools.

    Microsoft developers should be welcoming designers into their folds and focus their efforts on design centric development just as Adobe and Apple developers do, instead of flirting with doing the design themselves. We’d be saved from the randsom notes that will obviously follow.

    I think the reason for this kind of reasoning that developers should be designers is the fact that Microsoft is having a hard time getting developers to accept design folks and design tools into their development environments, unlike other platforms (like the ones mentioned before). I don’t think the current thinking on this is the answer to fixing that problem.

    see my post on my blog for further clarifications of my thoughts..

  4. Garry Trinder says:

    Chris: I like yours better, do us up a visual 🙂


    Most developers are designers, especially in the RIA space. Most designers code in HTML right? that’s coding, do they write abstraction data teirs, no but they still code.

    Understanding CSS + HTML + JavaScript is not a “no-brainer” yet most of the best designers online have this skillset under their belt. Design isn’t a magic or mystic art – ANYONE – can do it, if they wish to choose to do it. Most designs are at heart simply shapes aggregated together to produce gradient textured based solutions. Most mainstream designers generally have a “flavoured” approach to things that they will sit on for a while before they discover a new technique and apply it. Same principals with Developers, they’ll swear black and blue about a certain approach (thus frameworks at times get popular) until they discover a new awarness around something.

    Schools don’t teach you this, all they teach is the primatives, the foundation maybe (if you’re both lucky to get a school that does and you’re at a mature stage in life where you understand and absorb it).

    Microsoft isn’t really having a hard time getting developers to accept designers, the synergy has always been there – where we are focused is how to enable the synergy to be productive, in other words establish a foundation in which they can conjure their own workflows around. XAML is a dynamic piece in this conversation, as whilst Adobe are making some positive movements in MXML none the less XAML is much more of an elegant solution at the moment between both ends of the above gradient.

    You have to answer two questions really, “Where am I today” and “where do i want to be tommorow”. I’d wager most would like to build in the RIA space are those of a creative but practical nature and are looking to deliver a UX story around business problems.

    Designer and Developer can be as one, it’s not as hard as people think, it just requires an interest first and passion will follow. Guidance from the Design community is needed in order to help folks in the development space meet each other in the middle, showing off techniques like Glass, Color composition and so on.. not rocket science..