[nycphp-talk] Working with designers

Paul A Houle paul at
Thu Aug 20 10:43:16 EDT 2009

Yitzchak Schaffer wrote:
> Hello all,
> I discovered a great resource a few months back: 
> One post in particular, , got me 
> thinking about workign with designers.  Since we have no design staff 
> in our shop per se (the technical office of an academic library), my 
> PHP sidekick and I put together whatever designy elements we need for 
> our sites.
> After reading this article, I'm left wondering: what are the basics of 
> working with designers?  I wasn't even familiar with the term "comp" 
> that's being used in the post and comments.  Where can one learn the 
> fundamental assumed communication patterns, role & workflow 
> expectations, etc. that go along with this relationship?  What is a 
> developer meant to do after being handed a PSD?
> Many TIA!
    A "designer" can mean very different things.

    Some "designers" are very good at drawing and painting.  My wife,  
for instance,  occasionally does corporate identity work for smaller 
businesses that want a really original logo.  She prototypes with pencil 
and paper and only converts to a digital vector format late in the process.

    Other "designers" are good with tools like photoshop and 
illustrator.  Some of them can draw and some can't.  An eye for 
composition,  colors,  and choosing fonts can get you a long way.

    Most "designers" aren't that creative.  That's not a bad thing,  
because copying elements of other people's work helps create a 'design 
vocabulary' that people understand.  That's why so many cars you see in 
showrooms today steal the blockiness of the new Dodge Charger or the 
roofline of the Toyota Prius.  These elements communicate a message that 
people understand.  Movies are made up out of bits and pieces of older 
movies because it's quite difficult to tell a story visually in a way 
that viewers will understand if you don't build on shared experience.

    Some "designers" are great at making print material.  There's 
something to say for having a corporate identity that's consistent 
across print materials such as advertising and business cards and on the 

    I know a "designer" who's an absolute CSS and HTML wizard;  He even 
knows a little PHP and Ruby on Rails.  I wouldn't trust him with data 
modeling,  but he's got a good sense of what's possible and what's 
maintainable on the web,  and he'll produce you a "look" that works on 
the web,  loads fast,  is compatible across browsers,  etc -- he's the 
best kind.

    A critique I have of a lot of designers I work with is that they 
tend to think in terms of static images,  not things that are 
parameterizable.  For instance,  not a single designer that I've worked 
with who's designed a login form has considered the question of "what 
does the login form look like if somebody enters the wrong password?"  
Often they're pretty puzzled when I push the design back to them with 
that question,  and,  except in one case,  I've always had to improvise 
an answer to that myself.

    I worked for 5 years at a very political sort of organization where 
my first task was converting the new homepage design (a PSD) to HTML,  
images and CSS.  It took some aggressive tricks to pull the design off 
and we were all proud of it when it was done.  Well,  the page aged 
poorly over 5 years,  and by the time I left that job I wasn't so sure 
if I wanted to point to it on my resume.  Every part of the organization 
wanted to have it's own link (or a bunch of links) on the home page and 
that pressure caused the site to degenerate rapidly -- it became a site 
for sore eyes.

    An excellent design anticipates that kind of change.

More information about the talk mailing list