There is no such thing as 'designing' in the browser

Design is not about techie tools, it’s about human imagination, argues Robert Rawlins

We work in an unusual industry, one which, until relatively, recently never existed and is constantly forging new job roles, ones which are blurring the lines between high-technology and fine-art.

This means that you have people like me, four-eyed, nasally congested computer geeks picking up our paintbrush and trying to be creative, or beret wearing, wine drinking, long-cigarette smoking art graduates cracking open a text editor to start compiling code.

We come equipped with an ever changing set of design tools to help us achieve this skills crossover, the latest fad of which is "the browser"... and this has gotten my spectacles all steamy because I can't help but feel there's been a substantial oversight ...

We are humans, not machines

Design is not about techie tools. It is about human imagination, human emotion and human interaction. We are creating these things for real people. Soft, pink, squidgy people; it must fulfill their desires and whims, and forgive their foibles.

The nature of us as creators means that we don't have our best inspirational moments while sitting in our IDE – we have them whilst laying in bed in the early hours, standing in the shower, walking in the woods or while doodling on a piece of paper.

Run free

Creative thinking can only happen in a medium that allows imagination, discussion and experimentation to run freely.

The human brain is capable of firing billions of neurons a second, this is a huge amount of creative power to capture, and you might, if you're ever so very lucky, have time to scribble the odd one down on paper, or to close your eyes and focus hard enough to remember it – but many of your ideas will be a momentary, un-noticeable flash ... blink, and you've lost half a dozen.

Do you really have time to sit and code those ideas? How many more will be lost in the interim?

Free love

Communication and discussion are key elements of design – drawing on the huge wealth of experience that your stakeholders have in their business is important. Giving them a medium in which they feel comfortable to share their ideas, explore their own creativity and effectively communicate it to you is vital.

Every time you put technology in the way of this process, you stifle them! Even if stumbling just for a moment, their whole pace and the richness of that creativity will be lost.

But avoid temptation

Advancing technology and the advent of HTML5, CSS3 and mobile devices means those of us creating things on the web have an incredible amount of power at our fingertips. However, with great power, comes great potential to go roaming where you're not welcome.

Ever since the inception of the <marquee /> tag or animated gif – us geeks have fallen victim to the temptation to crowbar the latest technology into our designs, regardless of whether it's appropriate or tasteful to do so. Until we learn to separate ourselves from this technology during the design process and focus more closely on the problem solving, we're bound to make this mistake again and again.

Engineering needs a design

What happens in the browser is engineering. While closely married to design, they are different things, and it's important that we recognise the distinction. Engineering is about materials, methodical thinking, mathematics and computing. It's about finding a way to implement a concept and finding compromise at the limits of technical capability.

Design, on the other hand, is about finding a solution regardless of the technical limitations, in order that they can be furthered. The whole time we continue to work within the boundaries, they will never expand.

I think people become confused because truly inspired and solid engineering can become beautiful in its own right – engineering as art. But regardless of how stunning the engineering, if the fundamental design challenges have not been elegantly solved first, then the end product is moot.

Design is not something born of the browser

It's not a mere product of the tools you use, it is about the way you think – a state of mind, an attitude, an approach. It starts in your brain as nothing more than a glimmer, then it grows as you play and toy with the ideas and it is refined through free-flowing discussion and feedback.

By constraining yourself within the confines of a piece of software, let alone one as complex as a browser or IDE, you will stifle your creativity, choke conversation and be drawn away from the most elegant and simple solutions.

These things are design, without them it cannot exist.

"Designing in the browser" is a myth – there is no such thing. Nobody has ever done it, and nobody ever will.