Why web designers must keep up with technology

While developers flock to new languages and frameworks, designers need to stay up to date as well, says Zach Inglis.

As programming languages evolve, some designers are left in the darker ages. There’s a far more simple and enjoyable way to do better work for your clients.

While I like to straddle the line of design and development now, I’ve often kept myself in one or the other space. When I surrounded myself in development, everyone I knew followed the curve of the technology. Some jumped from language and framework to the next, others took calculated risks, and both tried new languages to evaluate them.

Without question

When I flipped back to design, I noticed that a lot of designers were using PHP without any thought or questioning about why? Other than it was ‘good enough’ and everything else was scary. While it wasn’t their main discipline of their job, they had spent many hours building blogs, websites and even products with it. You don’t have to program if you are a designer, but if you are going to, there may be potential hours to be saved by using other languages or frameworks. Why are few taking heed?

There are many excuses: ‘PHP works for me’, ‘the command line is scary’. However, I have a few issues with this, especially from seasoned web professionals. It’s intended to dismiss any future arguments or questions into the logic and reasoning for choosing their tools. Dismissing tool choices also leads to personal stagnation. The web has evolved long past where the languages on offer were Perl or PHP. Granted, it’s not easy to start learning, but the reward makes it worth it. We’re in a booming industry where more tools are coming out than most people can keep up with, but those who do keep up get the best jobs and clients.

This massive boom of tools can be overwhelming for even the sturdiest developer, causing analysis paralysis. I don’t think we should all jump to the latest and greatest, but both Django or Flask (Python) and Rails or Sinatra (Ruby) have been in development for many years. Not being able to meet the customer needs as fast and comprehensively as competitors means you’ll be left behind. We’re doing a major disservice to our clients if we fail to evolve our process and change how we achieve results.

Sticking to a single tool is not going to help you get to those best results every time. An alternative tool may be able to provide a higher quality end product, or a more efficient process of getting there. To those questioning why they should move away from PHP, I could quote many problems with it (‘Fractal of Bad Design’ has already done this well), and I can almost guarantee you’ll get your apps done faster using something else. PHP has its place but exploring the huge variety of options available means you equip yourself with the knowledge to pick the best tool for the job.

Picking the best tool

The biggest question for some is not why, but how to pick the best tool? One of the best aspects of being in our industry is everyone’s jobs, duties and skills are all completely different. There’s probably a wealth of expertise surrounding you.

While developers can seem like a grumpy bunch, most have a major desire to help and spread knowledge. Devs spend a lot of time contributing to a lot of open source projects, living on IRC and/or StackOverflow. I’d recommend checking out Peepcode and Railscasts, which are invaluable sources.

Another option is to find someone who knows what you want to do and pair program with them. I’ve seen people become a senior Rubyist in a year from everyday pair-programming.

Whatever you decide to use, there’s a plethora of options just waiting to be tried. Programming can be an incredibly fun and advantageous skill to have. Keep learning and experimenting and you too can be at the forefront of the programming evolution.

Words: Zach Inglis

Zach Inglis runs Superhero Studios and is currently organising HybridConf

This article originally appeared in .net magazine issue 243

Liked this? Read these!

Are you down with all the latest tools? Tell us in the comments!