You Are Not An Architect

Does the ongoing comparison between web designers and architects really hold water?

As tortured analogies go, the comparison of web designers with architects pops up more frequently than most. I’ve heard it used most recently in ongoing discussions around the subject of designer’s ability to code, in reference to whether we should use the materials of our end product – HTML, CSS, and Javascript – for the process of visual design.

Architects ensure their work will comply with industry building standards, and understand the characteristics of the materials used to bring buildings to life; their expense, strength, and environmental impact. They design using glass, steel or brick, not with it – It’s clearly not practical to experiment with these materials on the same scale as the finished work during an architect’s design stage, but given the chance to walk around, stand inside, or take the elevator to the top floor of their imaginings, would they? Would an automotive designer skip the clay modelling, focus groups, and lengthy prototype manufacture to see their work in motion at the earliest opportunity? They don’t have this option, but given the chance I believe they’d step through the glass doors, take the wheel, and experience their creations as soon as possible.

We already have this opportunity. Whether it’s building rough HTML/CSS prototypes, translating visual style-guides into front-end pattern libraries, designing fully in the browser, or passing polished comps to a front-end developer, as designers for the web we are in the enviable position of being able to bring ideas – rough, polished, or developing – to their end medium in an incredibly short space of time.

Having experimented with redesigning the majority of my recent portfolio website using just code, I’m still (for now at least) most efficient designing with a browser, not solely in it. However, two years of designing responsive websites have seen the editor/browser bias change as the practice of designing responsively becomes more familiar. Experimentation with process and practice are leading to welcome evaluations of the best way to deliver device agnostic experiences with RWD.

Regardless of the stage you (or a developer) take your design to the browser, having the option to fast-track an idea to it’s shippable medium is a unique facet of working with the web. The ease with which we can create, adapt, experiment, share, gather feedback, and update our work in it’s delivered format are some of the most attractive aspects of working in our industry.

It’s why I’m a designer for the web, and not an architect.

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash