Access to Programmers Is a Necessity for Agencies to Design for the Web Correctly

September 26, 2008

Almost every agency sells interactive design as a specialty nowadays, however, many of those agencies are solely design shops without adequate access to real programmers.  They can get the CSS and HTML hacked together and throw up a site at a domain, but they never have a real conversation with a legitimate programmer.  I think in today's Internet Culture, there are many reasons outside of just implementation necessities that every design firm needs a reliable and trusted technology partner or programmers on their staff.

Today's web is all about functional web design and smart solutions, not heavy Flash sites that are confusing to navigate and that don't even work in some browsers.  While having access to a skilled programming team is certainly a smart practical decision in regard to implementation, I also think programmers' unique view of the web is especially helpful, and almost necessary, when planning a design for the modern web.  There are many benefits that come from having access to a talented programming team:

Also, just to be clear, when I say "programmers" throughout this article, I mean a legitimately talented team (could even be as small as two people) of technologists competent in several programming languages - not Joey, the intern who learned a little CSS and HTML in between making copies for the boss.

  • The first reason is the unique way that programmers approach problems.  They're taught to cut through the extraneous crap to find clean and elegant solutions to very daunting problems.  This approach is the breath of fresh air that many design firms need when staring down a site map that contains dozens or hundreds of pages for a client that needs an intuitive and easily navigable site.
  • Next.  Programmers are generally extremely diligent at following trends and upcoming technologies for the web.  The programming community is extremely tight knit, and programmers typically do a great job of communicating with one another about what's going on and what's next in the industry.  Designers have enough headaches in just following new design techniques and popular campaigns, it'd be almost impossible for them to also keep up to date on what's going on in the realm of technology.  A good programming partner will be able to help an agency quickly find relevant and inexpensive solutions to their ideas, rather than having to re-invent the wheel, since they will know of the relevant techniques and products already in the space.
  • Furthermore, programmers are in the business of innovating and this innovation is typically what agencies sell.  However, one of the principles of an innovative company is fostering a culture of innovation within your firm.  By nature, programmers are used to devising new and better solutions to old problems - it's very rare that you meet a programmer that doesn't have at least one side project to make their life, or in some cases, everyone's lives easier.  While designers and creatives may consider themselves the aristocrats of the Creative Class, programmers are the ones that innovate truly for "love of the game" and deserve to share the same caste level as other creatives.
  • Finally, programmers can brainstorm great ideas for a proposal or a new site that a typical creative would never have thought of unless they'd seen it done by someone else.  Programmers are masters of their craft and often devise new, creative solutions to meet a client's needs.  These solutions, ranging from simple to robust, can really improve a site and help deliver more value to the client.  In the end, that's a web design firm's job: to deliver value.  A team of programmers can be a significant piece to that puzzle, because they can think of new ways to deliver incredible value to clients that a typical agency may never have come up with.

While we most cerainly consider ourselves a full service web design firm, we also have a very legitimate claim to being a technology company full of programmers.  The majority of our designers are also very accomplished programmers - they're as gifted in Photoshop as they are crafty with PHP, Rails, JavaScript, AJAX, and more; in fact, our programming team developed a proprietary system that serves as a Content Management solution for ad agencies.  As a result, our team works as a technology partner for ad agencies around the country.  By closely partnering with us and having a mutualistic relationship, these agencies are doing exactly what I'm advocating for in this article by giving their designers direct access to talented programmers.

I think all of our partner agencies would agree that we add beaucoup value on top of our CMS and our mad programming skillz.  More often than not, our partners call us to discuss general strategy and get web advice rather than to discuss the specifics of an implementation - we're happy to act as a technology resource for ad agencies, and we think it's really critical that each firm find the right programming partner for their own agency.

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