The rise of the “Full Stack” Designer and the tools they use
When I had just started as a web designer, I already had some experience with front-end development. I wanted to take part in the entire process — from concept to design to actually solving world problems — and I wanted to code it on my own, as I could.
Having these skills as a young product designer in a design agency enforced me to code stuff on a daily basis. This has led me, much like other web designers, to a professional identity crisis. I started asking myself the questions such as — “What is the border between design and code?”, “Should I really code stuff instead of design?”, “Does having developers in the process really makes it simpler?”, “Damn it! I’m wasting important design time on solving some #$%@ing code issues!”
As time passed, I realized more and more what was obvious — design is not only ‘look and feel’ or ‘visual identity language’ but also how things work and behave. Code is only a tool to make it happen, and nothing but a tool, just like a hammer or scissors.
Don’t stay classy
This is the classic process of a web designer in a startup or web design/development agency — meet with the client and/or understand the requirements, after several iterations involving Concept and Design — the customer approves stuff and the designer delivers the files to the developer. At best, the developer has some design sense and implements it according to the designer’s wish in a snap, or worst case (which always seems to happen), further iterations are required to implement 100%.
Working with developers in terms of the realization of the design has always been a big pain and non-stop iterations, but recently a beautiful thing has happened in the world of Web design — the term “Web Designer” is turning in favour of the term “Full Stack Designer”. It no longer conveys the meaning that the designer just delivers source files, but that the designer understands the world of the web on technical levels and fulfils the design to a working prototype, and not just a few designers but many.
Ben Blumenfeld (Former Design lead at Facebook, Co-Director at Designer Fund) tweeted something that made me think “What is your profession?”
The borders between design and front-end development were always thin. After years of discussions and debates in the design community — Let’s not ignore it anymore — The borders are now getting even thinner, very thin.
Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself “The line is getting thinner because web designers have more awareness to code” which is true in a way, well… The days when a web designer finished a job by sending the PSD's to the developer are not completely gone yet, but there is movement, something is starting to happen, awareness, right? I’ll get to the point — it’s the tools that have been given to us to build the web, that makes it either intuitive or complicated.
More and more tools are entering the market that is labelled “No Coding Required”, allowing designers to execute their work without writing a single line of code. Designers want tools, simple, yet flexible tools! More and more designers and small web agencies are using tools like Webflow, Froont, and Macaw, which generate static pages with beautiful semantic code.
Code is complicated, UI is not (if it’s done correctly).
There is no replacement for developers, but as tools get more visual, developers can focus on the real problems. Some developers will disagree about this one but it’s true — a developer’s job is to get out of the job. It has always been this way, just as programmers in the past used to connect cables and which turned to binary code, which evolved into Basic that evolved to C, etc. At the end of this evolution, we will have pure UI’s that enables us to build UI’s
In web development — “Stack” means layers of technology in an application. Example:
HTML & CSS is not coding anymore. Now what?
Since coding now (or later) happens the visual way it means each and every web designer is “Full Stack” oriented, or at least can have a “Full Stack” mindset. Is “Full Stack” not just about the technical part but part of the whole process and life cycle of a product? The product designer is a fundamental part of the product and business.
Ran Segall (nuSchool, Any.do):
“Full Stack Designers — Designers can provide much more value than just the design of the product by being full stack designers: write great copy, create videos, do marketing, research and basically solve much of the startups problems with their tool box”
This slide describes it the best:
Design now defines the process
The tools needed to build the web are evolving, but must evolve more — our tools should have a constant dialogue with the process as the people building these tools should give the answers to “How do we define the process?” and “What do we expect to achieve?”.
I’m not trying to create any new labels here, nor convince web designers to change their workflows or to be more versatile, but I do think that it has now become easier than ever.
The best entrepreneurs are Designers.
Looking forward to the future. (epic music)