For the first 10 years of my web worker career, I considered myself more of a designer than a developer. Despite front-end HTML, CSS and occasional backend experience, I saw myself as a designer. I enjoyed pushing pixels in Photoshop more than writing lines of code and debugging problems in IE.
Today however, I spend more time on the command line and in Sublime Text than in Photoshop, both on client and personal projects. What changed?
From pixel perfection to frontend development
When I was working as a full-time designer, I relinquished fate of my designs to developers. Frustrated at turnaround times and pixel imperfections, esp. in terms of alignment and interactions, I freshened up on my HTML/CSS skills and learned some
jQuery made coding fun again
Around this time, jQuery started to take off. jQuery made it easy for designers like myself to create interactions for my designs. It was like writing English: slideDown(), hide() and fade(). As the web matured, I also dove deeper into jQuery and figured out how ajax worked. I graduated to creating modals, tooltips and more.
That first jQuery call, probably hide(), brought me back to coding. It became fun again. Look ma, I made something disappear! I think I was also bored with plain markup and CSS, which was like fighting a losing a battle to the pixel perfection of photoshop. With jQuery and coding, I could do something I could not accomplish with Photoshop: animation and interaction.
A better designer
The beautiful thing about of knowing some frontend code is that it allows you to be a better designer. It lets you dream ideas that you can build - within a time and pragmatic constraints.
Jumping into backend development to start my own business
Slowly I realized, however, that design and frontend would only get me short-lived pages or demoes. But I wanted more. I wanted meaningful interactions, which meant data, which meant backend functionality.
I have an itch I want to scratch and I’m working on a prototype. I don’t know if this product will be useful to anyone else but me (although I hope it will) so I am not hiring a developer. I’m just building it myself, more or less from scratch.
It was a little scary jumping back into the backend. So much had changed in just a few years. But I hunkered down and rebuilt my portfolio site from scratch using the CodeIgniter PHP framework. Once I wrapped my head around MVC; it became easier and easier to learn a new concept. Terms like namespacing and decorators suddenly make sense.
Back to design?
Right now it’s daunting, building a prototype on my own. On the other hand, it’s fun to learn new concepts and then realize I need to rework designs because I forgot functionality or use cases that only occurred to me after I coded it.
If this or another project works out, I hope to bring people on board or hire a developer and go back to my roots: design.