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Why Web Development is emotional work

Interview with Derek Lawrie and Martin Short, two Web Development Team Leads at Brew Digital.

Two Brew Digital Web Developers talk about how the design and technical teams link up, and how to ‘let it go….’

You two have worked on projects together in the past, and have a good idea of how projects run. Where do you guys start? Do you have some interaction with the customer, or does it go via the Project Manager?

We do! It depends slightly on the project, but there are certain things that remain constant. For example, the project is always led by the Project Manager – as the title implies. We meet to discuss what our customer wants from their site, and what it should be achieving. For example, the resources section can be quite important, as it’s where an organisation might put their links to white papers and all that sort of stuff. Others might prefer something quite simple; something clean and efficient. Every website is different, and that’s where we get to apply our knowledge to give the best experience. 

Every website is different, and that’s where we get to apply our knowledge to give the best experience.

The design and front-end of a website plays a large role in the user experience. How do you marry the technical bit and the design bit together?

Absolutely. The allocated designer does the design based on the brief and conversations with the client, and then would supply us with the source files. We can then extract the assets from those files and, I guess, knit them together with HTML and CSS, and mesh them with backend functionality – typically via a legacy CMS but we can do headless designs too.

How much input do you have on the front-end design? Do you ever have to go back to the design team with feedback on what’s achievable, or best design practices?

Yes, we can find ourselves going back to design to say something doesn't work as well as originally thought, once we’ve tried to build it. This may give rise to a bit of back-and-forth until everyone is happy with the output. We may also have to update the designer with some best practices (on the web) which they may not have considered. To be honest they are pretty good with things like colour contrast etc.

That said, we’re trying to further improve collaboration between designers and developers from the very start of a project. We’re starting to work with designers more closely than we have in the past.

Do you guide customers on how to keep their site updated?

We certainly can, but it depends on their comfort level and resources. It also depends on what's been agreed as part of the ongoing support after we’ve delivered their site.

How do you feel once you’re delivered your part of a project and the customer prefers to manage their site themselves?

It can be tricky depending on how much time you’ve spent on it, it can feel emotional to let it go. But the reality is that once it's live, we don't have control over what happens to it – especially when they're controlling their own content. Once it’s live and in the hands of the client, and they start adding their own content, it could completely change the aesthetic of the site and in turn change the original premise.

...we really care about what we produce, and how it looks...

So you can look at something you've created and feel attached to it and therefore emotional about the changes made?

Definitely. It’s cliche but we really care about what we produce, and how it looks. Obviously when it goes live and it looks great - you love it - it’s a great feeling, even if a little bittersweet to see it go. But it’s also possible to feel a bit disappointed, moreso if it was something you'd worked on for 6 months or more. I'd be more sad if I didn't agree with how it was evolving.

But that's the nature of CMS. Because you want to give customers a level of control rather than locking it down too tight, you could remove all the rich text editor capability, and have static kind of stuff in there, but then they won't have freedom to do anything with it. Ultimately you have to think about what’s best for the client, and we typically find it’s trusting them to make their own decisions.

In a way it’s a little bit like having kids; You invest the time and energy into creating the best possible thing you can, but once it goes out in the world you hope that it follows all the best practices you instilled.

I suppose that's the nature of the art form, it's meant to be organic. It shouldn't stand still, but equally the integrity of the site and its design needs to be constant.

When you're proud of a piece of work, you want that legacy to continue. Quite often websites will go in 2-3 year cycles of big change. So as time goes on you feel less attached if you’re not involved in its maintenance. You can’t expect things like that to stand still and when they do change, you have to accept that the changes may not be to your taste or up to your (perceived) standard. You’ve gotta let it go… as long as the customer’s happy!

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