This article was written in 2013. It might or it might not be outdated. And it could be that the layout breaks. If that’s the case please let me know.

Who’s responsible for understanding the nature of the web?

Today I had a bit of a heated discussion on Twitter. It started with something I tweeted about a project I’m working on. It has one style for small screens, and a completely different style for big screens. Matijs answered with a tweet in which he said that I’m lucky, because sometimes designers create one single pixel perfect design for a desktop site, when the thing we’re making is in fact a responsive website. To which I replied that some designers still have difficulties with the web. Charis suggested that we should be friendly, and help these designer colleagues out. And then the discussion exploded. Well, actually, I exploded. Because to be honest, at that moment, I had enough of it.

Why should I help designers who are too lazy to even try to understand the nature of the web?

As happens on Twitter, it turned into a frenzy. Fifteen people joined the discussion, and I apologise if I offended anyone, which I probably did. But in the end, I also enjoyed it because it gave me some valuable insights.

First this. This is not about every designer. On the contrary. Many designers do understand the fluid nature of the web, they are actively investigating it, and they create wonderful stuff. Actually, I think all of the designers who joined the discussion fall into this category, so I understand why they feel offended when I say that designers still don’t fucking get it. With that out of the way, here’s the point I’m trying to make.

Some of the tweets seemed to suggest that it is the responsibility of frontend-developers to explain to visual designers how the web works. And of course they are right: if you work in a team, you share your knowledge, and you work together to create a good product. So if the designer doesn’t know how to design for a flexible medium, the frontend developer helps them out. Which is all great if this flexible medium was a new thing. But it isn’t. It’s been flexible for twenty years. I know, most web workers have collectively ignored this fact for seventeen years, but even then: we’ve been working on responsive websites for three years now. This is not entirely new. So no, I do not think it’s OK for a web professional to still deliver an idealised representation of what a website should look like on a desktop computer. Peter van Grieken thinks that it’s a matter of time before natural selection kicks in and all the bad designers are out of a job. I hope I’m just being impatient here, and that he’s right.

And of course, some people, like Reinier rightly pointed out that there are also many bad developers out there who don’t understand the web: who create, sloppy, slow websites that break.

Maybe I’m just too impatient about understanding the web. Maybe we need much more time to understand it, like Maaike said: we’ve had hundreds of years to understand ink and paper, why the hurry?

Of course, Charis, Maaike and Ischa are right: you get the best results by working together, by sharing our knowledge, and by helping each other out.

My next blog post will not be another meta-rant about responsibilities.


  1. It seems you have been working with people who are just not on the level you expect them to be. There will always be those who don't want to learn or just don't get it.

    That is why _you_ are responsible for picking the right people to work with. Hiring is everything. When working in a company or freelancing, you are the one who has to screen your colleagues and decide if they are the right match for you.

    And if you have no choice but to work with what you have, do everything to get the best work out there. The solution: communicate and learn from each other. Choose the level of work you want to deliver.