Why the "design in the browser" argument misses the point

That’s that over and done with for another year. Whilst the seasonal festivities will continue for a few more days yet, I talk of course of our annual dose of 24 Ways articles.

One of the reoccurring themes in this years selection pack of web design and development goodies is a concept that is splitting opinions like none other. Designing in the browser.

If you’re not up to speed, I suggest reading Andy Clarke’s Ignorance is bliss and Meagan Fisher’s Make you mockup in markup.

The main argument is as follows. By presenting mockups as flat visuals you are setting expectations that a site will look like that in every single browser. This of course is an unrealistic expectation, ergo presenting mockups as HTML markup ensures that from the very outset the client is seeing real web pages and in real web browsers - and all the nuances that go with that.

I personally agree with the underlying point there, but disagree with this notion that we don’t need Photoshop any more.

Why I won't be ditching Photoshop

I’ve been building websites for about 13 years now and for much of that time I designed in the browser. As I made the switch from amateur web design hobbyist to professional designer I began designing in Photoshop.

For me, making the switch to designing in Photoshop was part of my development as a designer. I find having a visual canvas to conceptualise ideas and experiment with colours, gradients, curves and corners and all the other stylistic details is much more effective than trying to do so in code.

Even if the end result is converted to pure CSS3 goodness (as opposed to the slice and dice methods of old), for me the Photoshop step is a vital part of my creative process. Put simply, my designs are better.

Educating clients

The underlying issue here is one of education. Our clients don’t know what a browser is, let alone what CSS3 modules each different browser does or doesn’t use. But we can try and educate them.

One of the things I’ve definitely got better at since going self employed is communicating with my clients, educating them on my web design process, and setting their expectations.

As a self employed person I have an advantage here. I am the web designer, developer and account manager rolled in to one and I speak with one consistent voice.

For the many designers and developers working in a more traditional agency setup it’s a different story. The designers and developers with the expertise often don’t talk to each other, let alone talk to the clients. They are simply not in a position to educate.

Is designing in the browser a bad idea?

For me whether you design in the browser or in Photoshop is nothing more than personal choice. I think there’s a solid argument for presenting mockups in a browser so if designing straight to browser works for you, great!

However, I sincerely doubt the vast majority of provincial agencies out there will entertain the idea for one second.