Sorry coders, graphic design is 75% of the game

We spend a lot of time making our software well architected, maintainable, bug free and well written. It’s important to us that we build software that we can be proud of and that we can scale and maintain (alternately, you can take Fred George’s extreme position of building everything on throw-away microservices, but that’s a different post). In fact, in a survey of my team we found that companies we have worked in often have five to seven developers per graphic designer. That implies that it takes a lot more development effort that graphic design effort to get the job done.

My experience is, that from the customer’s perspective, great graphic design can cover a multitude of sins. A site that looks great will have customers apologizing for bugs. A site that looks ugly or unbalanced will have people looking for bugs. Whether we like it or not, customer opinion is predicated more on graphic design than all the work we spent making the software fast and robust.

Here’s a story I tell to illustrate this (I’m sure you have your own similar experience).

When I bought my house I knew I had to replace the furnace — it was a gas furnace from the 20’s that took up more square feet than a bathroom. I had a company install a top-of-the-line energy efficient gas furnace, inside the crawlspace, which meant re-building all the duct work in the basement. When they had completed the job, I saw that they had used three different types of duct tape throughout the basement. This immediately got me looking at other issues — such as the dampers they had not installed, seams that were either not taped or not sealed, and other minor issues. I had them come back and complete the job; but if they had been consistent in their duct tape use, I probably would have let it go at just having the dampers installed and maybe even let that be. The fact that things were inconsistent made me concerned about the quality of the work and look for more problems.

The corollary to this story is when I had my house re-plumbed with all copper pipes. The plumbers did a beautiful job, sweating clean, perfect joints and getting into the tight areas in the house with a minimal amount of holes. I was very impressed with the work. (As was the inspector: “Ken did this job? Ok. You’re all set, then. Bye.”) Even though it took two days to really flush the flux out of the pipes I didn’t mind because it looked so pretty.

That doesn’t mean we’re not putting a lot of effort into robust, responsive, maintainable code. But it does mean that we try to have damn good graphics design.


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