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What is a "good website"? Experiences of a developer.

It's often said that designers and programmers don't get along very well. This does not mean they have a personal struggle, but communication is often an issue - and the fact that designers and developers live in different worlds, but need to communicate perfectly with each other - in the interests of the customer.


We met Alejandro Hirsch, a programmer in Innsbruck with Colombian roots, for an interview.


Helene Clara Gamper: Hi Alejandro, you're a programmer. On your LinkedIn-profile you are a "full stack web developer". Tell me, what does a "full stack web developer" do?


Alejandro Hirsch: Hi Helene. A "full stack web developer" is a programmer who works in the development of web applications on both the backend and frontend. The backend includes databases and other server services in programming languages such as MySQL, PHP or Node.js. Frontend means the user interface, as in HTML, JavaScript and CSS, for example.


HCG: How long have you been working as a developer?


Alejandro: Since 2016.


HCG: The term programmer is very broad and rather abstract for an outsider. So that we can get a better picture of your work - what specifically do you usually program and which software do you use for it?


Alejandro: In fact, there are many types of programmers. But there are two tools that we programmers almost always use: One is the integrated development environment (IDE), such as VS Code. The other is a distributed version control tool called Git. I also use DevTools, which are tools built into web browsers. Specifically, I'm currently mainly programming in Vuejs or Reactjs, which requires knowledge of HTML, TypesCript (JavaScript), Sass or Tailwind (both CSS).


HCG: I can remember my early years in 2010, 2011, 2012... Programming and design were still two completely different worlds that were really difficult to unite. Unfortunately, there were often problems with the technical implementation of the designs I created - the classic love-hate relationship between programmers and designers (laughs). That's why I moved the entire IT execution for websites and apps internally many years ago - probably the best decision ever. But tell me, how do you see it as a programmer? What are your experiences in the interaction between design and IT?


Alejandro: They are still completely different worlds. However, today it is much easier for the programmers to implement the requirements of the designers. Well, it's always been a one-way street for me anyway, but I didn't have a problem with that at all. I never had to say "no, that's not possible". As long as the designs are professionally created and shared, and details such as responsiveness or on-hover effects are clarified, there should be no friction.


HCG: What is your workflow like when you code? What happens when someone hires you to code a website?


Alejandro: Broadly speaking, there is usually a meeting with the project manager to discuss the details. It can also be the case that the result should deviate a bit from the design specification. Of course, I ask a lot of "what if" questions to be clarified by the project manager. After that, everything is pretty straight forward. I study the design (e.g. with Figma), then I write the necessary code so that it looks like the design pre-defined and does what it is supposed to from a functional aspect. Then I pass my result on to the project manager via a stage environment. There he can look out for functional and cosmetic bugs. After that, I fix the bugs and if everything is okay, you can deploy the site live.


HCG: What do you say when someone asks you to code a website but there is no design? After all, there is no website without a design. Or do you work with templates? What do you do when a client doesn't have a design but wants a website?


Alejandro: Well, there are many websites with no design, for example web applications. Those customers don't care about appearance, only functionality is important. In such cases, you can skip almost the entire styling code. Nowadays you can even make very good looking websites without a design thanks to CSS libraries like Tailwind or Bootstrap. Of course, these are boring out-of-the-box solutions with zero personalisation that are only needed internally. In such a case, the focus lies completely on functionality and usability.


HCG: How important is a brand design for you as a programmer? Does it even need a brand design or is a logo alone enough?


Alejandro: It doesn't really matter to me personally, because I'm only involved in the implementation. Of course, if the design looks bad, the website will look bad too. So a brand design makes the whole thing more harmonious and easier on the eye. That should be important for the customer, not for me.


HCG: How does the brand design have to be documented, what do you specifically need so that you can do a good job as a programmer?


Alejandro: In brand design there are many important values that I can use, like fonts, colours and so on. But web design is important to me. It should contain all web elements and their variations, as well as how the website should look on different devices (desktop and mobile is sufficient in some cases). But above all it helps me to extract information that does not necessarily belong in the brand design, such as menus, footers, animations, spacing, on-hover effects, various assets (placeholder graphics, images and text), icons, favicon (usually a logo optimised for it) and much more.


HCG: Have you ever created a website without a brand design? If yes, what was your experience? How did the project go?


Alejandro: Yes, a few. As said, the focus then is on functionality and usability, but since the last one is pretty self-explanatory, briefing talks for it have almost always revolved around "what it's supposed to do" only. The process for this is almost completely the same, just without aesthetics.


HCG: As a full stack web developer, what would you recommend to entrepreneurs who need a new website? What do you think they should pay particular attention to?


Alejandro: In my opinion they should ask themselves: What is the goal of the website? What do we want to achieve with it? What kind of website should it be? Web application, web shop, web blog, landing page, reservation system or something else. Does it need four to six or 100 to 200 subpages? How often do we publish what on the website? What amount of data is used? Should visitors be able to log in? Should they be allowed to comment on blog posts? And so on.


HCG: For you as a full stack web developer, what is a "good website"?


Alejandro: For me as a developer, a good website must have simple UI elements, use modern techniques (e.g. lazy loading, dynamic routing), it must perform well, be SEO-optimised, offer responsiveness and accessibility and must not have any bugs.


HCG: And what is a good brand design in your opinion?


Alejandro: Uff, I can't say much about that, I'm afraid... I personally like minimalistic designs with small, cool animations here and there.

HCG: Many thanks - or "muchas gracias" - for this insightful conversation.


Alejandro: Con mucho gusto.


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