A few weeks ago, I returned home from a design retreat in Palm Springs with 20 other freelance designers. The first night we arrived rather late and I found myself at the end of the table sitting next to some lovely ladies, including Star St. Germain. She gave us a little sneak preview into her Q&A topic all about web development and design. I quickly learned that Star and I have a big thing in common : knowing both design AND development. She leans more towards web, while I lean more towards design.

I’ve always been very thankful that I have knowledge in development, but recently, it seemed to be more of a hindrance. Not only did I want to focus on design and outsource developers, but I found myself a little stuck within the web design world. Because I have first hand experience in how coding works, I understand when a design would be extremely complicated to code … which means, I may shy away from some types of design in the web world. Star defines this as a hybrid designer and developer. As she explained this to me that first night, my mind was blown. I realized that YES, because I know code, the sky is not the limit when it comes to web design … but that’s okay.

Although this sounds like a negative thing ( and I thought so at first ), it’s definitely not. If you’re a designer who has coding knowledge ( hybrid ), you have a little more power in terms of understanding what will and will not work. In contrast, designers without coding knowledge can open a blank canvas and feel free to just design without constraint. They aren’t bound by div tags or jquery floating in the back of their brain. Both situations have their pros and cons … but neither is a bad place to be. For example, if you understand code, try to design more outside of your box. Design freely as much as you can. And for non-coders, maybe you make an effort to learn how to better send files to developers and make the collaboration process as seamless as possible. It takes work, but being on either end is absolutely fine. Don’t let it get you down.

Cheers to Star for making me believe it’s okay to be a hybrid. I’m that much more motivated & committed to be more free within my web design now! I know that there are so many talented developers out there that can make any design become a reality. It’s all about finding the perfect match!

  1. Dara says:

    Yes to all of this! I’m a hybrid designer/developer in my freelance life, but in my current full-time job I work 100% as a developer, and I have to say that working with designers who understand a bit about code makes my life so much easier. Even if a designer isn’t an amazing developer, having some knowledge of what’s possible is so helpful/important.

    At the same time, when you’re hybrid and you’re designing a site that you’re going to be coding, it can be tempting to stay safely within the bounds of your own knowledge and not push yourself enough. So, it’s always a balance.

  2. Zoe Rooney says:

    As you know, I took the developer-only route, although I do have a fine art and design background. I find having that hybrid knowledge base invaluable, for sure. And yes, it is wonderful when designers know a bit about code to inform the way they make design choices but like you said it’s also fun when they let go of the “rules” to then have the challenge of figuring out how to say “we can TOTALLY do that” from a code perspective.

  3. I know how to code but I’ve outsourced my development for years and I highly recommend that route for anyone who prefers design; I hated being bogged down in code when all I wanted to do was design.

    My web developer loves me because I’m so organized and do understand what will be easy or difficult to code; but I don’t let difficult code limit my designs, in the past I have and I was never truly happy with my work, it all looked the same. So this summer I’ve been working on some killer websites that have many of the bells and whistles that HTML5 has to offer and I can’t wait until their live! My web developer thanked me for bringing him those projects because he has/is learning so much while coding them.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I think it’s awesome you know how to do both, it’s something you should be proud of! But still don’t let it limit you, maybe do the simple coding yourself but hire someone to do some of the more difficult coding so you can focus more on the design; which you are very good at by the way. :)

  4. Kim Senn says:

    This is completely different, but I felt the same way when I was creating all original paintings rather than prints of my original designs – so many people wanted the exact same painting, so I kept painting the same thing over and over again. Talk about limiting!

    When I hooked up with a printer who helped me develop amazing prints of my work, it was so liberating and now I feel like I can focus on new products, new designs and actually being creative!

    (I guess the parallel is that partnering with a good developer could be invaluable for your business, maybe not on all of your projects, but perhaps some of them!)

  5. JP says:

    I’m glad that there’s someone who feels the same way, and who’s in the same position! Taking this advice to heart — I’ve always felt so constrained by the fear of having to code whatever design I come up with. I really need to block those thoughts out, open a blank canvas, and put my imagination on the page. I feel as though some of my design can seem minimalistic, and not always purposefully, but because of being a “hybrid.” Hopefully consiously trying to ignore that part of my brain will free up some of my creativity!

  6. Kate says:

    This makes so much sense! I guess I’m a hybrid- I never really thought of it that way before, but everything that you said is true! I definitely feel boxed in sometimes on the design end because of what I know it would require on the development end. Thanks for sharing, Bre!

  7. Erika says:

    I’ve only just started to do more development in my latest projects and I definitely feel like I’ve been limiting myself because of my coding knowledge. Although it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’ve also been wondering whether or not I really want to actually offer coding as part of my skill set… I do enjoy getting lost in code for a few hours but I’m much more fulfilled when I spend time designing. Thanks for a great post!

  8. […] Be free, lance: hybrid – on Breanna Rose […]

  9. CANDACE says:

    Hi Breanna!

    I just landed my first major freelance client a few days ago and it got me thinking about the process and being very professional about it. I thought about your amazing series and have a few questions for you. Maybe you could write your next Be Free, Lance post about the following:

    Invoice’s: Do you use an online invoicing program? Create a profession branded version with CS5, or even use PAYPAL?

    When you first land a client and you’ve realized how many hours you’ve racked up, how do you make it official so that you aren’t waisting your time if the client decides to flake? Do you have them sign a contract? Do you request a deposit – if so what percentage of the final amount?

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and knowledge!



  10. Anne Rutter says:

    As a newbie to freelance design, I wonder if being a hybrid is all it’s cracked up to be?

    I’m a lover of all things visual and web design is my passion. After college, I decided to follow my dreams and teach myself design & development. In addition to learning Adobe Creative Suite, I pushed myself to learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and WP development.

    Now that I’ve stepped out as a freelance designer, I wonder if being a “hybrid” is what I really want?
    Design is my passion. Am I spreading myself too thin and loosing focus?

    It’s a constant struggle, but your post reminds me that knowledge is always a positive. Even if you decide to tweak your freelance career goals.

  11. I’m starting a career in web design, and you hear so much about the whole ” should designers code?” thing. I learned how to code but felt that it was affecting my design skills. Many times, I go the easy route designing because I know I won’t be able to code it or it might complicated.
    When I design, and someone else is coding, I feel more liberated to be creative. I feel coding make restrictions in my design.

    That being said, coding can be fun, and I love the feeling when your floats work properly or when your solve a bug all by yourself.

    Great post.

  12. dee says:

    bre this is a great post. as a graphic designer in the industry for the past 7 years i’ve always just designed, never coded any of my work. i’d love to see a post about creating that seamless process with your developer. i’ve worked with many different developers and not once have they/i had a specific process. it would be great to get a better understanding of what would make this process run smoothly and what developers look for. i have only started taking some courses in html5 and css…very beginner level. keep up the great posts!

  13. Mandy says:

    At work, we call ours deselopers :)

  14. […] terms of web design and I think their about page is a perfect example of that. Being that I have a background in coding, I have a harder time letting loose within a page layout, but time has proven to slowly but surely […]

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