In my post, Are You a Deluded Developer, the issue is raised as to whether a developer could be both a desktop developer and a Web developer. The real focus of the post ended up being about designers. As a result of this blog entry, a few discussions on the topic occurred on the forums. More interesting was a follow-up comment made by FunkyDexter on VBForums:
“Desktop Developers don't have designers! Ask one of us who designed the application and we'll scratch our heads and mutter....”
It is interesting to think about the difference between desktop and web applications and the level of design each gets. There is actually some truth to the fact that Desktop applications don’t (as in do not) need designers to the level that Web applications do. In fact, most desktop applications don't have designers involved.
When you think about it, most standardized desktop applications use standard windows colors, borders, and controls. That is the glory (or should I say "gory") of using an operating system like Windows – everything has its place and Windows helps with the style. There are generally Ok and Cancel buttons, and they are generally located on the bottom of the page. If you follow the standards for design that have been developed by Microsoft and others for building Windows applications, you quickly realize that there is not that much room for design. Rather, you get to create relatively drab, unexciting applications.
Of course, the drab design comes at the benefit of usability. While the application might look drab overall, it will be similar and thus familiar to people. Such similarity makes an application much easier to use.
Web applications are not confined to the same standards as desktop applications. While they are generally confined to browsers, the rules applied to desktop applications are not being applied to the web. In fact, with the growth of RIAs that use technologies such as AJAX, Flash, and Silverlight, there is a bit of a move away from the standards set for Windows applications. While the rules could be applied in the same way, they generally aren’t.
The end result of all this? Developers have gotten away with building desktop applications without having to need a designer. With Web applications, suddenly having a designer is much more important. Just following desktop design standards won’t give you a Web application that most would consider very good looking. In fact, many times it is likely to be seen as gory.
What is the bottom line? While you while you can get away with building desktop applications without a designer, you can't do the same with Web applications. For this reason, many developers who got away with "designing" desktop applications, really need to think twice before believing they are Web application designers.