Consider the following (idealized) chart.

enter image description here

Now, I have worked with colleagues from every side of this spectrum and have learnt that, unfortunately, it tends to be more like this.

enter image description here

Most "web developers" tend to know very little of design principles while, on the other hand, "web designers" tend to know very little of the technical side of the web. Well rounded "web crafters" are hard to find.

This unfortunate but real scenario makes creating a responsive website for a team of developers and designers a pain. Web designers tend to forget the site should adapt to every possible commercial device and often design rigid layouts that look great on their own screen but are impossible to turn into responsive websites. Developers, on the other hand, tend to make brutal adaptations of the designer's vision trying to achieve responsiveness.

Where should the responsibility of designing a responsive website fall? Should the web designer be expected to provide well thought guidelines for the developer on how to adapt the website for every possible scenario? Or is this an unreasonable expectation?

Please notice I am focusing on the design side of it, not on the developing side of it.

  • 2
    BTW, I like your graphic. It might make sense as a reverse bell curve too. In an ideal world, the number of people with these skills would be a flat line. However, in reality, as you've found, the ends of the spectrum are populated much higher than the center with a reverse-bell curve gradation.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 16:38
  • Good idea! The ol' bell curve strikes again: ) It would have to be a 3D function, though, since there are 3 variables (design skills, technical skills and number of people.
    – cockypup
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 16:43
  • Good point! You'd need a z-axis. Now I'm seeing an upside down bell curve shaped a a bow-tie (narrow in the middle along the z-axis).
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 17:48
  • 3
    Communication! If you have a person on the left who is really good at communicating with one at the far right, then you essentially have two people in the middle. That's why good communicators are as important as well rounded skilled workers.
    – Octopus
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 6:47

5 Answers 5


Where should the responsibility of designing a responsive website fall?

Typically on management. Smart management will realize it's a team project so everyone needs to be coordinated and working in tandem. This would include (but not limited to) visual design, UX, UI dev, back end dev, content team, marketing, etc.

Agile development is a good way to approach this.

Many organizations do not do this, of course, and tend to silo each of the above teams and use the old "toss it over the fence and don't worry about it" waterfall process.

Please notice I am focusing on the design side of it, not on the developing side of it.

That is the problem. You can't focus on one and not the other. The design of a responsive site is the development of a responsive site.

This is true of interaction design, in general. Interaction design (be it a responsive layout, a drop down menu, an animation, etc.) has to be designed in the medium it will be used in--the browser. This requires some level of development.

My ideal UX team structure would include the following roles*:

  • Visual Designer and/or UI Designer
  • UI Developer
  • Content
  • Research/User Testing

Now, that doesn't mean the UX Team's UI developer is the person writing production code, but they are writing working code to properly design, create, and test the interaction.

This is then shared with dev, and further work is done as a team to integrate it into the final responsive system goal.

* Said roles should include at least one of your 'web crafters'. I agree that they are sometimes harder to find, but they are a necessity on teams. You need at least one person that can communicate across the board and be able to talk to icon designers as well as DB admins.

  • I basically agree with this answer, except I don't really agree that this responsibility primarily rests with "management." A well structured team is the key. Which brings two comments to mind. 1) This is posted on the graphic design part of the site and graphic design is not web design. You might want to try asking on StackOverflow and see if you don't get a different prespective. 2) You seem a bit junior? I work for a very large (NASDAQ traded) tech company and we don't have these problems at all. So in a boutique studio? Yes. But at a higher level this isn't even a conversation, FWIW.
    – Raydot
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 17:31
  • @DaveKaye in that your company does it right isn't an indication that all do. I'm certainly not Junior and have worked for several Fortune 500 corporations that haven't figured this out yet. In my experience, the larger the org, the more fragmented teams become, hence this problem. Companies are trying to do it right, of course. More and more are moving towards Agile (with different results).
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 17:38
  • Oh, as for 'management', I think we're in agreement. You're saying a well structured team is the key and I'd argue that you need good management to build that well structured team. At the end of the day, someone in charge is responsible for said team.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 17:39
  • 1
    For example, at my current gig, UX is in an entirely different org chart than UI Dev is in. Obviously this makes things difficult for those of us on the ground, as we have to deal with entirely different chains of command and the entailing politics of each.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 17:40
  • 1
    @plainclothes in my ideal structure, IA, ID, and Content are all working side-by-side.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 19:11

Any well skilled designer is always going to be interested in implementation to a degree. Perhaps not in an "I can build it" aspect, but at least in a "that's not possible" aspect.

Whether a designer hits the far right side of your graph or not, they should always know what they can and can't do in any given medium. You can't design well for print if you don't understand separations. You can't design well for signage if you don't understand resolutions, etc.

I think any designer responsible for web materials should at least fall into this:

enter image description here

And I don't think it's as lopsided as your second graph.

The days where you can do a pretty mock up in Photoshop and simply hand it off are gone in my experience. In my experience, developers (meaning the left side of your graph) aren't really looking for someone on the far right. They are looking for a designer who at least understands what is possible and the restrictions necessary for designing well. This moves them from the far right, at least one tick left.

Are there still developers that hit the far left, absolutely. Just as there are still designers that hit the far right. However, a more important aspect may be experience. Are there developers/designers that hit the far left/right if they have 5, 8 or 10 years experience? I doubt it. The more experience one has the closer to the middle they get.

So perhaps this is more appropriate:

enter image description here

In a company structure you look for individuals to fill the far right/left position. This provides a solid basis for that desired skill set. However, I'd speculate that the more desirable a candidate is, the closer to the middle two images their skills fall.

  • I like the last visual. For a team, I think we can extend it with the idea of a rotational axis. With enough overlap, all areas are covered by experience.
    – Yorik
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 20:36
  • I think I have bad recent experiences with designers that are almost full red though :( so that is what I have started questioning my expectations. I get "pretty PS mockups" on a regular basis from them :(
    – cockypup
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 21:21
  • There's an old saying @cockypup -- One rises to the level of their incompetence. There are more and more "designers" every day. The market has been literally flooded for at least 10-15 years now. So, there are many out there who have no desire or no aptitude for a better skill set. That shouldn't be seen as the "norm" though.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 22:00
  • Also be aware that many workers just want the easy paycheck. If they can get away with only a Photoshop mockup, hell it's a lot easier that way.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 22:12
  • 2
    I think drive is definitely part of it but...more importantly, IMHO, is a passion for the product. Designers that really care about the product also care a lot about development. Developers that care a lot about the product also care a lot about design. This is in contrast to people that only care about their job. I find the more a company's culture consists of job-focused people, the more the product suffers as everyone is really only looking out for themselves. This is where turf battles can really start to isolate teams. Design way over here, dev way over there...
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 16:53

While I agree with the mentality in DA01's answer, I think there is more to the question than just what he addresses.

The simple fact is that companies are organized in different ways due to the fact that they have people with different skills and vary in number of employees in each division. Each company needs to approach this decision with care and their company in mind in order to choose a good way of creating.

As such, I don't think there is one "best" way of making this decision or team structure. Each group of people is different and they what works for one company may not work for another, even if the structure and such are roughly the same.

With that being said, there are some general principles that apply to all companies when making these types of decisions:

  • Make use of the skill set available - Some people work better in certain environments doing certain things. If something slows down the process greatly with little real benefit, it's likely not a good decision to make. That's not to say you shouldn't change because one person doesn't like the change, but it's important to keep in mind the preferences and abilities of the team in order to keep people enjoying their work and getting things done.

  • Collaboration is key - Any designers and developers should be in communication and know approximately what the other is doing at every stage of the process, from talking to the client (however much is possible - seeing notes of the discussion or something similar might be sufficient sometimes) to the final implementation. One group is usually doing the work at one step, but the other(s) should at least know what's going on and have the ability to provide some sort of feedback at each stage.

    People's expertise varies, so we want people to catch potential problems that others wouldn't see as early as possible in addition to providing additional ideas.

  • Direction over perfection - It's much better to know the goal and build towards that goal in direct but rough ways. By this I mean iteration is better than being pixel perfect for the mast majority of the process. We need to make sure we're headed in the right direction with each design decision and then refine that decision afterwards by iterating. By doing so, we can generally avoid bigger problems late in the process.

    Designing in the browser (or whatever medium the application is in) can help this be the case as it mixes the two jobs into one, forcing people to work together or have skills in both. Of course, it's important to keep the first principle listed here in mind.

Lastly, to directly address the issue at hand in one circumstance that the OP seems to be referencing, I'll say that if a complete separation of work is decided upon (complete separation of knowledge/feedback should not be done), then I recommend that the design team should create a small and large version, at least in most cases, and the rest is left to the developer. This forces the design team to keep in mind all the stages in between while not having to worry about the exact details.

  • 1
    Good point re: there is no one solution to this as all companies are different.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 18:12

There are some great answers here, but this really isn't that complicated.

Bottom line:

The design team (whether one or many) is responsible for every permutation of a view or template.

Do not ask the developer to fill in the blanks or lean on a framework.

Do your best at the outset and then shadow the dev as things progress. You'll have to make decisions as challenges arise. Sometimes it might be another mockup, other times it's best to provide some rough code (if you can).

Don't make Engineering do your job and they won't ask you to do theirs ;-)


Ideally, the designers own the design, plain and simple. If the designers are able to design a spec that is clear, relevant, and realistic, then it should remove guess work from the equation for web designers.

The job of a web designer is to translate the designer's vision into code. This can be easy if the spec is clear and the web designer is good, or it can be difficult if all the web designer gets is a .psd with the instructions 'do this.' Good specs mean more accurate implementations.

I'm going to skip web crafters, since I don't really work with that term.

Web developers shouldn't really deal with design in my experience. They typically focus on backend development and will only touch design if it is absolutely necessary. Most web developers I know don't really know CSS very well, and certainly don't use Photoshop.

Software Developer kind of encompasses 99% of developers. I wouldn't say that they don't design as in your graphic, but that's typically not part of the job description.

TL;DR: If designers come up with good specs, web designers should be able to handle the implementation easily.

  • 1
    I have to completely disagree with this. Isolating design from development as being entirely separate skill sets is usually what causes problems. I would also argue that a web designer, as they have the word 'designer' in their title, is absolutely a designer. I'd go as far to say that a good developer is also a designer...they just design in code instead.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 2:22
  • 1
    As for spec's, they sound like a good idea, but I've NEVER seen them work. The problem is that you simply can't forsee every scenario and interaction that goes into a solution to be able to fully spec it. And when there's huge spec's, developers simply become assembly line workers and aren't encouraged to contribute to the solution. At the end of the day, things are missed and the spec gets blamed.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 2:23
  • I have to agree with DA01, this is a very naive way of looking at the situation Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 6:00
  • Thanks for your answer but I agree with @DA01. I wanted to add that my chart meant to portray different levels of expertise on technical and design skills. The term "web crafter" is one I made up as a moniker for a perfectly well rounded professional that has both design and technical skills, which are very common nowadays, sort of a Renaissance man of the web.
    – cockypup
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 16:36
  • About the developers not designing, that is also very uncommon these days, perhaps not as uncommon as my second chart suggests, as @Scott pointed out, which was exaggerated intentionally just to make a point. The very nature of web developing forces developers to learn rudiments of design even if they dislike it.
    – cockypup
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 16:36

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