Not so long age, the tool of choice of the web designer would have been a visual editor like Dreamweaver. The web designer could see the design being updated live as they tweaked the structure and the formatting of the document. The process would be similar to that of desktop publishing—you place the text and graphics on the virtual canvas and change stuff around until you’re satisfied with the results.
These days, the tool of the web designer seems to be a coding program, and perhaps even a specialized CSS editor. The move towards standards-based web design, with a focus of splitting content away from the presentation has driven many designers towards hand coding all of their sites to ensure clean and semantic code. Designers, who would have previously used visual editors to lay out and design their work, are now programming their designs. The web designer it seems is now turning into a web developer, who simply focuses on coding the presentation rather than the the engine of the site.
I don’t feel this is a right direction for the field of web design. Designers are people who think with the right side of the brain—they work best when they see their vision on the canvas and are tweaking the colors and shapes, rather than changing numbers and selectors. Professional designers hand code their sites because they cannot trust visual editors like Dreamweaver to keep their code clean and semantic, and the visual CSS tools in those programs are also lacking. I hand code my sites. I use a program for the Mac called Coda—it’s a fantastic program, with plenty of features to make my life easier—but I just feel that my role as a designer has turned into the role of a developer.
Programming markup and coding CSS has replaced the satisfying visual experience of working with shapes, text and graphics on the virtual canvas. This surely isn’t where the industry should be heading. I hope that we will see much more enthusiastic development of web design tools in the future—tools that focus on design rather than code. Tools that can automatically generate semantic markup, and will create the required CSS behind the scenes. I hope that we’ll finally be able to pick up the visual editor again one day and design for the web the way it was intended in the first place—free from table abuse and a multitude of hacks—but also away from coding and back to the virtual canvas.