Design and disappointment

After I became a front-end developer, I thought liking design could differentiate me from others in my field. After all, finding a front-end developer who cares when something looks bad is hard, and I was told those kind of people were valuable. So I doubled down on the Design Engineer role and learned quite a few things about design, systems, accessibility, etc.

But after more than seven years working in all types of companies, I feel like I wasted my time and energy trying to be in a position that ultimately leads to disappointment and yield no results.

From my experience, when time or money are missing, design is the first thing to get cut in favor of business features. And that's normal. A pretty page that does nothing is useless, an ugly page that gets the job done is better. You have to improvise, and constraints can make the job interesting. I'm not mad about this.

But where I worked, design was underfunded every time, in every company no matter its size, business field, or claim of being design centric or not. And once again, I learned to deal with it. I can adapt and compose with low budgets. It's not about being fancy, it's about having standards to compose great websites.

But then every time, non-designers meddled in and turned everything into a shit show.

Sales, marketers, CEOs, careerist managers ; they all had opinions on design, despite most of them having zero or dated experience in the field. They acted as thought leaders and requested changes so they could justify their yearly bonuses, ask for promotions, boost their egos, or display leadership ; dispossessing me of the authority over my work in the process.

This is a common issue in many corporations, where value is measured by the number of projects you push in production each year. In this kind of environment, successfully bootstrapping a design system is almost impossible, as it doesn't bring a fast enough return on investment (and no WOW effect) for the yearly rewards of those supervising it. And if you get it started, avoiding the destruction of its rules by outsiders is an already lost battle that eventually leads to burnout (been there, done that).

Companies claim that design matters, but if they don't relinquish their power over it and entrust it to their team, they are just posturing. In the end it's a governance issue, and breaking a cycle of vertical domination takes more effort than a line in a job offer.

And so, here I am, in the middle of this mess. A stooge pushing my UX/UI/A11Y/code gospel like Sisyphus pushes its boulder. All my time is spent extinguish fires in design committees, or twisting ready-made designs in my code editor to make them usable in an existing project not ready to receive them. It's heartbreaking, and not the experience I was expecting when I started walking this path.

I'm seriously considering stopping with the Design Engineer role, and just be a common front-end developer that just writes JavaScript for a living (I honestly enjoy Svelte). Or do back-end web development in a new, very foreign language, like Elixir or Elm. Or completely change field and do programming outside the web.

I recently found out about Janet. It looks fun. Maybe I'll be a Janet developer.

Initially published: April 25th, 2023
Generated: April 26th, 2023