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I am clueless when it comes to design but I am proficient in programming. If you are a programmer who lacks visual design skills, what has worked best for you -- to pair up with a graphic designer or to do all the programming and then piece out specific work?

I have done some piecing out of work but I am not completely satisfied because I see too much of my influence come out in the design. I guess this happens since I have to be explicit in what I want with contractors, and they are limited in creativity by the architecture I have created.

It feels like having a partner would allow for greater collaboration, but I have read plenty of entrepreneur books that warn against partnerships.

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Perhaps it would be a good idea to work more on your design skills. –  Virtuoso Sep 5 '11 at 3:48
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The opportunity cost required to master a second profession is too great. –  charbasz Sep 5 '11 at 3:56
    
Well its never too late to start learning about it anyway (in your spare time or something). The insight gained might be valuable later down the road. –  Virtuoso Sep 6 '11 at 2:06
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3 Answers

In my experience I've found that finding a designer that is consistently available to do any front end work that your projects need is worth their weight in gold over contractors. You learn what each other likes, how you communicate, and just mesh as a unit much easier.

Now this can happen with contractors of course, and not every designer available consistently is going to be guaranteed to be awesome on first choice, but from my experience, the odds stack in the designers favour. Not only was that the arrangement when I was running my own company, but for most shops I've worked for, almost all of them have at least one designer hired to do just that. The one or two that didn't, would have one hired within a year or two after trying to have the developers do design as well.

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Design, like programming is iterative. I think teaming up with a designer helps in this case. Another point for teaming up is that it is not always easy to keep building comfortable relationship style and communication mechanisms between a designer and a developer where there are different views and several opportunities for friction. Once you know someone and you are both comfortable in working together, the work becomes much easier. Partnership does not necessarily have to be a long term contract. It may be for 1 or 2 projects.

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Design first because it drives the work

In my experience it's always much easier to start with design mockups. This helps to drive how much work there actually is to do and it helps with the prioritization. It also have a longer period of time to evaluate how the design and how it works.

Update

The implication is to pair up with a designer. That or at least make the design the first work completed. Doing it after the fact just means you probably have more programming to do since there are always integration issues.

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-1: Orthogonal to the question. OP asked about the business relationship with the designer, not about the shared workflow. –  Dave Sherohman Sep 5 '11 at 9:14
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