Left-Brained vs. Right-Brained – The Developer/Designer Paradox

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Two Schools of Thought

Psychologists argue that most people are either right or left-brained. That is to say, they are either analytical or creative thinkers. Given that the brain is evenly divided into two distinctly different hemispheres it is reasonable to think that the different sides control the different thinking modes. Although many researchers scoff at the idea of the brain functioning 100% in that manner, it does make for a dynamic topic when you contemplate the inherent differences between a designer and a developer.


The Inevitable Battle

I think you’d agree after looking at the list above that right-brained thinkers sound like designers, and left-brained thinkers sound like developers. So it stands to reason that the common struggles that occur between designers and developers are nothing more than the predictable nature of a right-brained thinker versus a left-brained thinker. Moreover, it makes perfect sense that if these two mind sets can find some common ground, they can produce greater results together than they ever could apart from one another. So the key issue becomes, how to benefit from the different schools of thought, rather than allowing them to have a detrimental effect.

To get a better idea of how designers and developers can successfully work together it would be wise to first understand what makes them tick.

The Designer/Developer Viewpoints

The designer’s primary focus is on color, aesthetics, and branding. Because they tend to be visual, creative thinkers, they strive for a visually appealing user experience. This explains why many of the designer’s portfolio websites are uniquely beautiful. That being said, it is common for the designer to overlook things like proper coding practices and form testing. At some point form needs to meet function and that’s where the developer’s strengths lie.

Developers are logical, procedural thinkers. They have a strong desire to do things the “right way”, and for the site to just “work”. They are that guy in your math class who doodled calculus equations in his margins instead of the stick figures you were drawing. They are focused on function and things like an mvc approach, reusable code and web standards.


The Benefits of Bridging the Gap

An effective designer/developer workflow is imperative to success on large-scale web projects. It’s extremely beneficial for designers to learn and understand the development side of things and vice versa. Webdesigner Depot recently put together a fantastic list of 6 Reasons Why Designers Should Code, and I couldn’t agree more with their viewpoints. Exercising both sides of your brain will help you grow as a designer. All the study on typography, colors and the like can only take you so far.

Without the help of a designer, developers will often overlook important design elements. A lot of times they fall into mistakes like, “oh that font will work”, or “what can we fill that space with”. The bottom line is that by working together, or in the case of a 1 person project, exercising both sides of your brain, you will become a much better creator of websites.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure plenty of you reading this article feel as though you lie somewhere in the middle of right and left-brained. I feel like I am a bit of a “hybrid” myself. Which is funny because in most areas of my life I’m fairly analytical and procedural, but with websites I’m probably more of a designer than I am a developer. If you’d like to discover more about the way you think, you may find this test to be an interesting one.

Join the discussion, I’d love to get the design community’s feedback on this topic. What side of your brain is more dominant? How can designers and developers improve their workflow and communication?

About the Author

Andrew is a primary contributer for MyInkBlog. He is a full time web developer for Niagara University. When he's not working there, he's a blogger, twitter'er, wordpress'er, silverstripe advocate, blessed father and husband.

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  • http://twitter.com/obox David Perel

    Luckily I have both sides in the sense that my brother and I have always been on the same ‘wave-length’. He is more Left-Brained and I am more Right-Brained and we compliment each others skills in the office.

    Marc is the programmer and I am the designer, he is the logical one and I am the creative one.

    So it’s cool :)

  • http://www.evanbot.com Evan Byrne

    I think that I posses a good amount on both sides, but I definitely have an edge in the back-end side of website development.

    Evan Byrne´s last post was… The New EvanBot Design

  • http://twitter.com/alexkorth Alex

    In fact the issue is to enable communication between these two parties.

  • http://arbent.net Angie Bowen

    I’ve always been lucky enough to be somewhere in the middle as well (on the quiz you linked to I got 44% left / 56% right). That’s what makes me love web design & development so much. I get to be both logical and creative.

    Angie Bowen´s last post was… Details on the 10 Most Helpful WordPress Design Blogs

  • http://www.bluemooncode.com Brandon Storz

    I’m both Left and Right brained. I got 49% Left and 51% right on that quiz.

    Actually, I’m glad I read this. I’ve always wondered why I could both design and code, while others could only do one or the other. I think I understand that a little bit more. I’m just in one of the smaller group that can do both.

    Brandon Storz´s last post was… Use Smart Guides to Line Things Up in Photoshop

  • http://fearlessflyer.com michael soriano

    My knack is visual. That is also why I struggle when it comes to development. But being left or right doesn’t make it wrong to try the other side. I know plenty of programmers who think they can design and vise versa.

    Awesome article – I knew someday – someone will tackle this issue.

    michael soriano´s last post was… Free WP Theme – Blue Rooster

  • http://www.code-pal.com Sumeet Chawla

    I am an Innovative Creative Programmer :D I scored 45% Left and 55% right on the test link you provided. Thank you very much for the link. The result analysis was quite cool and somewhat accurate ;) I recommend everyone who read this post to take the test!

  • http://www.juliepoguebarnes.com Julie Pogue-Barnes

    What a fun test. 46% – 54%. I wonder how many people who are right brain dominant are left handed….. I am. So is my husband.

  • marc

    48% – 52%
    I now understand why I enjoyed so much the demoscene!

  • http://www.bronsonharrington.com Bronson

    Nice read, thanks.

    I was going to say that I think I am fortunate enough to be able to work both sides of the great cerebral divide. ?:)

    I got confirmation from the quiz: Left Brain 45% vs Right Brain 55%

    Bronson´s last post was… Ferry Corsten – Twice in a Blue Moon

  • http://twitter.com/beet09 Bee Todd

    I got 47% Left and 53% for the Right. I do love the creative beginnings of a web project. The most fun part is the design part for me. The development side is the logical formality behind my creative ruminations. I do enjoy the development part also but probably to a lesser extent.

  • http://graphic-identity.blogspot.com A u d e e

    :p I am more Right brained. My result on the quiz is 42% Left and 58% Right.

    “A right-brained person cannot just read or hear information and process it, but first must make a mental video to better understand the information they have received.”

    That sounds like me. Sometimes, I ask my clients to refer me some design links or websites to understand what they have in mind rather than to understand what they are trying to say verbally or textually.

    A u d e e´s last post was… 40 Unique Designs with Photoshop Action Scripts

  • http://www.website-and-graphic-design.com/blog/ Anne

    I’m a hybrid — very strong on development, I’d say 51% developer 49% designer … oh … and I doodled plenty of wonderful artworks in my schoolbooks, never any math equations. :D

    Anne´s last post was… New business card design: Dew Lilly Website & Graphic Design

  • http://www.upsidedowndog.com/ Niilo

    Very interesting. I took the test and got 49% Left, 51% Right, which explains a lot about why I enjoy both coding/engineering and creative/artistic design and thinking. I love the creative process of coming up with ideas and making graphics for games and apps, but I also love the logic, math, trig and problem solving that goes with hard-core programming.

    As a programmer/software engineer of 25+ years I’ve always considered my methods of coding to be as creative as, say, drawing or graphic design. I’m not a pure coder. I tend to ‘see’ the code in my head, building the structure visually and theoretically, imagining how the application or game is going to work and how all the parts fit together, before actually writing any lines of code at all.

    A lot of people tend to see “thinking” this as “daydreaming”, but to me it’s as important a part of the development process as any other, and I feel it allows me to work faster because I’m then working to a structure I’ve already created in my head.

  • Anonymous Coward

    If you still believe the left brain/right brain propaganda that was already debunked in the 1970s, do yourself a favor and check out this: http://irvineccns.blogspot.com/2007/12/left-brainright-brain-wrong-minded.html

  • http://www.myinkblog.com Andrew Houle

    @Anonymous – Thanks for sharing that link! That was a good read, and a nice perspective on the folks who say there is little proof that supports left vs right brain theory.

    It’s also quite interesting that in the discussions here, most people tend to believe they are somewhere in the middle. C’mon you right or left brained people, own up :)

    Thanks for all the great comments already, keep em’ coming!

  • http://spacewebdesign.co.uk John Hamelink

    A fascinating article! I came out as left-side: 48%, right-side: 52%. Is it just me, or is there a pattern emerging in the comments – everybody here seems to be quite balanced. Maybe the web design/development process attracts our type of Brains? Out of interest, I’d love to know how many people here are left handed (I am).

  • Stan

    I got 42% – 58%. Although I can still do the lefty functions, I much prefer the right. I think I am definitely more right-brained than left. At work for example I get in trouble often because I can’t focus on task very well unless they are creative.

  • http://papertreedesign.com Jeremy

    Great idea for an article, it is always an interesting topic of debate. A lot of people in the comments above seem to be a pretty close split, as was I. One thing I’ve always tried to do is exercise both sides pretty regularly, try to keep them on a somewhat even plain. I think if you are out there designing, developing and freelancing (trying to run a business), you have to have a pretty good balance of both left and right brain qualities.

    On a side note have you checked out A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future? A book on this subject that I would definitely recommend recommend.

    Jeremy´s last post was… 209 Days of Childlike Creativity

  • http://10steps.sg Johnson Koh

    Interesting post and test :) I’m more of a right-brainer with 51% on right and 49% of left.

    Johnson Koh´s last post was… Making of a Scary Mental Hospital Scene

  • http://www.egracecreative.com Brandon Cox

    Wow, this explains so much! I’m comfortable with code, but don’t pick it up easily, whereas with design, I feel I can spot principles to transfer very quickly. Awesome thoughts!

    Brandon Cox´s last post was… Thinking Through the Redesign of eGrace Creative

  • http://www.muzilla.net Tsvetalin

    I scored Left: 56% and Right: 44%. I am working as a web developer, and I cant really draw :D, but I am always trying to participate and give ideas when a site design is being discussed. And yeah, I really love reading/watching sci-fi :)

  • john pomar

    this short article sets too shallow ground to sustain any real discussion on the subject

  • victor

    Experts can tell you a point of view and you may think the same. But common sense tells, and history tells me that you are what you do most. If you read design magazines, study photoshop manuals, and practice design and aesthetics, you are left brainer. If you study science, math, logic, and you become an engineer, and you read programming books, and practice programming and you rarely do any design then you are right brainer. Common sense tells me that I am what I do most, and that is programming and with the little design that I’ve done within the last year, I have seen my design skills improve. So there.

  • Ronnie76er

    I’m pretty sure that test is a bunch of hooey. I scored 55% right brained, and I would say I’m very strongly left brained. Or maybe everyone posting here is special.

  • http://www.myinkblog.com Andrew Houle

    @john – Thanks for reading and I appreciate your opinion. However, it seems far too often the person who writes an overtly negative comment doesn’t link back to a blog of their own. Sure makes you wonder about their ability to write or have any authority on the subject.

    @Victor – I like your theory, although, you got the right and left brained switched.

    @Ronnie76er – It’s certainly not perfect, but I felt like it got my score about right, perhaps you are a little more right-brained than you give yourself credit for.

  • http://rubyredbricks.com ferrisoxide

    The whole right/left brain argument is essentially the same as the false art/science dichotomy.

    A true Renaissance man (or woman) can wage war in the morning and write poetry in the afternoon. And given that most people seem to have tested as close to 50/50% right/left brain (give or take +/- 5%) it seems an option for pretty well all of us.


    ferrisoxide´s last post was… Looking for Rails developers in Adelaide

  • http://www.websitemarketingworks.com Nancy

    Very cool test.

    Mine turned out as expected Left – 56% and Right – 44%.

    Give me a code or database problem to solve, code to write or to fix and I am good to go. But PLEASE do not ask me to design your site. That always get outsourced (in the US).


  • http://www.crearecommunications.co.uk Michael Angrave

    I have just completed the test and it says 46% left brain and 54% right brain. I suppose that puts me somewhere in the middle. I am a web/graphic designer, yet I studied software engineering at university, so I kind of expected that result really.

    Everyone is unique, so its certainly not a case of which one are you? more, which one is predominately you?

  • http://www.adrian-ma.com/blog Adrian

    Great article! The whole premise behind my blog is to bridge the gap between the left and right hemispheres so this post was right up my alley. I’m definitely a hybrid myself…

    @ferrisoxide “A true Renaissance man (or woman) can wage war in the morning and write poetry in the afternoon.” – Couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Joffrey Kater

    48% – 52% here
    Can I conclude that most readers are more the kind of a designer on this blog or is that too much to say…

    In my case I think, however I am not yet a great designer, I am indeed more right minded than left. When I started as a freelancer one year ago I was really not good at programming, but training myself I notice than I am getting better at both. This probably explains the gap in my score is pretty thin.

    Thx for the nice article and keep on the good work MIB! :D

    p.s. right handed here ;)

  • http://daveharrison.net Dave

    Enjoyed this article immensly. It decribes me perfectly I think, a hybrid with both left and right brain flaring up. Mostly complimentary , often conflicted but always offering some sort of synergy to the whole process of creating effective websites

  • SF Designer

    I scored a 46/54. In today’s economy i think its great to know both sides of the project so you can contract the work from design to production with a client.

  • mike chicago desiloper

    I am whole brain.

    I have a strong set of skills on both sides (design&art/Coding) and I am moving into heavy Programming ( I Heart MVC ) now to expand my skill set.

    Most designers are clueless and create usability nightmares I think they call it a psd mock up (mock being the operative word.)

    Greyscale all the way, design can come another day.

  • http://belinkddesign.com Kim H

    It’s a well-thought post, but it does neglect one group that designers and developers can at times fall into: those which use both!

    It’s possible. Myself and the designer I was apprenticed under when I first began design were both ‘co-dominant’. Of course, it has its own issues; I’ve never been able to fully explore one side of my brain over the other, but kind of a 50-50 deal. It works well though; I can do some of the artsy stuff, as well as some fo the technical stuff.

    “Most designers are clueless and create usability nightmares I think they call it a psd mock up (mock being the operative word.)”

    Isn’t it true though! haha!
    .-= Kim H´s last blog ..Thoughts on CSS Mania’s New Job Board =-.

  • http://twitter.com/megAlone meg

    You should check out “Drawing with The Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards ((found here: http://www.drawright.com/ )) if you’re interested in finding out more about “bridging the gap”… :D
    .-= meg´s last blog ..megAlone: @bluewavemedia ((that’s pretty fabulous in my mind… ;D)) =-.

  • http://www.jchilders.com James Childers

    I have been called a hybrid on many occasions, and can say that it has behooved me greatly to be skilled in both sides of the game.

    What is key for designers and developers to work together… is communication and mutual respect.

  • pt3

    Great article, thanks… The brain has been coming up more and more lately in thought and approach, as well as in conversation… so this article was right on time. :)

  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk Damian Smith

    Well apparently according to the dancing girl i am right brained, which makes sense as I am a designer!

    http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=27 – great little brain tester, if you try hard enough you can make it turn the other way.

    Although I am a designer I can still develop to a certain degree and I’m a fairly logical person who loves solving puzzles etc.

    I think there is a difference between designers and developers but the way you have been brought up and things you read can effect the way your brain works and a designer can become a successful developer and vice versa in my opinion.

  • Lori

    Well this explains why i am good at doing both. Got 52% left vs 48% right brained.

  • http://www.scottpreston.com Scott Preston

    I’m a programmer with a dominant right brain. I often find it difficult to communicate with my peers as I tend to think different.

    Nice article.