Real Web designers don't use browser add-ons

Are add-ons a productivity boon –- or an excuse for lazy practices and uninspired Web site design?

Many Web designers see browser add-ons as a productivity booster for Web site design and development. Diego Mantilla is passionately opposed to them.

Sure, you can rely on ColorZilla and similar add-ons to find the right gradients and color palettes, use Firebug to inspect and debug HTML, or fire up Yslow to figure out why your pages aren't loading more quickly. But to Mantilla, creative director at Web312 in Chicago, all of these tools are just shortcuts that cheapen the Web design process and kill creativity.

Take the color picker ColorZilla, for example. Or the pixel ruler MeasureIT. "Young people are looking for shortcuts, but there's no substitute for finding the colors yourself and experimenting in Photoshop -- actually doing the work," he argues. "The more we rely on machines to do this, the less it becomes a creative experience -- and that's what our clients pay for."

Steve Herz, president of Web design agency Moonstone Interactive, uses extensions sparingly. "We use very few browser add-ons during the development process," he says. Instead, the firm's developers rely on the basic tools of design and development -- Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and so on.

"Some of the browser-based stuff is really great if you're doing quick checks, but not for doing the actual work," Herz argues. For example, he does use Firebug, but when looking for colors professional designers need to dig deeper. "We go right to Photoshop," he says.

As a general rule, Josh Singer, president of Web312, doesn't use browser add-ons. But he makes an exception for Firebug, which he says is handy for doing a quick inspection of code to see how it's working. In addition, he says, "It has a way to change the default agent to see the standard Web site or the mobile Web site. That’s very useful," he says.

But to Mantilla, the increasing use of browser-based add ons is nothing short of a creeping, nefarious trend. "Cookie cutter is the way things are going," he says. "I do think that young people today are looking for shortcuts for actually doing the work. But if you use extensions you won't get the creativeness."

Web312 only hires designers with degrees in fine arts and graphic design. Good Web design is an art, and it all starts with pencil and paper, Mantilla argues. "If you are a designer and you don't know how to use a pencil, you don't know how to design."

Herz is more pragmatic in his reasoning. "We don't look at it as 'we're not doing our job' or 'we're too good for browser add-ons,'" he says. "It's just that to fulfill client objectives we've got to go deeper."

Related story: "Essential browser tools for Web developers"

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