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Brain meld

Web design, graphic artists find ways to collaborate

Tess Gadwa of Yes Exactly in her second floor office at the Arts Block. Recorder/Paul Franz

Tess Gadwa of Yes Exactly in her second floor office at the Arts Block. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

There’s some-thing of a disconnect between web-site developers and graphic designers, even though a lot of times, they inhabit the same turf.

Art Meets Code, a collaboration between a Greenfield Web developer and a Lowell graphic design studio, attempts to get everyone working on the same screen.

“The problem with where Web design meets programming right now is there’s not any good way for a programmer to talk to a designer,” says Tess Gadwa, who started Yes Exactly website design studio in Greenfield four years ago and has since built some 70 sites for businesses and organizations, about 30 percent of them outside the Pioneer Valley.

She likens the situation now to architects and engineers trying to work together using different blueprints — one measured in meters, the other in inches.

“Neither one is wrong, but you still have problems when you try to build that structure,” she says. “What we’re trying to do is get everyone on a common grid.”

Gadwa was approached about three years ago by Gallery 119 in Lowell about creating a way for graphic designers and software developers to be as creative as they want in creating websites.

Their “Thematizer” approach is a template-based framework that helps non-programmers generate clean, easily-edited computer code and help designers create custom themes for WordPress, Drupal and other open-source platforms, Gadwa said, “so that a programmer can just come up to a designer and say, ‘We really need something that looks amazing for this application we’re building. Here’s the template, show us what you’ve got.

“Right now, getting to that point is so painful that most programmers just avoid it. They’d rather have something that’s really ugly, or very run of the mill.”

Gadwa hopes to launch a Kickstarter campaign next month to fund development of the new open-source tool, which would be made available to users for free. Originally developed in August 2011, a preliminary test version was rolled out a year ago.

“There’s something so quintessentially different about the way website design interactions are perceived by both sides,” Alexandra Gaines-Smith, who helped develop the tool, “and that disconnect, that gap between those two mindsets, it gives you less usable sites, it gives you slower sites and it gives you problematic features because everybody is trying to accommodate something foreign.

“(Thematizer) separates the content layer from the presentation layer in a way that’s unique. It gives you the ability to develop (sites) without sacrificing your ability to manipulate data, because it’s joining the two ideas. It gives you a bridge. ... You usually have to sacrifice beauty for functionality.”

When Gadwa and David Russell of Green Fields Market began conversations about the concept of a framework for allowing graphic designers to more easily use web-development software, she said, “We saw a market for it as for-profit software, but we thought that would really be missing the point.

“Because it was open-source, the whole idea was to find a way for people to work together more easily and at lower cost with fewer barriers to entry.

“I was a lot more interested in creating community than creating another code-editing tool that would go out in a yearly release cycle, and you’d have to subscribe for the pro version, the deluxe version. That wasn’t much interest to me.”

Walter Wright of 119 Gallery, which Gadwa said was one of the first art galleries to have a Web presence, said, “When I started programming 20 or 30 years ago, you would do all this yourself and created all the graphics and it was relatively easy to understand and make something that looked good. But as the technology has, as it were, improved, all of the techie part of it has gotten more and more ... Now instead of just being able to do it with just a simple program, you have to be able to program for HTML or Javascript with cascading style sheets and all of this gobbledy-gook, and that’s not something everybody can do or wants to do.”

Off-the-shelf Web design software like Dreamweaver allows graphic artists to create their own sites, but Wright said, “You pretty much have to have an undergraduate degree in Javascript to make it work for you. These programs have become very marketable, and these companies have added all sorts of features and big price tags to it, and they sell it to big firms that have in-house coders, but for the poor lone designer working out in Western Mass, who wants to put up a quality website, they’re not going to find Dreamweaver very helpful. Thematizer can get control back to graphic designer.”

Gadwa added, “If you want to design a website and have never done it before, the reason you’re going to love this tool is you can sit down and create a design in the drawing program of your choice. You can even draw it on paper and scan it in. You can create a painting that can be backdrop for your design , then use this tool to fit it to a template and preview the results in real time.”

On the Web: www.artmeetscode.com

You can reach Richie Davis at


or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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