IT departments are great for fixing issues with hardware failures, networking configurations, and everything Micro$oft corporate extended plus edition that's in your office. Have them fix your outlook when it screws up. Have them install a new monitor or USB drive. Have them burn you an illegal copy of your favorite TV show, but please, please, keep them away from your web designer and website for that matter.
I'll give you plenty of reasons why.
Update and Disclaimer: I realize that there are some really nice guys in IT. I am not portraying any one individual that works in IT as a bad person, I am merely speaking from my own experience that there are lots of IT technicians and professionals that are ill equipped for bringing you the news, good or bad, and sometimes it comes out wrong when working on a website project. If you take that into consideration on top of the fact that lots of IT guys don't speak the native tongue of web languages and often don't know how to correlate that data into something the end user can understand, it is multiplied and replicated badly through the site in the end.
I had some concerns from a few colleagues in regard to this post, and I want to bring to your attention that in no way do I disregard the sacrifices made by individuals in the IT world. I was one of them, I've been in the trenches, and I do strive to support those web designs and projects that I create with as much integrity and involvement as possible. This blog is only intended to illustrate that there are differences between the two.
1. Welcome To The Machine (Introduction)
IT technicians and IT managers are generally not geared for interaction, marketing, sales, or conversation with your target audience. They are great for the role that they play in keeping things running smoothly, within allotted resources, and in perfect running order. They are great for making sure that viruses and other unwanted programs and apps are kept away from your business network and machines. IT Technicians and IT Managers know about how the machine runs and works, but should be kept within those parameters unless there is an absolute exception to the scenario illustrated here.
So, if you want a stable server, smooth as butter email, a virus free desktop, or faster overall performance of your computer, servers, or network, call the IT department.
If you want an awesome website design, great human interaction, and a message well conveyed to your target demographic, call on a web design professional.
2. Bedside Manor
IT Technicians are generally adept at fixing technical issues, symptoms of computer abuse or misuse, and are general problem solvers when it comes to hard cold logic involved directly with machines, but generally speaking, they have horrible interaction with "fixing" or interacting with the users who may have willingly or unwillingly caused the problem. Think of the worst bedside manor you've ever experienced in an intimate medical situation and then apply that horrible experience to your website design team, and ultimately, your customers. Imagine the inability to cope with people and their multiple ways of disseminating and interacting with your website because your IT staff has no idea how "normal" people use or interact with a site. That goes for you too Mr./Ms. CEO.
Web and interaction designers develop sites that people use; ordinary average people like Joe Walsh.
3. Graphic Design
IT Technicians are generally not the best graphic designers. (And neither is your 12 year old nephew that just pirated a copy of Photoshop)
IT Technicians are usually very adept at the sneakiest things on the internet. Maybe they read tons of forums on the best tools to use on cleaning viruses. Maybe they know how to get "free" software and distribute it amongst your employees. Maybe they have pirated the latest Adobe software. Maybe they even know that PNGs are able to show transparency through to whatever lies beneath the graphic. If you just read that last "maybe," and asked yourself what a PNG is, ask your web designer, not your IT technician, because my next generalization is that your IT guy couldn't design his way out of a box, a boring, gray, windows 95 looking, box.
Here's the thing, most IT guys may or may not know what vector graphics are. They may or may not know what RGB vs CMYK color process is. They may even know the difference between Illustrator and Photoshop is, but I can almost guarantee you this. They don't know how to create anything creative, awe inspiring, or groundbreaking with any of the tools mentioned above. Obviously there are some exceptions to the rule, but remember, those guys are used to resetting your password every 15 days because you forget it. Those guys are great at deciphering error codes when a machine fails. They are great at setting RAID arrays and configuring servers to run smoothly, and for that we thank them, but don't ask them to design you a logo, web theme, banner advertisement, or anything else of artistic or marketing value for your company, because for one thing, they probably don't want to, and secondly, just because they are "good at computers," as I have heard my whole life, it doesn't mean they can create anything on a computer that looks professional or represents your company well.
4. Web Design
IT Technicians keep the lights on, so to speak, but that ends at the jack in the wall so let's stop them there. Imagine your IT Technician is a building maintenance foreman or building manager. Imagine that he/she is there to make sure that your faucets are running, your lights are burning, your stove is hot, and your freezer is cold, but let's strip all of that away for a minute. Your building manager didn't design the layout of your dream-home or studio apartment. The building manager didn't design that beautiful skyscraper on the skyline. The building manager didn't design that quaint little cottage you live in. The building manager or handyman didn't design the decor inside. The building manager didn't design the layout of your rooms, furniture, paint, or appointments. More than likely, an architect, interior designer, or home builder designed and built these things for you. The building manager, handyman, or repairman is familiar with the structure, but is only there in a maintenance role.
When applied to web design, the concepts of a building designed by an architect are very similar to the concepts when applied to the user interaction and design of a successful website. Much study goes into the presentation of the material on a website, the various perspectives involved with the presentation of the website, and the lenses or frames that the content is delivered through. Architects for projects large and small have to relate to all types of people in terms of usability, accessibility, perspective, and the visual impact of what they are designing. This is no different in good website design.
5. "Being Real Good At Computers"
IT Technicians and Web Designers do share overlap in certain areas, but the areas that separate them, define them. Many times, owners of companies who intend to design a new website for themselves, try to utilize resources within their own realm to save money, time, or other investments by automatically assigning their IT staff to design a website because they think that everyone that is "real good at computers" is automatically certified to create a great website. That's as absurd as thinking that all Asian people are masters of martial arts.
6. Who Are Web Designers?
I will admit, I started as an IT Technician and Manager, and worked my way through several scenarios before I stumbled on website design. I too was mislabeled as being "real good at computers," for a long time, but as time went on, I began to notice a split between my own talents as a designer, content producer, and multimedia producer, and the talents of those around me in the IT field. In retrospect, I struggled in IT. I had no passion for it and I really began to embrace my creative side. I know the industry of both disciplines very well, and I am often jaded towards server administrators and IT professionals when they are thrust into the web design spotlight. In recent years, I have become aware that those IT professionals want to be in a web design meeting about as much as I want to show you how to configure your iPhone to use your company exchange server.
I love what I do as a professional web developer and designer, and I know many IT professionals that love what they do as server administrators and technical advisors, and in no way do I direct any ill intent towards IT professionals. My intent is to illustrate to you, the CEO, Owner, President, or Head Honcho, that your IT staff is not equipped for the job, and before I go on another rant, neither is your marketing coordinator or team. If you are inclined to hire an in-house web developer, know what to expect, research the web design culture and don't expect them to have 3-4 years of IT experience. Expect them to have creativity, experience with languages such as PHP and CSS, as well as experience with popular CMS systems such as Wordpress, Drupal and Joomla, or with technologies that revolve around web. Don't expect .NET, ASP, or any other Micro$oft crap from a good web designer. If you want a headache, or to have a job posting up for grabs by applicants who simply won't create something great, ask for 4 years of experience in IT, a Computer Science degree or equivalent Information Systems degree and you will get nothing.
My favorite job postings are those asking for a person with 2-3 years of experience and a degree in web design. If you find that person, I'd like to meet them. I have a Computer Science degree and it has nothing to do with my skills as a web designer other than the fact that I may grasp the theories behind object oriented code a little more than most. There are no real accredited degrees in website design that are worth the paper they are written on. Your best candidates carry moleskins, drink import beer, and are not afraid of the entire spectrum of visible colors. They wear T-shirts of their favorite sci-fi franchises, or of geeky coded or implied images that make sense only to them. They go to conferences to engage socially with others of their trade, even if they are "competitors," and most importantly, they are always learning a new discipline or practice for making themselves successful.
You want to hire someone that lives, eats, and breathes a particular discipline of design theory, color theory, user experience, and has an affinity for open source softwares such as Drupal, Joomla, or Wordpress, but more importantly, has experience designing and developing great looking and awesome interactive experiences. They are socially accepted by your audience, peers, and colleagues, but are strange enough from your own discipline to be viewed as an expert in being creative, unique, and innovative, but not to mention and whispered ever so slightly, "weird." They don't want to fix your email problems. They don't want to run virus scans, and many will deny being able to do such things, even if in reality, they can, because, we're all "good at computers" you know?