With so many roles that could be played in the development of websites and applications the role of the web designer extends beyond just making it look good. This topic was most recently brought to my mind by a Smashing Magazine article explaining that the position of designer was becoming less viable because of the transition to an all application driven world. Not without merit the article explores the transition from a browser driven connected world to one that allows the same access to information, just accessed through third party apps. As a web designer it is easy to see why I might be troubled by such an article. Troubled, that is, until I consider a couple of other points of view. The first, which I won’t cover in this article, is that the term ‘web design’ does not only refer to making things look good. That is to say design stretches outside of the Photoshop box and goes deeper to layout, flow, functionality and a host of other sorts of ‘design.’ The second, that I will cover here, is that the role of a web designer and how being multi-dimensional can ultimately make them more desirable.
What will follow is a list of pertinent skills that should be carried by every ‘web designer.’ It is a way to solidify expectations for both companies and the designer themselves about the role of the designer. Too often the job posting will read:
“Web Designer Needed. Must be great at design and also be expert in all server side languages and be awesome at project management and be super good looking and really strong and smell awesome.” (seen it a thousand times)
So let’s take a short look at the skills that should be expected of a web designer.
Alright, so this is the most obvious role of a web designer. This skill is aided by someone who has a natural “eye for design.” By this I mean that someone with a good concept of typeface and typographic layout, spacing and balance, color pallet and a general sense of what makes a good image. However, apart from a natural propensity for these things a designer can also learn what is good design on the web. Designing for the screen is different from print layout and other fields of design. Keeping informed of techniques and the latest design trends on websites and applications is necessary to be a good web designer. This work is mostly done using some sort of image editing software, the Adobe Creative Suite being by far the most popular.
Front End Coding
If the Smashing Article points out anything worthwhile it is that just being able to create a mock-up in Photoshop is quickly becoming useless to most companies. Aside from that however the designer should carry with him/her a strong desire to see their creation come to life, that is, become live on the web. What quickly becomes evident when in a work flow that has the designer hand off their work to be coded is that there is no investment in the product by the coder. Rarely will another person carry such a concern to see the final product be as ‘pixel perfect’ as the designer themselves. For this reason I believe it is necessary for the designer to learn to code out his work. This means the technical skills of hand coding HTML and CSS.
Overall Process and Flow Knowledge
Here I am referring to the overall process of planning, creating and launching a website. Knowledge of how a website or web application is conceived and planned for all the way to what it requires to have a site or app go live is another trait of a web designer. Lets face it, your title is web designer. The key word in this case is web. There is a specific process that you are a part of and it behooves any designer to make himself aware of the other processes. I’m not advocating for learning how to point DNS or learn to layout a database structure. However, the very obvious point here is that the more aware of the process and the more details that are understood the more valuable you will become in that process.
The preceding list is what I would identify as the core requirements for a web designer. Along with these technical abilities there are personality traits that aid in becoming a good web designer. The ability to critique and be critiqued is key. The ability and desire for design defense is also key. Many other traits aid in making a good web designer but for now we’ll just consider the short list. Obviously the same way these requirements evolved to get to where they are now, they will again evolve to meet the demands of form in the form and function paradox.