Web Designers Are a Different Breed of Designer

John Reeve | September 29th, 2009 | ,

During my college years I studied traditional graphic design principles while attending design school. In my three years of study I spent weeks at a time on various specialized design projects. We hand drew typefaces to learn the subtleties of type. We explored complex concepts, reducing them to simple visual logos. We were taught about the grid system and the beauty of the asymmetrical grid. We touched just about every aspect of graphic design in our education as budding designers.

As much as my education laid the groundwork for a career in web design, I had just as much learning to do once I was out of college. For one, web sites were so new at the time that not many schools were teaching on the subject. But mostly, it was because being a web designer requires an additional set of skills outside the realm of traditional graphic design. For many reasons, web designers are a different breed of designer, and crossing over is not always easy.

A different medium

Making the transition from points, picas, subtractive color models, DPI and LPI to pixels, screen resolutions, additive color models and PPI can be mentally exhausting. Print, as a medium, is subject to an entirely different set of rules than the Web. Designing and building web sites is a practice governed by the pixel. The web designer must learn to work within the limitations imposed by tiny squares of color bouncing around the screen. Understanding and mastering the pixel is necessary for everything web-based, from optimizing images (PNG or JPG) to designing layouts (Above the fold or below the fold?). Pixels, in turn, are confined to the capabilities of HTML, CSS and Javascript, which brings me to my next point…

Learning to code

As a web designer, you can choose to design and build web sites by running them through the Photoshop-Fireworks-Dreamweaver gauntlet, or, you can learn how to turn your PSDs into far more functional web sites by learning HTML, CSS and Javascript. Throw in a few server side languages. such as PHP or Python, and you’ve got yourself an impressive array of web design and development skills. Being a web designer means more than learning how to use a set of tools, it means taking charge of the medium by learning to code you own web sites.

Publish early and often

There are no press checks in the realm of web site design and development. No irreversible typos going out on the next UPS truck. Successful web designers have learned that a web site launch must be compelling, not perfect. Because any typos or tweaks can be easily fixed by uploading new files. No need to publish retractions or corrections after-the-fact. Just get it fixed and uploaded before anyone else sees it. The web designer has the power to maintain a living and breathing web site, an ever-changing entity.

Change is a constant

The Interweb is expanding each day, broadening it’s reach to encompass new technologies and trends. One year you’re designing web sites for diaper-hawking dot-coms on the verge of an IPO, and the next year it’s social networking sites for chinchilla owners. Keeping up on new web site technologies and trends is important for web designers if they want to remain relevant. Those adverse to change may go on using the <font> tag if they prefer, but web designers who evolve will be the ones defining new directions in web site design and development.

Freelancing mercenaries

It doesn’t take much to get up and running as a web designer. Other than talent and skills, the only other obstacle to a career in freelancing is a computer and an internet connection. The web designer can be completely independent and mobile, updating web sites from coffee shops and conferencing with clients from the kitchen.

Project management is inevitable

While acquiring a large and diverse number of skills a web designer will also find themselves learning how to manage clients and projects. It’s the nature of most web site design and development projects that the web designers will interact with the clients to tune and tweak the site until it passes inspection. It’s important for web designers to polish their project management skills because it enables them to take on more responsibility, something that is very helpful when working on small teams or as a freelancer. It is the nature of most small web design and development agencies that each member of the team will wear many hats. Project management is just one of many.

7 Responses to “Web Designers Are a Different Breed of Designer”

  1. Complaint Letter says:

    web deigners plays an vital role in deigning the website and also conveying important information’s to the viewers . since the presence of constant change in the web designing the free lancers of web design are in much requirement and they do their work greatly .

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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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