Demystifying The World of Web : But What Do You Actually Do?



Web design is a weird mixed-bag of talents, titles and personalties. That’s what makes it so delightful, but also a wee bit confusing. When I tell people that I’m a web designer, their response is generally positive but usually accompanied with the follow up question: so what do you actually do?

To be honest, it’s always a little hard to give a conclusive answer to this question. So you make it look nice, right? Well yes…but…. So you make it do things? Sort of ….but only on the front end. The front what? We also do SEO. SE…huh?

In an attempt to clear up any confusion (and finally develop a coherent answer to the question..), I’ve tried to pinpoint what a web designer (or front end developer or web maker or …sigh “web master”) actually does. There’s a few generalizations, of course, as everyone tends to specialize in certain areas. People also tend to have different definitions of web designer or developer or front end developer or whatever and may completely disagree with me. See….I told you this wasn’t easy.

We Design

We make things look good. A well-thought out, attractive design that aligns with company branding, goals and message is important and much more successful than a poorly designed, comic sans filled monstrosity. No one buys something from a website that utilizes comic sans. Trust me on this one.

We also think beyond the desktop and design for a multitude of devices. This requires the rethinking and reimagining of a design to ensure that it works across platforms and devices.

We Design So You Don’t Hate Your Life When You Visit a Site

Beyond merely making things look good, we also need to think of how the user will interface with a website or application. Having an understanding of user experience and interaction is, therefore, also essential as a web designer (developer, maker, master blah, blah, blah). If the user has a frustrating or negative experience while using a web application, it’s very unlikely they will be using it again. Bad news bears.

We Make Things Happen

Those buttons? That fade in effect? Although I sometimes refer to it as magic, it actually involves some type of programming. Web designers, or front end developers, if you like, also need to make things work. This includes the use of programming languages such as javascript or php. It may also involve the use of and familiarity with frameworks and content management systems such as WordPress.

We Make Sure People Can Find Your Website

Having a spectacular website with clear and engaging content is wicked! Having a spectacular website with clear and engaging content that never ranks highly on Google and can’t be found is not wicked. Web designers often also focus on Search Engine Optimization or SEO (I’ll delve into this in a later article). This is a tricky task (mostly because the rules keep changing). Overall, it involves generating credibility for a site, utilizing special things called schemas and meta tags that help a site become more visible and using keywords that help Google figure out just what the heck your site is all about.

We Make People Do Things

Haha…I wish! But, for reals, some of us also delve into and have an interest in web marketing. This means conversions (or basically getting users to do something such as provide contact info, sign up for a free trial or even just plain old purchase products or services). How is this accomplished? Well a pretty site with a clear, consistent message is important. But it also involves capturing interest and attention and creating content and design that motivates people to do these things. This could potentially involve the use of a call to action on the page (I’ll get into what this is in a subsequent article) or offering some kind of freebie. What it definitely involves? Strategy.

We Make it Make Sense

Web designers are often charged with the task of creating engaging, optimized content for websites and applications. They also focus on presenting that information in a way that is intuitive and makes sense.

Ensuring that information is logically grouped, displayed and easy to navigate is arguably one of the most important tasks of a web designer. The primary job of a website is to convey information. If it fails to convey information in a clear and coherent way, it has failed no matter how many bells and whistles (and fancy parallax scrolling effects) it may have.

Likewise, content must be written in a way that people can quickly and easily digest and also have a desire to read it. Web makers create content with this specific goal in mind.

As you can see these skills or specialities or talents are quite divergent, but are also strangely symbiotic. You can’t design a pretty site that doesn’t function properly. Likewise, an ugly site that functions but doesn’t have a clear consistent message and information structure is also a fail. So that’s what a web designer, developer, maker etc. does, either independently or in concert with their super awesome colleagues. Sounds like fun right? It sure is.

2 thoughts on “Demystifying The World of Web : But What Do You Actually Do?

  1. Great article. It does a really accurate job of detailing the landscape that no one knows exists behind the words: web designer/developer or “cough” master. Our role is always minimalised when we can’t do a good Job explaining it.

    • Hey Melyssa,

      Thanks for your comment! You make a good point…if you can’t articulate what you do, you definitely lose a little credibility. The problem with web is that it is so diverse, it is sometimes tricky to encapsulate (not to mention all the various titles and specialities…). Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts :)

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