I just graduated and am already stumped on how to answer this question. What exactly do Web designers do? I have looked up the definition a few times and there are quite a few different and often conflicting ideas about what we do. To fill out my job search and help remove a lot of the back end development stuff I have even started using the term User Experience or User Interface Designer. A much clearer term for what I enjoy doing.
It still leaves the question what is a Web Designer. That really depends on what side of the server you are on. Front end designers focus on the stuff the user sees and interacts with and back end designers focus on things like the databases and code that make the site actually function. As John Waters puts it in his book The real business of web design (I posted about this amazing book in the previous post,) “…what designers do is the verb – the process, ‘the making,’ that results in the product. (pg113)” This totally makes sense!
He goes on to say that we all design things all the time. A lot of it is practical, like how to get to and from work, or what to wear that day, but there are people who take that to new levels and plan how to make furniture, images, and houses. Designers are the “Doers” and we are all “Doers” in certain areas of life.
Some people are born seeing the world differently (talent) and some have trained (skill) to understand the world and how it can be changed to be more user friendly to people. These people are going to have a different way they go about designing things (intuitive vs wrote). This may be part of the reason why no one really understands what a designer does. There are so many different methodologies for each specialty, we may never be able to get a set answer. Mr. Waters does a really good job of simplifying what we designers do. We do!
Even though design is the root of designer, it has a longer definition and explanation. “Design is about intent. It is the plan, the method, the plot, the often wandering path that will be followed to accomplish something. ‘This is a great design.’ The reference is to the plan, not the product. Design is all the planning activity that brings the product to life (Waters, J 2003, p114.)” Design is still doing, but it is more about the path that you take. Artists all have a “design” or path that they prefer to take when creating a piece (I will speak more to painters, since that is what I know.) Some painters start with the foreground and move backwards, others start with a specific color and work with that then move to the next color, and still more start on one side and work across the canvas (board or paper.) The path can change with the art piece and materials being used. The path might change during the process, but it is still the design, the intent, you have to create the piece that allows you to create something amazing.
That was kind of long. I will summarize.
Web Designer? I am the person that makes websites usable by people.
Web developer? I am the person that makes websites work the way users (and designers) expect.
What is Design? The path people take to accomplish something.
Many Thanks to Mr. Waters and his awesome book The real business of web design. I am sure I will have a few more posts and revelations to share as I finish off the last third. (I am totally buying a copy when I have some $$.)