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Summary:

WWD reader LivNLet asked us this by email: I’m a “web designer” but what does that mean these days? Am I also a “web developer”? I am confused. My projects require me to not only complete the entire design/approval phase, using Mac/CS2, etc. but also use […]

WWD reader LivNLet asked us this by email:

I’m a “web designer” but what does that mean these days? Am I also a “web developer”? I am confused.

My projects require me to not only complete the entire design/approval phase, using Mac/CS2, etc. but also use Windows to develop and hand over standards-compliant coded templates (hand coded using CSS 2.1/XHTML w/tableless layouts) to my clients. While I feel most comfortable goofing off with other creative & marketing types, I have no trouble keeping up in a backend techy meeting.

So what the heck am I? When I describe myself as a “web designer” perhaps some people see one image in their minds while others may see a different image? But if I describe myself as a “web developer” I get all kinds of goofy job offers for coding backend stuff, which I don’t know how to do nor want to do.

LivNLet, you are not the only one wondering about what to call yourself in the world of web work. Some people see web designers and web developers almost as two different species, even though, as you note, the best web designers these days bring technical savvy to their work.

This goes beyond just the question of web designer versus web developer. Corporate software developers using web technology also wonder if they can or should call themselves web developers. Some computer programmers working with heavyweight languages like Java see a strict division between what they’re doing and what a web developer using HTML, CSS, PHP, and JavaScript does, even though those web developers might consider themselves programmers. This question will become even more common as lego-style do-it-yourself web development platforms like Coghead and DabbleDB let any smart web user build a web app.

What about calling yourself a web technologist? That captures your technical savvy without implying anything about whether you write backend code. By using a more generic title, you can address your fitness for particular job opportunities as they arise, instead of hooking into people’s existing stereotypes of web designers and web developers.

Do you have a question you want the WWD community to discuss? Submit it on the contact page or bring it up in the forums.

  1. That’s what you call a “Front-end web developer,” or “Front-end web designer-developer.”

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  2. Came across the term “devigner” (designer + developer) over on Ryan Stewart’s blog the other day. Had never heard it before, but it looks like it’s been around for a bit.

    Another great discussion of this is Jesse Warden’s recent post on prototyping and workflow related to Flash, Flex WPF, etc.

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  3. I think the problem is that LivNLet sees the question as an either/or situation. In reality, it’s both. LivNLet, like me, is a “Web Designer And Developer.” That may not be as short as “Web Technologist,” but it says a whole lot more.

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  4. This is an excellent question that I often struggle with myself. I understand what I do, but many other people have preconceived notions of what a “designer” and a “developer” are, so it becomes a touchy area. I like the suggestion of “web technologist”, I’ll have to give that one a try and see how well it’s received.

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  5. The problem with calling yourself a “web designer and developer” is that people might assume you do backend server side coding. The problem with “web technologist” is you lose the assumption of design expertise. The problem with “web designer” is that people might think you only do PhotoShop mockups then pass them on to the techies.

    I call myself a web technologist, among other things (blogger, industry analyst…) but that works well for me because I’m not a design or development expert, though I can hack up a website pretty good from the server on out to the CSS.

    Sigh–no really good answers. But “devigner” is an interesting one. And “front-end web developer/designer” is the most accurate, though maybe not the mouthful you want to put on your business card or blog tagline.

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  6. What a great post — one that is near and dear to my heart!

    A former colleague of mine and I spent the better part of an afternoon trying to come up with a proper lexicon of terms for our company handbook. For us it finally broke down into the following categories:

    Graphic Designer
    Web Designer
    Web Developer (front end)
    Web Developer (back end)
    Database Developer

    Examples of each are as follows (though it is not an exhaustive list of tasks and/or skills):

    Graphic Designer – Creates, updates, etc. letterheads, company logos, creatives for packaging, etc.

    Web Designer – Takes a web page concept and transforms it into a digital mockup of the site, usually via a *.psd file, and turns it over to the Web Developer(s) to transform into the appropriate markup. Will often work with the Graphic Designer(s).

    Web Developer (front end) – Builds “web pages” based off of mockups done by the Web Designer. Skills include (X)HTML, JavaScript, CSS, etc.

    Web Developer (back end) – Works with the front end Web Developer(s) to create backend form validation, database lookups, and web app interactivity. May also works closely with the Database Developer.

    Database Developer – Creates, updates, modifies, and optimizes any database and/or database operation.

    Both the back end Web Developer and Database Developer may also have a hand in areas such as (programmatic creation/update of) log file analysis, cron maintenance, shell scripting, etc.

    Most of the time an individual will wear several hats. As for me, I wear every hat but that of Graphic Designer.

    I’m not sure how I feel about a blanket definition such as “web technologist”, because it’s so broad-based that it doesn’t really tell you what the job/title entails. Same thing goes for “devigner”, though that one is funny. :) “Web technologist” may not be bad on a business card, but if I were putting it on a resumé I would definitely make sure that I annotated specific skills.

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  7. I’ve been using the term “Interactive Producer.” One thing to keep in mind is that if you ever want to get a job at an agency, it helps to have had a title that they can associate with(it’s also often higher paying than a designer). “Devigner” and “Technologist” aren’t industry standard titles, so you may be hurting yourself if you use them. With Interactive Producer, it implies that I produce websites. Sometimes, I do design, sometimes I hire a designer, sometimes I hand code the front end, sometimes I pay someone else to. If anyone ever asks me to do backend programming, which again, I don’t know nor want to know, I just say that I don’t do that, however, if you’d like, you can hire me and I’ll resource it to the programmers I often work for. Then I ‘manage’ the project and put a margin on my programmer’s rates.

    I found this to be a very solid title for myself, and one that people in the industry are familiar with, while not restricting myself to just one set of skills. It also allows me the freedom to manage projects however I want, and accept far bigger projects than I would have been able to get selling myself as simply a ‘designer’ or ‘developer.’

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  8. Hello Everyone,

    I’m really happy to hear everyone commenting has the same concerns that I did when I asked Web Worker Daily about this topic! I’ve been lamenting over this for several months.

    One thing is for sure, I make a whole lot more money now (I’m a on-site freelancer through an agency) and have great job security because of the coding skills I now have in addition to the design stuff I do.

    But here is one more thing that perception seems to cause problems for me: The hard-boiled backend Java geeks just do not accept me as a web developer, even though they don’t know jack about making the front-end go. It’s funny on Monday but by Thursday I’m tired of their attitudes and finger pointing when something goes wrong that I (probably) didn’t cause.

    The bigger question here I think is, as everyone comments, what is the proper title?

    Web Technologist doesn’t work for me. It’s too vague.

    Front-end Web Designer/Developer is the most accurate but is way too long.

    “Web Designer” doesn’t do it and won’t pay my bills long-term

    “Web Developer” is obviously inaccurate as well.

    “Interactive Producer” is a step in the right direction but for me it doesn’t seem descriptive enough.

    This is maybe lame, but how about “Multimedia Developer”?

    Thoughts?

    Regards,
    LivNLet

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  9. [...] A reader is asking WWD – are they a web designer or a web developer? My projects require me to not only complete the entire design/approval phase, using Mac/CS2, etc. but also use Windows to develop and hand over standards-compliant coded templates (hand coded using CSS 2.1/XHTML w/tableless layouts) to my clients. While I feel most comfortable goofing off with other creative & marketing types, I have no trouble keeping up in a backend techy meeting. [...]

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  10. Multimedia Developer puts you more towards Flash (which you probably use), Director (yes, it still gets used and it’s a powerful tool) and Video/Sound work (which goes beyond converting something to Flash Video and putting it on a web page.

    For most current web workers the term would be grossly misleading, IMHO…

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