Pursuing web design as a career means making a commitment to constant growth and learning. The web is forever evolving and a successful web designer must embrace current trends and technology. In addition, experience will teach them the business skills needed to provide clients with solutions that best work for them and communicate why. Great web designers are both big thinkers and small thinkers simontaneously, understanding how each task serves the larger whole. In short, a successful web designer has many roles which they must cultivate. 10 of these roles (some unexpected perhaps) follow:
1. The Marketer:
An understanding of marketing is not only essential to growing a client base, but also to understand the goals of existing clients. Lets face it, marketing is all over the web, whether in banner ads, youTube commercials or simply promoting a business or product on their sites. One technology business owner says, clients…
“should at the very least have a presence on the web so that customers, potential employees, business partners and perhaps even investors can quickly and easily find out more about your business and the products or services you have to offer.” (Knox)
Clients hire web designers to fullfill these needs in an online environment. A general marketing knowledge-base aids designers in knowing what the focal points are the client is trying to drive home and what to pop. In addition, designers with a marketing sense will have more intuition for anticipating content organization when needed, minimizing edits down the road. That said, the client is ultimately responsible for the content they provide, but an understanding of marketing on the designers side will make the process run more smoothly.
2. The Listener:
Another key skill useful in understanding the client’s objectives is listening. Designers should refrain from solidifying ideas about a project until they have heard from the client. Developing a set of “go-to” questions to modify for each client at the proposal phase can help to facilitate productive, initial conversation that should be approached with an open mind. An A List Apart article says,
“ask some questions that will reveal your interview subjects’ specific, personal hopes and fears for the project—the more brutally honest they are, the better. Assure your interview subjects that certain questions are “off the record,“ and then get them to really explore the relationship between the organizational culture and their project expectations.”(Hoffman)
Answers to these questions will provide insight to the client’s goals, but also how they see their business. This will be key in developing an appropriate aesthetic that applies to the business and appeals to the client and their audience.
3. The Project Manager:
A web designer is responsible for organizing vast amounts of information. Some examples include copy, site structure, code structure, page flow and time/expense tracking. Setting up a system from the beginning of a project makes files easier to find of course, but also facilitates clarity between the designer and the client. A spreadsheet of deliverables received/needed, site pages, phases of the project, time spent and what is completed/outstanding can be an excellent resource with little effort (if updated regularly).
“If you are not used to track you jobs you may think that it will consume to much time. But you don’t need to start with a full blown project management suite. You need to begin with only a few key values. To update these values does not impact your performance as they will take no more than 5 minutes a day.”(Neulichedl)
Each project is different and some require more tracking than others. Use your best judgement to determine what is helpful for each project.
4. The Designer:
This seems pretty obvious, right? Design is not just making things look pretty or slugging content into a standard template. Good web designers take into consideration everything they have learned from previous jobs, the initial client meeting, current design aesthetic and what they were taught in design classes. They must create appealing pages that correlate with the style and brand of the client’s organization while creating clarity and interest for the audience. They must design with intention, creating page flow/focal points, show an understanding of typography and color as well as accounting for implementation considerations. All of this comes together to produce sites that meet client expectations, reach the target audience, and looks current and project appropriate. A Smashing Magazine article states,
“Design is itself a process of deduction. It involves a number of decisions, both conscious and unconscious. During this process, the designer dismisses some ideas as unworkable and pursues others in order to arrive at a solution…Good design stands up to criticism, because it is more than a matter of taste. View criticism as an opportunity to explain the reasons behind your decisions, to invite the client into the design world so that they feel like a part of the process.”(Evans)
Every good designer has solid reasons for each page element. While they may explore other equally effective solutions to meet client needs, nothing appears on or is absent from a page without thought.
5. The Problem Solver:
From client interactions, to usabililty concerns, to coding issues to design issues, web designers are constantly solving problems. Effective web designers are not put off by obstacles, but challenged. They exhibit patience and enjoy the growth they experience during trial and error. The web is constantly changing which means that no web designer knows it all. The profession of web design requires constant diligence, research and problem solving. Web designers must continuously ask themselves what problem they are trying to solve. An article from one design studio addresses this topic,
“The most interesting – or obvious – problem isn’t necessarily the right one to solve. To deliver a solution that holds real value we need a deep understanding of the issues and a clear vision of how to tackle them.” (McKeever)
Designers must accept problem solving as an integral role in their profession rather than resisting change and challenge.
6. The Psychologist:
Successful web design requires the ability to anticipate how the user will use the site—where they’ll look for certain content, what they will see first and how they expect the site to be organized. These factors are considered in web standards and usability. By sheer frequency of occurence and effective implementation, certain elements on a page have become standard, such as having the site logo link to the homepage. Because users are accustomed to these elements, they have become elements that make the site more usable. The Nielson Norman Group states,
“In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.” (Nielson)
Studying standards and usability mean taking a peek at what users are thinking and creating sites that take this into consideration means better understanding web users and fulfilling their expectations to provide a positive user experience.
7. The Developer:
Often designers develop their own sites. In fact, these days it is more common than not. The more a designer learns about development, the better their designs will be, but this requires the ability to balance creativity/artistry with the technical. A Mashable.com article begins,
“Good designers and developers rule the web — they’re the ones who build it, after all. And some of the most interesting and useful players in creating the modern Internet are hybrids between those two disciplines — people who can translate between the disparate languages of the visual and the technical.” (O’Dell)
Designer/developers know what it takes to create their vision and what tools are available to work with. They have a knowledge of current advancements in technology and what is and is not possible. They know what makes sense to implement themselves and what would be better outsourced to development experts.
8. The Diplomat:
Web designers should be able to distance themselves from their design reasoning enough to fully listen to a client’s opinions on their work. Truly hearing a client arms designers with the information they need to show responsiveness and incorporate client concerns into their design solutions, even if those solutions aren’t exactly what the client requested. Designers must learn to speak the language of the client they are working with. An article called, Diplomacy in design reads,
“For the most part, clients want the same things as you: an attractive design to best showcase their product or message. But when things turn ugly, getting back on track can prove tricky. If you’re struggling to communicate with your paymasters, then it’s time to assess your options.” (Computer Arts)
This doesn’t always mean agreeing, but it does mean showing consideration for client concerns (empathy) and sensitively providing full explanation if there is a discrepancy. Ultimately, an agreement must be made to produce the final product.
9. The Detail-Oriented, Big Thinker:
Designers not only have to struggle with the dichotomy of being creative and technical. They have to remain detail-oriented while keeping the big picture in mind. Design is by nature a highly detailed endeavor. Designers obsess over minutia like kerning, grids, alignment, paragraph spacing, font matching, etc. Web designers do all of this and code. But while designers are focused on the small things, they must also keep in mind how the small things add up to hit key targets for projects and enhance the content. They must also consider the brand and how the site feels. An article titled Personality in Web Design says,
“As designers, we have the unique ability to consider different concrete and emotional elements when building business solutions. This is our most powerful skill as designers. It enables us to communicate beyond simple functionality and usefulness to interact with people’s real decision making mechanisms.”(Spyre Studios)
10. The Student:
Perhaps more than any other role, web designers should resolve themselves to being career long students, constantly evolving and adapting to current trends. The field changes so frequently it is easy to get left behind and perhaps for newer designers to catch up. Web design is always interesting and always challenging. Those who enjoy learning and evolving and who accept the many roles designers fill every day should have no trouble succeeding…And, for most of us its why we love what we do.
Computer Arts. Diplomacy in Design. ComputerArts.co.uk.
Evans, Felicity. When A Thousand Words is Worth A Picture. SmashingMagazine.com. October, 2010.
Hoffman, Kevin. Kick Ass Kickoff Meetings. Alistapart.com. August, 2010.
Knox, Tim W. Why You Need a Website. Entrepreneur.com. October, 2004.
McKeever, Paul. Why Great Design is About Problem Solving. DesignByFront.com. February, 2009.
Neulichedl, Frank. Tracking Your Jobs. Frankie.bz. February, 2009.
Nielson Norman Group. User Experience—Our Definition. NNGroup.com. 2007.
O’Dell, Jolie. HOW TO: Be a Hybrid Designer/Developer. Mashable.com. September, 2010.
Spyre Studios. Personality in Web Design: Atmosphere, Character and Brand Feel. spyrestudios.com.