A question that's been nagging at me about web design

I’ve been seeing definitions of web designer vs. web developer thrown around for a while now, and though they are not usually consistent, the consensus for a web designer skills seems to be HTML, CSS, Javascript, Photoshop, and user accessibility.

I finally started learning Javascript a little while ago. I had avoided it for a long time because I was thinking it was mostly rollover buttons, snow globes with animated snow, trailing cursors, etc. with some slideshows thrown in, and was more interested in clean coded HTML/CSS sites than adding annoying butterflies to the end of a cursor and making people reach for their “Javascript off” button.

So lately I realize that Javascript is actually a full-fledged, object oriented programming language that just happens to be client side rather than server side. I have a little bit of a programming background, so it actually makes me more interested in learning it, but I started to wonder why it is such a huge requirement for a web designer rather than for a web developer or programmer.

So when people say that web designers should be proficient with Javascript, do they really mean be proficient at programming in Javascript, or just being familiar with it enough to plug in a script to get a slideshow to work, or what? It just seems to be something that a programmer would rather do than a designer who may be more interested in the design/layout aspects of a website. Are designers who can’t write programs really not designers?

I’m still learning javascipt myself to be more competivie.

The level of skill with javascript varies. Most web designers aren’t taught squat about programming languages in school, so it’s very tough for designers coming out of college to get the javascript chops that so many jobs demand. This doesn’t mean they’re not designers, it just means there’s a lot for them to learn if they want certain jobs where more programming might be required. Small start ups tend to need cross-discipline workers, so they might expect a designer to have more programming knowledge than average.

Overall I’d say knowing enough javascript to make a sideshow is sufficient for the average designer (but if you want to exceed that, it helps lots with finding jobs) and enough php to make dynamic templates isn’t out of the question. Any more then that and you’re getting into web developer territory- not that it would be a bad thing, it’s just that there’s some companies looking for workers who don’t know the difference. I’ve seen plenty of “web design” jobs that require javascript, php, mysql, ruby on rails, .net, perl and java on top of html, css and actionscript. Maybe it’s HR departments not knowing the difference when they post the jobs…

Imho, being at least reasonably skilled in coding javascript yourself is a huge benefit, because from what I have seen on the www nowadays, very few web sites are plain vanilla static websites where nothing changes on them. If you can code it your self, it is much easier to customise it and quicker to get it working.

The alternative is to have just basic or no skills in javascript and to then scratch around the www looking for code snippets and plugging them into your web page resulting in most likely then also spending time in forums like this hoping to find someone to guide them through getting their code to work - and there is nothing wrong with that either :wink: :smiley: :smiley:

not imho.

I see designers as people who specialise in creating the mockups in Photoshop, or whatever, and possibly also converting the mockups to html/css.

I think the distinction between designer/developer varies depending on where you are… I’ve never heard anyone that writes HTML, CSS or JS referred to as a ‘designer’… that’s development. Designing is basically just Photoshop, as far as I’ve seen.

I strongly disagree both in belief, experience and professional practice. I see anyone who claims the title of “web designer” without html and css skills to be downright dishonest.

HTML CSS, and to an extent light JS are the very skills that distinguish a web designer from a graphic designer. Without those skills you can’t call yourself a web designer at all- and in quite a few of the places I’ve worked if you don’t have those skills you will be fired for incompetence.

So my advice for aspiring web designers is: learn how to code, it’s not hard. Otherwise, learn to love low paying jobs that go nowhere because designers who can’t code are a dime a dozen. I know that doesn’t sound too nice, but that’s how it is in the competitive job market.

If you don’t have the basic html and css skills (or don’t want to learn it) that’s fine, just don’t go by the title “web designer”, instead the “graphic designer” title would be the honest one to use.

No matter what your current capabilities are as a “designer,” it definitely can’t hurt to add to your skillset by at least learning the basics of a simple scripting language like javascript. Trial by fire is tough when you don’t have any background at all in programming, but if you know the basics of how the language works…you’ll be able to feel your way through many projects. The internet is the biggest resource you have :wink:

I strongly disagree both in belief, experience and professional practice. I see anyone who claims the title of “web designer” without html and css skills to be downright dishonest.

I wouldn’t call it dishonest if by “web designer” they meant “web graphic designer”. There are those people: they know about browsers, they know Photoshop and Flash and whatever, and possibly they know some web usability and information architecture. They work at large companies where the design and a description of behaviour is sent to the code monkeys (who may be divided into front enders (HTML CSS Javascript) and backenders (PHP or whatever), or may be just “the programmers” who do all that coding). *note I am one of those code monkeys

This is why i say “front-end web developer”. HTML, CSS, Javascript, doesn’t say anything about my being able to graphically design my way out of a hat.


So lately I realize that Javascript is actually a full-fledged, object oriented programming language that just happens to be client side rather than server side. I have a little bit of a programming background, so it actually makes me more interested in learning it, but I started to wonder why it is such a huge requirement for a web designer rather than for a web developer or programmer.

It is if the places you’re working for go by “front-ender” vs “back-ender”. Javascript, even though there is a back-end server-side implementation from Netscape and a newer library called Node.js (which looks awesome btw), belongs on the front end. If you’re already doing front-end coding, then you likely should know Javascript.

Esp since Javascript being client-side has enough differences from the kind of programming done on the back end (not secure, can be edited by users with a text editor/can be viewed by anyone, cannot assume it runs on the client end, must keep in mind things like screen readers and bandwidth when doing ajaxy stuff), it’s not necessarily a good thing to say “well the guys here who are already doing web programming (let’s say PHP or something) should do the Javascript because they’re programmers.” If they’re going to be doing the Javascript then they must already be familiar with HTML, CSS, accessibility and the other stuff I mentioned above.

And as other people have said, it’s good to have in your skillset job-wise.

A web designer who hasn’t a clue about graphic design isn’t a web designer.

A web designer who hasn’t a clue about HTML/CSS and a sprinkling of Javascript isn’t a web designer either. In fact, I very much agree with Andy Rutledge’s notion in that regard.

A web designer who hasn’t a clue about graphic design isn’t a web designer.

Yes; for example, I am not a web designer : )

I’ve never seen you as one. I’ve always seen you as a front-end web developer.

And I’ve seen you as a web designer as well as developer.

So you do Javascript? and how much?

I’m not a front-end developer. My Javascript skills aren’t nearly enough to label myself as such (jQuery doesn’t count). I know my way around easy Javascript tasks and can write (very) simple scripts, that’s it. Well, at the moment anyway.

This is an interesting thread. There are “developers” that have no artistic ability whatsoever, and their poorly designed (from an artistic standpoint) Websites are all over the Internet. I think a “developer” needs to have those artistic skills, or at least employ someone that can do it for him/her while he does the coding for what the artist has created.

I have an art background; but, I’m also a “techie” (having spent many years in electronics). I have taught myself php, and am learning Java script, and have delved into XML. However I have only really scratched the surface. I have installed PHP5, MySQL, and Apache on my PC.

I use the PHP on my sites with a template, and a “controller” (index.php) to pull everything together. I have been having a lot of fun with this.

Well, that would depend on the preference of the designer. There are designers who use no more than basic Java scrips for their work, while others do study full pledged programming on it.

yep totally agree :agree: if you’re a one man band like me doing everything from a plain vanilla static website to an e-commerce database driven website.

my strength is in backend coding (javascript, php, sql) and although my photography and Photoshop skills have improved significantly over the last few years I would not consider them to be at the same level of a qualified, experienced graphic designer or photographer.

I’ve worked with a lot of dishonest web designers then.

It depends on the job. Roles throughout the industry overlap and change meaning from one company to a next. In some cases designer, simply means create a static mock-up than hand it off to a front-end developer to actually code the front-end stuff, like HTML, CSS and JavaScript, when necessary. At other places it means design, program and maintain a single or multiple websites. Generally, the latter circumstance arises with smaller companies or inhouse departments, of companies not focused on web development. The earlier one is normally the situation with companies that provide web related services or offer web related products.

In my opinion, I would expect a person who considers themselves a web designer to be proficient with HTML, CSS and provide great design. JavaScript, seems to be required by a lot of people, but JavaScript is really more on the programming side of things. I don’t really understand how real, true designers can be expected to know JavaScript. JavaScript, is at heart a programming language. I think the abundance of the JQuery mentality “its so easy a designer can do it” has people expecting their designer to know JavaScript. When really JavaScript is programming, not design. This whole mentality of expecting designers to know JavaScript has seemed to surface in light of the JQuery, plugin revolution. Though when a plugin can’t be found, than the designer is expected to program and it gets messy.

I don’t get it myself how people can expect designers to understand programming concepts necessary to producing quality JavaScript, but what do I know. I just want to work with designers that know enough not to f**k up my code or know when to ask questions. That is enough. for me. Most designers program like sht and vice-versa most programmers design like sht. So I think its fair to just ask that they know enough about each others jobs not step on toes, destroy each others work. Most people who say they can do both, are really good at one, but not at the other, myself included. I can design, even went to design school but I am far more interested, proficient and ultimately better with programming. If I must design I will, but its not something I really enjoy, though I “can” do it.

There is a lot to be said for great, digital artist, who understand the limitations of the web environment, but can’t write HTML or CSS worth a damn. You just need to find the right job to match what your looking for. A lot people can “design”, but very few can do it well. I mean… look at all the crap out there. There is a market for people who are true designers, with no programming skill. However, its much less of a market than someone who can kinda/sorta design alright, but is able to write HTML, CSS also.

Personally, if I were running a development company I would want a designer, front-end developer and back-end developer. I think that is the best separation of skill to yield a quality product in terms of user experience and quality code. This is how its set-up in most, higher-end, larger companies focused on delivering web products or maintaining large, multiple websites.

I have a friend from college who currently works at an interactive design agency in DC. I graduated a couple of years earlier than him, and tho I had an aptitude for computers, I was put off doing web work because tables and repetitive coding did not appeal to me ( yes, this was before CSS was widely accepted). I made a decent living specializing on print dint design for brand, advertising and communications. For fun I picked up a little FLASH and action script… mostly to make my own FLASH site ( still before CSS was widely accepted and for some reason I was less afraid of actionscript 2.0 than Javascript). About two years ago I was starting to master CSS/HTM and some basic js ( enough to make up for browser issues and maybe a slide show or accordion), but I had the same problem that was mentioned at the beginning of this thread.

Coincidentally, this was when I crossed path with my college friend again and learned that he was working as a “web designer”. He told me how he got started: shortly after finishing school, he decided to move to Seattle where he got a job as a “graphic designer” at the time of the big internet bubble… which lead to him begin asked to design graphics FOR web pages ( not to be confused with designing websites). He was (and is not) very technical or adroit with computers. As he put it , “at this point there was so much buzz for the web that even a ‘hack’ could make decent money at it, especially in Seattle.” Long story short, over the years he developed a portfolio of web interfaces done EXCLUSIVELY in PS, Illustrator or FLASH ( w/o any scripting)… and marketed himself as someone who improves the aesthetics of a site. And thus gain the title “web designer/ web art director”. Making a comparison between our skills: he knows LITTLE or NO CSS or HTLM, and absolutely no JS, PHP, or actionscript… but leads a web “DESIGN” team and coding ( or even SEO) is of no concern to him, where I on the other hand had diversified to such a point that “begged the question am I a designer, coder, or programmer or SEO?” But the clients usually know less about ANY of these disciplines when they decide to consider you ( or look for you as a web) a “web-whatever”

Essentially, I think the point my friend was trying to make to me was that it your choice to specialize or diversify. If you specialize ( and become good) you may get less jobs, but you will get better clients who actually KNOW what they want and as such have both the will and the budget to pay for it. While “jacks of all trade” get many clients with mediocre projects and they lots of haggling.

What you might be seeing a case of the latter: you might be running into clients who want a website at a low cost… and as such might say that if you can shoot the photos for the content, you should by extension be a be able to : design the UI, Code the HTML and CSS for the page, do any necessary java sideshows, AJAX, code the CMS, and write the content , and optimize and SEO keywords… all for just slightly more that the cost of decent photography.

Personally I would love if the job market had hard definitions: front end coders do HTML/CSS ( yeah some js and tag opt but its not mentioned) , The web designers do static PS layouts (like my friend does for a living) , programmers automated the site and code behaviors, and the SEO s write and optimize content.

it goes in reverse too, some clients get angry when they see programmers design “horrible looking” websites even if there no cliches such as “so easy a programmer can design it”

Javascript is definitely a programming language, but the difference is, it’s on the front-end, and this means it has as great an influence on how the customer sees and interacts with the web page as the HTML and CSS. <– well this does depend on the page… many pages are fine without JS but almost none of them are without CSS…

The jQuery thing is certainly a problem, in that it does encourage non-programmers to add in Javascript to a page that they do not understand. This is why I’m heavily resisting using it if possible. I’ll be ok using it when I have the ability to write it myself, by hand, in pure Javascript. Then it becomes what it was built for: making developing easier for developers by saving writing time.

So, while I know there are good front-enders who just do HTML/CSS (and SEO and maybe even image optimisation (file size)), I feel Javascript is pretty darn close to a requirement. Not for the guy who can do Photoshop layouts, but for whoever can do the other front-end coding.

The rest of oddz post is spot-on.

Funnily, that’s how I got started. People knew I could draw on beer coasters, and it went from there. To this day, though, I still suck at graphics : ) It just turned out that the back-end guy hated doing the HTML (and the CSS was limited to lots of position: absolute, without a doctype, meaning it only worked in IE6).

some clients get angry when they see programmers design “horrible looking” websites even if there no cliches such as “so easy a programmer can design it”

Haha, yeah.

There is a big leap in complexity between aesthetic (and non wasteful java)… the kind you use to alter the DOM to make up for cross browser differences or for simple show or roll over effects… and AJAX… in which (shudders) you essentially and mimic a whole site in one page or even a not very secure CMS. I guess because the it is the same tool used for different purposes the uninitiated might think who ever is using it ( a front end designer or a web developer) does the same thing with it. This is bound to have a retro active effect. I mean if developing becomes a requirement for designing it ALSO MEANS designing becomes a requirement for developers, in the eyes of clients.