What standard should a mid-level web designer be at


I’m new to these forums, so hi all. The reason I’ve come here is I’m at a bit of stumbling block to be honest!

I’ve recently been given the task of growing the design team in my company and have been looking for a mid-level web designer. I really didn’t think this would be a problem and posted the job spec on all job boards etc. However, I’ve been trying to recruit this job for nearly 6 months now, and whilst I’ve had a fair few applications, none of them have made me sit up and take notice. A lot of the designs I see in their portfolio I would class as a junior level and not of a mid-level.

So this has got me to thinking that I may be being a bit too critical and that the level I expect a mid-level designer to be at is not in fact the level they generally are. Therefore I thought I would come here and ask what other people’s expectations of a mid-level designer are and what the quality of their designs would be like?



Although a portfolio is the best way to assess the creativity of a designer, do take into consideration that sometimes this creativy is halted by the taste of the client. So if they’re showing you real jobs, more than their own style and taste, you may be seeing their ability to adapt to the requirments of those customers.

Having said this, I personally think that designer is a designer, not a coder. Being a web designer, I would expect that he understands typography, color, composition and layout, have some basic knowledge of user experience and understanding of how coding works and the limitations of the web regarding typography, weight of pictures and different mediums (mobile, laptops, computers…)

I do not expect a designer to code but for a web designer, yes, I would expect that he knows how some coding. I insist, it is not because he will do coding side of things… a coder is a coder, and a designer designs, not codes. A designer doesn’t necessarily has to create good, quality code. But if he really wants to understand how his layout and design will work and flow, and how to design things so they’re easy to use as well as pleasant to the eye, he does need to have some knowledge of HTML and CSS so he can communicate effectively with coders, CSS specialists and programmers since the user experience is really created by a team more than one person.

That is, if I’m looking for specifically a web designer and not something else.

Welcome to the forums!

Are you looking for a UI specialist (visual designer) or just a graphic designer who has experience with web sites?

If I were recruiting for a mid-level person my wishlist may be something like this:

  1. Strong HTML/CSS skills
  2. Solid understanding of accessibility and usability
  3. Able to develop for any device (eg desktop, tablet mobile)
  4. Good JS skills, Jquery probably
  5. Programming language, eg PHP is a bonus
  6. Superb communications skills, written, phone and face to face
  7. Good problem solving

I personally call that a front-end developer and that means that he doesn’t necessarily have good design skills

Out of curiosity @PhilRa; What do you expect from a mid-level web designer?

Are you looking for:

Someone who just creates static mockups and someone else will be responsible for building the website out of them?
Someone who both is able to design (mockups) and build the entire website?
If 2 than what type of websites are we talking – simple static (HTML and CSS) or dynamic ones using a CMS which might require custom code modifications to meet the requirements of any given project?

You’re not going to find someone who meets all 3 of those. Especially someone who can program and has an amazing VISUAL portfolio of designs. Especially, only at a mid level. Keep in mind when you get more into a development role those types of people will most likely have less to show, visually. Especially, if they worked in house maintaining things more than building brand new things. Inhouse workers are less likely to have a stunning visual portfolio than those that have worked freelance or at an agency. You gotta be realistic in you’re expectations.

By industry standards that is a front-end developer not a web designer.

I know that those unknowledgeable with the industry commonly refer to those types of roles as “web designer” but it’s not – they are just confused and don’t know what they are talking about.

Wow, thanks for all the responses.

I believe they should have an understanding of HTML/CSS because I think that is needed in order to know a design will work. However we have a full development team here that are responsible for the actual build of the sites. Therefore they won’t be coding in their day to day duties and the majority of their work will be creating the look and feel of the site.

All the people I have seen so far appear to me have very basic design skills. Their designs look nice enough I guess, but they don’t stand out and look very much like template designs. (E.g each page has a header, a footer and a content block that is the same on each page).

I guess I was expecting by mid-level that the designs would be fuller, more considered and with a stronger sense of brand. I would also expect them to have a design process that went a little bit beyond “I ask the client a series of questions and then I create a mockup”.

Again, maybe I am expecting a bit too much, which is why I came here to ask. Maybe I need to lower my expectations?

For a web designer position that sounds completely reasonable given the compensation is there. I can’t really comment on the quality of work aspect given I’m not a designer but I do know there are a lot of hacks out there. Patience is a virtue. Perhaps you’re just not looking in the right place or using the right words.

I beg to differ since you can’t be a designer without knowing the medium which you work in:

  1. Strong HTML/CSS skills
  • web designers should at least have a working knowledge at least, it’s all too easy for a visual designer to propose so wacky layout that takes an extra 10k of CSS/JS to do, not good for page speed!
  1. Solid understanding of accessibility and usability
  • this is directly related to design
  1. Able to develop for any device (eg desktop, tablet mobile)
  • ok probably a bit much but a designer should understand how content needs to adapt on various devices
  1. Good JS skills, Jquery probably
  • ok probably not so much but it helps to have an idea of what JS can do especially if the designer is doing UI (which is what a web designer really does)
  1. Programming language, eg PHP is a bonus
  • ok definitely not :slight_smile:
  1. Superb communications skills, written, phone and face to face
  • directly related to design and all other desciplines
  1. Good problem solving
  • directly related to design and all other desciplines

In response to 1 basic working knowledge of limitations in the medium – sure. I don’t really think it is that important though that a web designer knows how to style a site from start to finish. In fact I rather they not because those are the types of people who write terrible code and everyone else pays for their poor decisions. In response to 4 a web designer doesn’t need to know anything about JavaScript. Again I rather they not so there is no urge to do things themselves and again have the rest of use pay for it. Everything else I agree with which has nothing to do with scripting/programming.

Keep in mind I’m talking within the context of a structured company with adequate separation of skills and individuals who fill those roles. In that type of situation there is really no need to have the web designer know how to build a site as there are going to be much more qualified individuals handling that responsibility.

I differ from your opinion. Maybe just to be annoying :stuck_out_tongue:

For me, your list is good for a good and experienced front-end developer.

Now, seriously. I did say that he does need to understand the medium and be able to design for any device. Therefore I would expect him to know how HTML/CSS and, if he’s curious enough, even some jQuery (so he can have a basic understanding of how animations work). I expect him to understand the concepts well but I don’t expect him to be good at it.

I only expect him to know this stuff so he can understand the advantages and limitations of the medium and so that he can communicate effectively with the person/team that will code it and understand whatever change that he’ll be asked to do by this person/team or with the front-end developer who may do the Javascript side of things.

Most designers can’t have the mentality of a programmer which is much better for HTML so normally their code is rubbish.

I do agree with point 6. He does need to have great communications skills to transmit concepts and ideas to the rest of the team… and also great listening skills so he can understand what the client wants, what it’s the goal that the design need to accomplish.

What I do really expect from him is to be creative, adaptable to the needs of the customer and good understading of anything related to design: color, layout, typography (and then, its limitations on the web), etc.

I agree with @oddz;

You do need to take into consideration other aspects too and have some understanding of what web design implies too.

When you creating a brochure for print, it is easier to play with white space and shapes. Although basically you divide the space into squares the place the objects into those invisible squares, the end result can feel non-squarish. You also have more freedom to play with backgrounds too. And the possibility of using the font you like best.

The web has the advantage of being able to interact with the user and be able to use animations (within reason, too much may kill the usability) but it has serious limitations in terms of using the negative (white) space, choosing the font you want and, although to create your design you do divide the space into rectangles or squares, as in print, these squares can be, up to a point, “visible”.

You aslo are limited by what the people are used to when they use their browser. And it has to look good in every screen, be it a big, flat TV or computer screen, or a tiny mobile phone (I said look good, not the same ;))

That’s why all the designs tend to feel … square and it’s hard to find someone that is creative enough to make it feel something else.

This is even more true if those designs were created for a CMS such as Joomla, or WordPress or any other. Creating for a CMS adds a whole lot of constraints so jumping out of the box to a non-square design is even harder.

So you see that all navigation is always on the left… everyone places navigation on the left or on the top of the page! Why? Because it is well known that the closer you are to the back button, so the chances that a site is more successfull if the navigation is on the left or on the top.

There are thousands of rules like that but only knowing well the rules, and understanding them, is when you know when you can break them… and you know why you’re breaking them.

A web designer is also a bit of a UX/Interface designer so he needs to have some knowledge of this type of things. But that’s also a constraint to design.

As oddz said, maybe you didn’t find what you wanted because you didn’t use the right wording.

To help you with finding the right words, and maybe even to know what to expect, I will suggest that you visit a web design contest site (like www.99designs.com)

I know that 99designs.com has some kind of blog and from time to time do mention someone that they believe is an outstanding designer.

Look at how each contest works, how client and designer interact and how they use words. You can check major contests for that. That should give you a good clue.