Should Web Designers Also Be Web Developers?

I’m still engrossed in my search for a new job. It’s an interesting experience considering I started working at my last gig weeks after graduating from university and didn’t spend much time at all having to search for a job. Four years later I’m back on the job market and it’s taking considerably longer and is more stressful finding anything along the lines of graphic design.

A few weeks ago it came to me upon much dread that perhaps this was a sign that I needed to expand upon my skill set. As I look at job postings, I’m not seeing much at all for print design but there seems to be a slew of job listings for web designers. Any graphic designer will tell you that designing for the Web is an entirely different beast. Any web designer will tell you the same about designing for print. Both have some elements in common such as composition, color theory and needing to know how and where to use Jpg, Gif or PNG files.

In my quest to expand my skill set and perhaps make myself more marketable in today’s tough economy, I finally broke down and decided to take a course through a local community college that would help me expand my knowledge of web design. One reason I’ve been so resistant toward jumping onto the web design bandwagon is because in some ways I feel web design is more limiting. With print design, you can go crazy. There’s really no limit to the size, the colors, the possibilities of what you can do. With web design, you’re usually tackling a website that of course can only be but so big, images that may look awesome huge and in your face that now need to be minimized and may not work as well and you suddenly have to program and code everything on top of producing captivating visuals.

Or do you?

As I get deeper into this course in XHTML and CSS suddenly I’m presented with another curious question: are web designers also web developers?

I looked online for an answer and was presented with conflicting messages. Web designers often think of themselves as graphic designers who simply design graphics for the web rather than for print. Yet the jobs and employers looking for web designers also expect the web designer to be a developer. Many of the job listings that I see for web designers or web masters ask them to know Adobe Creative Suite, HTML, CSS, SEO, Java, Drupal and the list goes on and on. This goes back to my argument that many employers seem to be looking for the one-in-all designer: the one person who can basically do what an entire team should be doing. Is it entirely unreasonable to ask a web designer to know how to code? I don’t think so. The profession “graphic designer” is an umbrella term for many artists and designers: a graphic designer can be an illustrator, a logo designer, they can design business collateral, advertisements, marketing pieces but they don’t necessarily know how to do everything – and that’s ok, at least in my opinion.

Next week in addition to the course I’m taking in XHTML and CSS I will be starting a 6-week course in Java Programming. Many of you may go “Huh? What does that have do with design?” Well, perhaps nothing but if you look at what employers are asking from web designers, you’d think otherwise. I believe we’re moving toward a point where a web designer and a graphic designer are all the same thing and the designer will need to know how to design for both print and web. The designer will also need to know a bit about coding and web development, know about CSS and the design/creative team will be replaced by just one or two people being responsible for all the design needs for a company.

Out of curiosity I googled “what do web designers need to know” and came across “Do Web Designers Need To Know Web Development” by Intervals. This article goes in depth and really covers the question well. At the end they recommend web designers at least know these things about web development:

1. Pixel Resolution: Web designers should know that the optimal pixel resolution for web images is 72 ppi. Also, websites should fit 800×600, 1024×768ppi. You want your websites to be viewable but not too large nor too small.

2. Image Formats: At the very least a web designer needs to know when using a JPG, GIF or PNG is appropriate. Each displays color a bit differently and can vary in size. You don’t want a JPG that’s a couple MBs in size because it’ll take longer to load and for web users, the longer it takes something to load, the more likely they are to bail and leave the page entirely before taking in your website and its content.

3. Basic HTML: You should know the general markup language. In my last job, I was hired to oversee the print design of a magazine. Months into my employment I had webmaster duties dropped in my lap with the explanation being that graphic designers and web designers pretty much did the same thing. Yes, I was actually told that and you can laugh at that load of baloney. Still, I needed to know everything from how to format text (start/end paragraphs, bold fonts, italicize text) to the proper tags and code necessary for displaying images. There are tons of sites online that cover basic HTML and I think every designer should start becoming acquainted with HTML because at some point, you’ll be dealing with it whether you like it or not. Learning XHTML and CSS is a bit of a step up from the basics but that’s where a lot of web development/coding is going so knowing either will set you apart.

4. CSS: Cascading style sheets are basically documents used to style entire websites. If you have a site with dozens or hundreds of pages but the overall style and design of each page has to remain consistent and the same, you’ll want to create and know how to change and edit a website’s CSS. It sounds intimidating but again, you don’t have to be a total expert but just know the basics.

I’ll add to Interval’s list by suggesting a few additional things web designers should know to put them ahead of the game:

1. Google Analytics: When I was having to serve as webmaster, even though I’d been hired to be a print designer, I was suddenly asked a lot of questions such as “how many unique visitors came to our site this month?”, “How many hits does this and that page get every month?”, “How are people finding us online?” Now to a graphic designer these questions probably sound like they deserve a “How the heck would I know?” response but your employers expect you to be able to spit out stats and figures about your site. An easy tool to use is Google Analytics which is easy to setup and then spits out tons of helpful facts and figures about your site. As a web designer, why would you be interested in things like unique visitors and bounce rates? Because often it speaks volumes about your site’s design and the organization of the data. If people are coming to your site and leaving after 10 seconds and the bounce rate is above 50%, something is wrong with your design.

2. SEO: You’ll hear this word tossed around all the time – SEO (or search engine optimization). When designing for the web, you have a lot of competition. Businesses and individuals want their websites and content at the top of search pages (especially Google) and are usually distraught when this doesn’t happen. In many cases a website that isn’t ranked high on Google or other search engines and one that gets few views is considered a bad site, and that is usually equated to bad design. Here’s a few tips (95 to be exact) for good SEO that will at least give you a starting point in discussing it with your clients so that they are aware of how to get their sites ranked higher and visited more frequently.

3. Learn, learn, learn. As I’ve found out, there’s never a point where you can say you know all there is to know about designing for the Web. If you’re a designer, take courses in programming and development. Dreamweaver, Java, Flash, PHP, MySQL are all in high demand so knowing how to program and design will not kill you but give you prolonged life in today’s tough job market. If you’re a developer, take a few courses in design and learn your way around Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop. A lot of jobs are looking for the rare one-in-all person who can do it all. While you need to be upfront and play up your strengths, don’t let your weaknesses and lack of knowledge kill your job security or prospects.

What do you all think? Do web designers need to be web developers and vice versa? What issues are you encountering with this situation in today’s job market? Leave your comments and tips in the discussion/comments area of this post.

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About Antoine

Antoine is a graphic designer and artist currently residing in North Carolina. He has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a concentration in Visual Communication and specializes in graphic design and illustration. He has spent the past six years as a graphic artist for several publications based in North Carolina. He invites you to visit his design and social media blog at
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8 Responses to Should Web Designers Also Be Web Developers?

  1. nicole says:

    This is exactly what came to my head earlier. I seem to understand the difference, but agencies and other employers do not. What they’re asking for is 6+ years of schooling and paying only for 4. It’s disturbing, and they get away with it because there are mid-level and senior designers who have been fortunate to have time on their side as far as education and experience goes. It makes us entry-level and juniors look like know-nothings.

    I am a firm believer that knowledge is power, and if you have the interest, time, and finances to go to school to learn the broad expanse of designing and developing, of course you should go for it. But should employers be taking advantage of the fact that designers are desperate and willing to get paid as one person doing a two-person job? Probably not, but that’s never stopped industry before. Thanks for this blog, I needed to vent!

    • Antoine says:

      It’s interesting to see all sides of the equation. My last employer practically dumped the web design and development duties into my lap and told me that graphic designers pretty much do what web designers need to do. The most amusing thing is that I had a basic understanding of HTML going into the job so lucky for my employer I was able to get in and do what needed to be done to maintain the site. But I told him and others that I’m a graphic designer, not a web designer, and the two are really two different jobs. I understand the need for and importance of a graphic designer to know the basics of web coding – if they don’t know, then the web person has to spend time teaching and explaining things to the graphic designer and other duties get behind. What I don’t understand is how employers are really trying to group everyone together under a simple title that’s overly complex – and yet they barely want to pay you for one job let alone having to do two.

      I agree – knowing more helps considerably so that’s why I’ve been investing just a bit into expanding my knowledge of things that don’t really qualify as graphic design. I think in today’s job market being able to list at least knowing a bit of the development stuff will make me more appealing than someone who’s strictly a print designer. It’s sad that we have to go through hoops like this just to stay or remain relevant but you do what you have to do.

  2. kelley says:

    Great points in your topic!

    My answer to your main point – It depends on your definition of ‘web developer’. I’ve seen plenty of employers asking for a web designer (create a website using HTML and CSS) when it is apparent from the job requirements that they really want a web developer (creates applications in a programming language for the web). You are absolutely correct that graphic designers are not necessarily web designers and vise versa, lots of people get that mixed up too. I can create decent images, but I suck at actual graphic design!

    I know of graphic designers that have zero interest in learning how to code a web page to display their designs properly for a web site, but in my opinion you are much more marketable (and higher paid!) if you can do both.

    To disagree with Nicole a little – it’s not that employers are asking for 6+ years of school and wanting to pay for 4, but as Antoine says it’s that they do not understand the difference.

    • Antoine says:

      Kelley, you bring up good points and identify the issue at hand: employers just having no idea what members of a creative team do. When looking at job descriptions it’s very daunting because few people seem qualified for everything listed. Since when does a graphic designer also qualify one to know how to edit and shoot video? That’s an entirely different job and skill set, different programs, different approach to creativity yet tons of employers seem to think they’re within reason to ask and seek such a person.

      It seems like we’re getting farther behind as graphic designers as employers feel print is ineffective (and it isn’t if done right) and want to jump all in on the interactive/web bandwagon. I’ve tried explaining on a few occasions that knowing how to code is really a different job all together and if you as an employer want a “graphic designer” to do it, then compensate them for this valuable skill set! Trying to convince the employee that there’s really nothing special about knowing HTML, XHTML or CSS and that a graphic designer should know them already and thus don’t need to be compensated for it is just ridiculous. Not sure how but as pointed out, we really need to educate everyone about the differences between designers and developers.

  3. Damien says:

    I am always shocked when I see a job posting that requires you to know at least 10 different programs, 4 languages, have a BS and 3+ years of experience and they are paying $10 to $15 an hour. Really people? Also I get annoyed when I pour 10-12 hours of work into code, design, and custom graphics and the clients only want to pay $150 to $300 because they were told that is what a website costs. Oh and on top of that they are wondering why they didn’t get thousands of hits on the first day the site launches and want you to get them hits and the keywords they want to use are photography, art, and for sale.

  4. n estos tiempos, cientos de miles de páginas nuevas se crean todos los días, por ende viene la importancia de los buscadores.

  5. walkerbean says:

    I’m a graphic designer that just moved the LA area. I was looking for a full-time graphic design position but am having trouble so I started freelancing. I’m primarily a print designer who now has a lot of front end web design experience or in other words I design a whole site in photoshop and hand it over to the developer. The divide between designer and developer often makes me angry because I truly feel it is two jobs, two sides of the brain, two worlds. I’ve noticed a lot of employers literally throwing web developing on the end of a long list of expectations for a new graphic design hire. I could complain all day about how unfair it is but a lot of good it does me. I’m starting to think I need to swallow my pride and learn some web development but where do I start and what is going to be most useful. Do you have any ideas?

  6. Jason says:

    I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been a graphic designer (print) for 16 years now and it does seem the industry is changing where graphic designers are expected to do web design also. I just recently went back to school for web design and I think when I’m finished it will be one of the greatest investments I’ve made. I haven’t decided whether to also be a web developer in addition to being a designer, but from what I’ve seen there are a lot of good paying jobs out there, but employers do expect you to know it all.

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