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Design - from all angles

A blog about branding, marketing, and design, mostly through the lens of practical psychology, intended to be a resource to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Unless otherwise noted, all articles are written by Nyla Smith, owner of n-Vision Designs. {Subscribe to the RSS feed here: RSS}

What's in a name? Graphic Designer vs. Web Designer vs. Web Developer...Oh my

Nyla Smith | Wednesday, August 24, 2011

There are lots of titles floating around for people like me. And I'll be honest here, lots of people don't know what those titles mean. I call myself a Graphic and Web Designer.

I used to just say Graphic Designer, but many people would have no idea that also includes websites. When possible I'll say "Graphic & Web Designer/Developer" because I not only design websites, but I build them too. On my formal resume, or when I know the audience will understand, I specify by saying "Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-end Web Developer".  So what does all of this mean? Here's my breakdown:

The role of a Graphic Artist (Hint: ≠ Designer)

I have had people call me a Graphic Artist before. In a sense, I do consider myself an artist. But an artist and a designer are not the same thing. They are related, but here is what I see as the difference:

Art is typically a vehicle of self expression. It is highly subjective and can have different meanings to different people. It can be intended to convey the artist's point of view on a topic, it can be a social commentary, or it may simply be a personal expression of their style as they seek to represent something they've seen. Just because you throw the word "graphic" in front of it does not change the meaning of the term. It just indicates (for most people) that the artist may use digital means to create their art.

However, a designer is one that solves problems. Whether that is a graphic designer or web designer, the primary function is to use their medium to: 1) understand the needs and goals of the client; 2) understand the issues in reaching those goals and how available technology can be utilized; 3) be able to translate the client's needs into a solution that communicates their message and uses their branding. Aesthetics is a part of that, so having an artistic background or formal training is important. But art for art's sake is a long way from design for communication's sake.

So, now that we've got that straightened out...

The role of a Graphic Designer

A Graphic Designer can work in print design, web design, or even multimedia or interactive design. Within each of these fields, there are niches that a designer can specialize in. For example, within print design, there are Graphic Designers who work solely in identity (Brand Identity Designers, Logo Designers); packaging (Packaging Designers); magazines, newspapers, and books (Publication Designers); or data organization (Information Designers).

The role of a Web Designer

A Web Designer is a Graphic Designer who designs for the web. A Web Designer creates what a website will look like, designs email templates, and develops graphics for use on the web, like banner ads. There are Web Designers who specialize in user interface and user experience (UI/UX Designers—more on this in a bit).

The role of a Web Developer

A Web Developer is the one who builds the website. This person takes the design provided by the Web Designer and turns it into a functional, working site on the internet. I specified that I am a front-end developer. This means I write the (x)HTML and CSS code that translates the static design to an actual website. I will also utilize javascript or Flash to create the interactive elements, I'll set up web forms, I'll input content into databases, etc. Basically, I develop everything that the web visitor sees—on the front-end—as opposed to building the foundation itself. So I may set up a contact form with the fields you need, and make it look good, but I don't necessarily have to build the functionality to transmit the data securely once somebody clicks submit. That's the job of the back-end developer. The back-end developer is more technical, and a person in this role may have a degree in computer science (as opposed to visual communications). This role entails writing databases and developing web applications. They deal with the processing side that makes things work on the server, and may use PHP, Java, MySql, Ruby, C++, or other programming languages and databases. Because I build my websites on content management systems, essentially all of the back-end development has already been done. The foundation is already there, I just have to build upon it and customize it to make it work for each individual case.

The role of a UI/UX Designer

While the end-user's experience is an important consideration for any designer, I will mention UI/UX separately from web design, because many do consider it a separate category—it is not unique to web design. UX (User Experience) Designers examine how the end-user interacts with something and the feelings they get from doing so. For websites, they may try to determine: Was the navigation clear? Was the form easy to understand and complete? Were you able to find what you were looking for quickly? Where you able to complete your check-out process smoothly? They will research and collect data on user behavior, and conduct usability testing on prototypes or finished products. They may also create site maps and wireframes at the beginning of a web design project that outline what should go where. UI (User Interface) Designers are the more technical side. Similar to the back-end web developer mentioned earlier, they will design and build the actual interface based off of the data from the UX Designers.

Visual Communicator Extraordinaire

With all of these terms floating around, it's easy to see how people are confused. That's why titles are never enough to go on. My "elevator speech" may start off with "I'm a Graphic Designer," but it's immediately followed by "who provides individuals, nonprofits, and businesses with custom-built websites and other marketing materials..." and etc. You don't want to overwhelm people with a list of services, but just saying, "I'm a Graphic Designer" sure doesn't cut it.  I was considering calling myself "Visual Communicator Extraordinaire" but I have a feeling that wouldn't help matters.

Plus, it wouldn't fit on my business card.

So, anybody else out there with a confusing job title? Have you come up with an easy way to explain what it is that you do?

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 13 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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