Archive: November, 2004

Web Design Roles

As the Web evolves, it’s inevitable that the job of creating websites evolves too. As those out there in the industry will already know, the roles of the “Web Designer” can be diverse, especially on larger projects, making it more of an umbrella job description.

Anyway, I’ve decided to write about some of my thoughts about the job of a Web Designer. I also thought it might be interesting to ask people what role (or roles) they see themselves as playing in the world of Web Design.

What is Web Design?

It’s probably not a great idea to start out with what is really an aside, but bear with me on this one.

Jakob Nielsen recently wrote that “Web Design” is a misnomer. It got me thinking and I’d have to agree to some extent, but my view is slightly different to Nielsen’s. People don’t design the Web itself, but the sites reached via the Web – “Website Design” would be more accurate, but I’m just pedantic. I guess it doesn’t really matter what is the accepted phrase for referring to people who build websites – I know that I will call it “Web Design” anyway.

What I don’t like is how Web Design is often misconstrued to mean putting something pretty up online. We have known for a long time that the Web is an information medium at heart and not a visual one. This is an important concept that I feel many designers and design agencies forget on a regular basis. On an ideal Web, all designers would take information gathered by the client (or help them collate information) and allow that content to drive design. The classic maxim applies: Web Design is not Print Design. Neither is it just about Graphic Design, so simply slicing up a Photoshop comp and putting it online is not enough.

So what was the point of my aside? I wanted to raise a couple of questions. If so many designers don’t know their job and how to do it properly, how do people really know what to expect from them? How are prospective clients to know whether their website is going to fit with their purpose? Does it matter?

Roles of the Web Designer

What is perhaps a little more difficult to define is the role of the Web Designer. Recently, I’ve been thinking about all the different “modes” I have when building a website. Being self-employed, these modes can be wide and varied, and I am increasingly appreciating the need for collaboration on projects to make them stronger and generally just better.

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and it can be important to develop a specialism or a style which sets you apart from the crowd. A problem here is that I like to explore and to learn. Hence, I will often try to vary my roles so that I can develop my skills in different areas and keep what I do interesting. I’ll have to admit now that this can cause some areas to be weaker than others between projects. This is a compromise I do not want to make if I can help it. It’s near impossible to fulfil all the roles required by Web Design today, so collaboration is an important aspect, whether it be with other agencies or freelancers.

A common distinction in roles seems to be between Web Designers and Web Developers, but even these roles can overlap. As I see it (and I could be wrong) designers are responsible for structure, layout, visual wonders, etc while developers are more geared towards developing server-side magic, applications and interaction. But there’s a lot more going on than that.

Here are some of the roles I can think of which I perform, and others that I have seen in use:

  • Project Manager
  • Website Designer
  • Website Architect (implying working with information architecture / structure?)
  • Website Developer/Engineer
  • Internet Developer (another misnomer?)
  • Graphic Designer or Web Graphic Designer (I’ve seen this role described as a person who “tries to make Web pages look the same in every browser”. I’m not totally agreed on that one. Anyone for “CSS Engineer”?)
  • Multimedia Designer
  • Web Typographer
  • Flash Designer
  • User Interface / Interaction Designer
  • Web Usability Specialist
  • Web Accessibility Specialist
  • Web Marketing Specialist
  • Search Engine Optimisation Specialist
  • Copy Writer, Web Editor or Web Writer
  • Web Writer
  • Web Hosting Technician
  • Webmaster
  • Software Engineer

This probably isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s what came to mind while thinking about what I do, or have done in the past.

What Roles Do You Play?

So what do you do? Are you a multi-tasking stress monkey like me? Are you a jargon-loving, Planetarian-playing techie? Are you the arty, expressive graphic designer? I want to know, damn it!

Just Playing

In a fantastic bit of work avoidance last night, I decided to have a bit of a play with the dotjay design.

I had recently tried out Patrick's hex colour calculator, so thought I'd give it a whirl using a hue from the header graphic as a base. This gave the sandy complementary colour used in the navigation, although I used a few tints rather than the shades that the colour calculator gave.

The navigation is better now with easier keyboard navigation and added skips. I also tidied the feeds, gave the site a shortcut icon, made the comments more intuitive to reference and added a little funkiness to my own comments.

I'm not entirely happy with how it has turned out, but I think it's better than it was before. Having finished off the navigation, I realised that the sandy coloured navigation with the borders makes it look a bit like Tommy's Autistic Cuckoo navigation. I suspect I will have another play with the design before Christmas. Any comments, suggestions or bug reports welcomed.

Update

I've got rid of the sandy colour now and it looks so much nicer… but still unimaginative. Consider the design “work in progress”… I want to get this blog lookin' nice.

Educating the People

Right, so this blog hasn't been fed too well so far, but as I've said before, it isn't on a high-fibre diet yet (i.e. it isn't a regular thing).

So far, the blog's quite empty. It hasn't helped that I've been away for the last week! (For those who have asked, I had a nice birthday week, thanks! I've been visiting folks back home and growing a bit of a beard so I don't feel so out of place on Accessify Forum). I've not written a whole lot about the Web Design business, which I'd like to start doing, so here's one for ya!

Letting Everyone Down

I'm finding it increasingly saddening to find websites that suck – especially when the website belongs to a Web Design company. I get annoyed at the number of Web Design companies I stumble across whose websites are utterly atrocious.

Now, before I get too far down this road, I must admit my own design failures. For example, the November 5th website has had its moments – sometimes embarrassing ones – which have mostly been down to its age and the fact that I've learnt a lot over the last year since its launch. I'm also aware that there are still issues with the site, something I hope to iron out with the redesign I'm working on.

Anyway, last week I found a website that purported to be dedicated to getting the best online marketing that money can buy. They are an off-shoot of an established Web Design company and so have little excuse for the poor quality of their own website. Guess what? It works fine in Internet Explorer on Windows, but does it work properly in any other browser? Does it bollocks!

They pretend to have a clue about SEO. They don't appear to have discovered the advantages of designing with Web standards. Their navigation bar just doesn't work in anything but IE. No idea about accessibility. A lovely marquee is thrown in there for good measure.

Sound familiar? Right. Sorry, rant over.

Companies like these are letting their customers down. Companies like these are letting the Web Design and Development industry down. People who hire companies like these are letting themselves down. Last, but not least, these websites let their users down.

So, what do I propose? Education.

An Exercise in Education

I get the feeling that some people really don't know that the Web is evolving at a phenomenal rate. I like to think that I'm keeping up with the flow, and I am always learning thanks to the many resources on the Web (I'd particularly like to thank all the folks over at Accessify Forum). In my quest to improve my own expertise, I have found many sources of information, so many that I can't always keep up with the information hit.

The resources are out there for designers and developers, and they are looked for. However, I've found that there are few resources that are aimed at other audiences. What about website owners? What about the average user? There are studies into what the users expect from websites, but do they know what they should be expecting from a website?

What's my reason for jabbering on about this? Well, I'm trying to get to the bottom of why people hire bad design companies, or more specifically, companies who don't know what they are doing. I can only think that it comes down to a general lack of knowledge. Well, the resources are out there for the design companies to learn from, and a lot of us try our hardest to show our clients the advantages of what I've come to call “best practices” (of course, there isn't always a best way of doing things), but where do our clients go to for advice on what to expect from us as designers? In the UK, I have found basic advice on sites such as Business Link, but nothing much more.

A recent article by Mike Davidson about browser evolution got me thinking more on educating people about the Web, so I thought it was about time I posted something here about my ideas.

So, for some time I have been playing with the idea of starting a new resource aimed at people who don't necessarily have (or need) technical knowledge of the Web – the businesses and organisations who own websites and are our potential clients. However, I am wary as to whether such a resource will be useful to people, and whether it is looked for. Would there be any value in a website that educates its visitors about what to expect from the websites they commission?

I know that people don't just hire whoever they stumble across first, or whoever bamboozles them first with technical jargon. Even people who don't have a clue about the technicalities of the Web aren't stupid. People look for benefits, but how do they know that they are getting those benefits? And how do they know whether they need those benefits and not others? I think these people could do with a helping hand.

So, it's time to educate about “best practice” – the importance of accessibility, marketing performance, usability. But it's not just other designers who need to catch the bug – others need to know about what to expect from Web Designers.

And it's open to the floor…

Illegal Hedgehogs

A hedgehog I'm not sure how accurate this information is, but I found this website while Googling one day which said that hedgehogs are illegal in some US states. I can't remember what it was I was searching for now, but I just had to read this page.

Now people who know me well enough will know that I am quite fond of hedgehogs – I've still got the puppet hedgehog that I was given for my 6th birthday (all say “ah”). So, I was quite disturbed by what the page says:

“What happens if you have a hedgie in a hedgie-illegal state? That depends on the state. Some states simply ask that the animal be placed out of state within a specified amount of time (usually a few days). Some confiscate and destroy. Some confiscate and ship to rescues out of state. If your animal is confiscated, you will likely be fined. Some states even have it on the books that you can be given jail time, but I have never heard of anyone actually getting that penalty. I have heard of a lot of confiscation and fines. And people who ship hedgies into hedgie-illegal states can get fined, too, so we just don't do it.”

The page was last updated in 2002, so I expect this is out-of-date, but I hope that those states that “confiscate and destroy” the poor little buggers have since desisted.

Well, if you're having a bonfire this November 5th, remember, remember to check for hedgehogs before you light it!