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How much code should a web designer know?

Friday, October 12th, 2012 by Servage

If you are a web designer, you may find yourself in a tricky situation where you don’t know your place exactly. First off, hobby web designers using a hosting account to create their own website don’t really have a lot of choices – they need to do a little bit of everything. You need to create the concept, make the design, build the HTML, apply the styles, manage dynamic content, fix the backend and database, plus maintain the operations of the website, updates etc. However, since hobby includes fun and motivation, this shouldn’t be a problem. Also, there’s no need to be an expert, since you’re doing it to have a good time. However, if you’re a professional, you may often find yourself in a situation where you’re overlapping with other areas, competences etc.

What is a web designer?

You need to know what web designer means to you and your work place. What are the expectations to you? Which product deliverables are you responsible for? My mother surely believes a web designer creates websites! And I’m sure some bosses think so as well. There is no differentiation, often due to lack of knowledge, or no acceptance due to lack of funding ;-) for multiple and very different tasks. You’re a web designer right, well create the website! Argh!

The traditional task a web designer has the proper skills for, is to create the concept for a website, generate a graphical representation of it, build a layout and deliver the images required. This does not necessarily mean you’re a Photoshop God, nor does it mean you can code anything except HTML – since the web designer should be able to translate the concept into an HTML representation.

Integrate with the backend

Developing backend code and making a website work, for example with PHP, extends beyond the web designers tasks. However, understanding this part if important as well. Many web designers may even know PHP, but in larger projects, a separation between designer and backend developer is useful. No one can be experts in all areas.

Frontend dynamics

It becomes a little unclear when talking about frontend or client side development, mostly that is JavaScript interactions between the HTML site and the server backend. I argue that this is not a web designers taks, but a frontend developers task – a JavaSCript specialist so to speak.

  • So how many skills do you need to create a website?

This is really up to the individual project, but you need to have the following skills covered:

  • Idea and conceptualization. Usually the managers with input from the whole team (input may be part of a business idea, product development etc, and therefore have many stakeholders).
  • Layout and HTML drafts. The web designer, building the HTML page based on the given concept (logo, icons, photo effects etc. may be required from a graphics expert).
  • Client-side development. Done by a frontend expert with knowledge of HTML and JavaScript.
  • Backend development. Done by a backend expert with knowledge of the used programming language, e.g. PHP or ASP.
  • Database design and optimization. Done by a database expert with knowledge of the used database software, e.g. MySQl or PostgreSQL.
  • Server operations. Done by a administrator, usually via a hosting provider.

Many of the skills can be covered by a single person, so you don’t need an expert for everything, unless you have very detailed issues. I’m sure a hobby designer can do all by himself, while large corporations may have whole teams just fumbling about a database optimization issue…

So, if you’re a web designer and you run into problems with people expecting more of you, than you feel you can deliver – then think about communication and making the above points heard. In the end you all want a great website!

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