Are you hesitant to tell friends or family that you design web sites for a living? After all, when you first informed aunt Janet about your job didn't she say, "That's nice dear. Did you know that your little cousin Thomas designed a web site for his class project? He had so much fun." The late comic Rodney Dangerfield's lament "I don't get no respect," might be the mantra for many web designers.

The idea that websites are easily constructed by any Dick or Jane, is one misconception some potential clients have. After all, why should anyone pay $20.00 an hour, or more, when a family friend can do the project for half that - or better yet, free?

Web design as a profession hasn't been very well defined. Some individuals call themselves web designers, others web masters, and yet many speak of themselves as web developers or programmers. It gets confusing.

Let's take a look at web related positions by title and see if they can be more clearly defined.

A web master is one who serves in an administrative capacity. This individual maintains a web site, or a number of web sites, for one or more clients. He/she provides expertise and leadership in the analysis, security, maintenance and update of sites. Although a web master may also be involved in the design and development phase it is the issues related to internet and intranet network administration which is most often the primary responsibility of a web master.

A web programmer is more concerned with the programming of computer code that makes a web site function. This individual is well versed in the the development and application of languages such as, HTML, XML, JavaScript, PHP,and Perl, to mention a few. His/her task is to provide the structure for making the web interactive. A background in programming is essential for employment.

A web developer job title seems to be interchangeable with that of web designer. The principle difference, according to the literature, is that a web developer tends to be more experienced with databases, Common Gateway Interface, and computer programming languages. A web developer may serve in a technical capacity as part of a web site development team.

A web designer's role varies. Although, in some employment situations the web designer is asked to control all aspects of design and programming, more often he/she is concerned with the elements of visual and audio design. Web designers create the aesthetic feel of the site, facilitate navigation, and make content accessible.

Although many web designers do some programming most use web-authoring software. Most designers have an extensive background in visual design and communication.

Many potential clients fail to recognize the role that a designer/developer plays in the effective organization and communication of information. It is also one reason that some clients look for the quick and cheap.

What is it then, that a web designer can offer a client that is not available elsewhere.

A web designer is a professional who:

  • Provides an architectural structure for the effective communication of a client's content. Information is logically organized and made accessible.
  • Provides an interface design that facilitates site navigation. Communication between the site and user is enhanced through a carefully planed visual layout taking into consideration how the user will engage with the material.
  • Provides assistance with the development of a site's content. Often a web designer will work with a copy editor or technical writer in translating existing material for use in an interactive environment. In some situations, the web designer is asked to do this task. The need for good writing and basic editing are skills designers should strive to develop. It also is important to have good listening and concept interpretation skills.
  • Provides a site design that is compliant with existing accessibility guidelines. Such sites meet the needs of those using screen readers and other assistance technology.
  • Provides an aesthetically afflictive product that engages a user. The look and feel of a web site is the result of a designer's ability to apply visual communication theory and practice. He/she knows how to work with colors, graphics, layout, and other elements to make a site look edgy, utilitarian, or whatever affect is needed.
  • Provides a site that meets established Web Standards. Such a site is valid in terms of the appropriate use of XHTML, PHP, and CSS coding that ensures it is usable across various browsers and on newer technologies that display web material.

There are many opportunities for individuals to work in the design, development, and delivery of information on the Internet. By better articulating the skills, knowledge, and requirements of various positions, we can be in educate potential clients on how their interests are best served by hiring knowledgeable professionals to address their information and communication needs.