Web Design: Graphic Designers or Web Developers?

What does the job title “Graphic Designer” mean to you? Does it mean an artist who designs the layout, images, colors, and typography in an advertisement or other business collateral? Yes, but are we referring to print pieces only, or do we include electronically viewed pieces?

Before the emergence of the internet, the definition of “Graphic Designer” was a lot easier to pin down. Graphic designers might work on advertising pieces, promotional pieces, branding pieces, product packaging, signage, book covers, newsletters, and more, but it was always for print—tangible pieces you could touch.

With the explosion of the World Wide Web, many graphic designers have expanded their capabilities and services to include electronic media as well. So they may also design component pieces to web sites, blogs, landing pages, and e-mails, such as header graphics, banners, attention bursts, or “Buy Now” buttons.

Visual vs. Production Skills

But here’s where the definition can get murky. Just as there’s a difference between the visual design skills and the print production skills in the print world, there’s also a difference between the visual design skills and the web production skills in the web world. Not all graphic designers who design for the web also have computer programming skills to code web pages—so they may provide only the visual components, handing off their work to a programmer from the IT department to complete the job. And that programmer may have a title such as “Web Designer” or “Web Developer.”

Web Designer vs. Web Developer

I see those two titles all the time, and it turns out they are not applied consistently. I’ve seen the same definition applied to both, but I’ve also seen them under completely different categorizations. I’ve seen arguments in online forums over which is which. Sometimes one or the other is applied to the Graphic Designer, too, or even to the Web Copywriter. Which is right? Some say the Web Designer is the one who has the “big picture” of design and functionality (the way it should look and the way it should work), while the “Web Developer” is the one who does the complex computer coding. And some Graphic Designers do indeed include one or more of these skills in their arsenals, but that’s not universal, at least not yet. Many do not.

Clarifying the Meaning of Graphic Designer Titles

The bottom line is that “Graphic Designer”, “Web Designer” or “Web Developer” often have a lot of overlap in their definitions, but since the scope of the definition of each may vary, it’s important to clarify. Those seeking talent, as well as those offering talent, should be very clear about the skills they seek or offer. In other words, don’t judge by title alone—look at the full description. In my case, I am a Freelance Graphic Designer who also has a Computer Programming Certificate and I worked in IT departments for over 15 years, after a career of 8 years teaching design. I design for print and for web, and I’m also responsible for the coding and functionality of the web sites I design.

As the World Wide Web continues to grow and develop, so will the demands for related skills. In the future, “Graphic Designer” may encompass ALL the skills of design and coding, but until then, pin down any definitions you see, and make sure you are clear about what is offered and what you need. Doing so will avoid misunderstandings down the road, and contribute to a favorable outcome.