What Is A Web Designer Responsible For?

There seems to a great misconception amongst the web agency-employing-section-of-society as to what a web designer does and in particular what all the different disciplines in web design/development are.
Phil Thompson

A successful website is the result of many different parts working together toward a common goal or set of goals. Those parts might be the product of one or many different people, one of whom will be the site’s web designer.

Last week a thread on the small business forum about copyrwriting evolved into a discussion of what a web designer is responsible for doing in regards to the success of a website.

Of all the parts that go into a successful website, which are the responsibility of the web designer?

I’d like to spend some time in this post offering more thoughts about the responsibilities of a web designer passing through the questions of what a web designer might and should do.

Overlap-between-business-design
photo credit: Alex Osterwalder

What Might a Web Designer Do?

Depending upon the scope of your web site, you may need to choose two different companies. Building a web site is a highly technical process. Designing a web site is a highly creative process.
Andy Quick

I mentioned above that a successful website consists of many parts. What are some of those parts?

Assuming the site is a business site those parts would include a solid business model, the right target market, a marketing strategy, advertising, copywriting, usability and accessibility, interaction design, information architecture, visual design, development of the web pages, front end programming, and backend programming.

And a number of other things not mentioned above.

Who’s responsible for all those things? Your web designer? We can probably remove creating a successful business model from what a web designer might do, but everything else listed above might be offered by a web designer. Not all by the same designer, but any of the above might be something some web designer offers as part of their design services.

One designer might include marketing where another includes backend programming, It would depend on the skills that designer has acquired on his or her journey through life as well as what interests they have as a designer.

The specific needs of your project will also have some say in what a designer might offer. Some projects require a content management system. Some projects don’t. Some projects require the copy to be written. Some come with the content already written.

vanseodesign-tag-cloud.jpg

What Should A Web Designer Do?

Web Design: A multidisciplinary pursuit pertaining to the planning and production of Web sites, including, but not limited to, technical development, information structure, visual design, and networked delivery.
Web Design: The Complete Reference

No one person is going to be an expert in all the aspects mentioned above. You might know a fair amount about all of them, but there’s only so much time in the day. A larger firm might have several or many people working on a single site and be able to offer all of the above.

It’s also not uncommon for a larger company with a larger site to hire firms solely to do one thing. Maybe one company handles the visual design, which is taken to another company to develop the design into working web pages. A third firm might take care of the backend programming, while a fourth is responsible for the marketing.

Assuming we’re talking about a typical small business hiring a lone designer or small design firm, there are certain things I think most of us would agree the design would include.

  • Organization of the client’s content into a working hierarchy
  • Creation of the visual look and feel for the site
  • Development of the visuals into working web pages

Is there anything else you can really expect your designer to do?

Every web designer should have a design process that starts with research and information gathering. When designing a site you should try to learn as much as you can about the client, their business, their goals, their marketing, and their industry. Many of the aspects that lead to a successful site move across the designer’s plate, but is the designer responsible for doing those things or rather using those things to do their job better?

You shouldn’t be expected to choose the client’s target market or define their goals for success, however you might have ideas about those things and advise the client about them.

Burnt Out: Reading Internet Governance by Candlelight
photo credit: M i x y

All web designers benefit from learning as much as they can about all the different aspects that make up a successful site.

Maybe you’ll never acquire enough skills to offer marketing services, but an understanding of marketing will make you that much more valuable to potential clients.

When I first started as a web designer I built a site and wondered now what? How exactly will clients find me? As a result of that question I began learning about search engine optimization and marketing. Eventually I felt confident enough in my skills that I could offer some seo services here.

I don’t offer a full set of seo services, though I do offer some. More importantly by understanding where seo and web development overlap I can build search friendly sites and use that as a selling point for my design services. Not everyone will care, but to a certain group of people that will be a selling point.

Similarly I’ve worked with WordPress a lot over the years and can offer WordPress design and development services. Again not necessarily something everyone wants, but it makes me more valuable as a web designer to a specific group of people.

You might have acquired more programming skills and be able to offer programming services or a limited set of programming as a selling point to your design services.

Even if neither of us ever offered those extra services or used our extra skills as selling points, we’re both going to be able to design sites better. Regardless of what services we ultimately choose to offer, all web designers should be learning as much as they can about everything that makes for a successful site.

You may never agree to help a client with their business model, but doesn’t it make sense to understand what makes for a solid business model?

Do something good every day
photo credit: HowardLake

What is a Web Designer Responsible For Doing?

A web designer is responsible only for those things the designer and client agree will be part of the specific project. Those responsibilities may and likely will change from project to project and client to client.
Steven Bradley (Hey, that’s me)

The quote above is the best answer I can give to the question. It does have a measure of “it depends” in it I’m afraid. It has to. A website encompasses a lot of different disciplines and no one person can truly be an expert in all of them.

Most web designers will be able to create a visual look for your site and then turn that look into working web pages. Beyond that it’s going to come down to the skills and interests of each particular web designer.

This is why a definition of the scope of the project is so important.

It’s also why you should do your homework before hiring a web designer. You should know what you’re looking for in a site before contacting one and you should take some time to find a designer who’s skills match your needs.

With so many possible things you as a web designer might do, your clients may have some expectations of what you will do that you don’t consider part of the project. If the last company your client spoke to went on about all the link building they do, there’s a good chance your client is going to expect some link building from you as well.

Let’s add one more responsibility for any web designer, perhaps the most important one.

As a web designer you are responsible for clearly communicating to the client what you will be doing for them for a specific price. You should include as part of this conversation some things you don’t consider part of the job, but you do consider important in the overall success of the site.

As a client you should ask your web designer what will be included in your project. Don’t assume something will be part of the project.

If you’re a client what do you expect your web designer will do as part of your project?

If you’re a web designer what do you include with all projects? What do you expect the client to have ready for you?

A web designer creates web pages

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

4 comments

  1. Really interesting article – and on a similar theme to a topic I was writing about recently.

    I think there is often a general assumption that when someone hires a web designer, they are going to get not only a good looking site, but one that immediately starts pulling traffic. I’ve seen people spend a fortune on web development, ending up with a really nice looking site that no-one visits.

    • Thanks Alex.

      When I first started I designed a few sites for friends and some were upset because they weren’t making millions within a month. Of course they did absolutely nothing to market themselves or their sites. Guess the expectation was I was supposed to have done everything for them.

      A website is only one part of a successful business. One person, a web designer, can’t create a successful business for you on their own.

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