Are we designers or developers?

On the about page of this site I used to call myself a "developer/designer/occasional writer". It's a bit confusing, and I still find it hard to know what to answer when someone asks me what I do for a living. Am I a Web designer? A Web developer? A Web programmer? All of them? Neither? It really is a difficult question to give a simple answer to.

My answer depends on who is asking, when, why, and under what circumstances. Sometimes I'll say that "I work with the Web" or "I build websites", both of which are true but don't really say what I do. It would be easier to be able to give a short, simple, reasonably precise answer.

In a way I am very much a designer, despite doing little to no graphic design these days. Many make the mistake of thinking that design equals graphic design, but design is also about making things work. And since that is what I do, maybe I should call myself a Web designer.

I don't though. "Web designer" to me is a job description that is badly tainted by my experiences from the dotcom bubble. It reminds me of the masses of unskilled people that were hired just because the big Web agencies wanted more employees. It also makes me think of hobbyists using the WYSIWYG mode of a cracked copy of Dreamweaver or GoLive to build sites. So I find it very hard to call myself a Web designer.

As an alternative, I've been using "Web developer" for some time. The problem with that is that many people assume that a Web developer does mostly back-end programming, which I don't do a whole lot of. It does sound more professional than Web designer though.

What other options do we have? Well, there are titles like User interface programmer, Front-end developer, User experience architect (argh, I'm allergic to the phrase "user experience"), and others. There are many titles, but few that actually describe what I do in a way that makes it understandable to people who do not work in the Web industry.

Is this really a problem? Most of the time, no. But it is a bit awkward to not be able to tell the hairdresser or your neighbour what you do for a living and have them understand it. "I work with the Web" or "I build websites" seems to kind of work, but that doesn't tell them if I do graphic design, programming, or both.

And so I would like to ask those reading this who do not really do graphic design, but mainly work with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and accessibility two questions:

  1. Do you consider yourself a designer or a developer?
  2. Do you call yourself a designer or a developer?

If you're up for it, feel free to motivate your answers.

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Posted on August 8, 2007 in Web General