What's in a job title? What do they mean for the ever expanding web industry? Why are they still important?
Note from 2020 me: This problem has only got worse. I'm still not sure what my best job title is, even after doing it for 20 years. That's a bit mad ... but Web designer really doesn't seem to cut it n 2020. This post was always disjointed, and I've edited some cringey stuff from the middle ... but the gist is still just as (if not more) relevant 8 years after I wrote in in February 2012.
Over the past 18 months, or so, there has been a definite change in the attitude of our industry. One of the major shifts being to finally realise that we are an industry, and a pretty important industry at that.
There has been a move to more deep, theoretical thinking. Keeping an eye on the future, thinking about how we can approach things better. There have been calls for craftsmanship, for better defining our lexicon, and for making our work more platform agnostic. All wonderful mind filing stuff.
However, one of the most frequent topics of discussion – as stupid and as pointless as it sounds – is that of job titles.
And it does sound stupid. And petty… and it is.
But it does matter.
Jon Tan’s post is one example of why it matters. Your job title says a lot about you. It’s often one of the first things someone will find out about you, and with that piece of information a myriad of pictures are drawn in their mind. Stereotypical personalities are conjured up and your face is copy and pasted on to the body like a cut out paper doll from an old children’s magazine.
It’s human nature.
We should all be able to deal with people making snap decisions like that and chalk it up to them being dicks. We should just be able to get on with the job we love. We should just be out ‘doing it’. But it does matter, we all like to accepted, and when someone looks down on what you do – especially when you love it – it hurts.
It’s human nature.
I am a Web Designer
Web designer. A job title that says everything, and nothing at the same time. It can often pose more questions than it actually answers.
I started fiddling about with the internet back in 1997 and I’ve been doing it ever since. I haven’t trained as something else and moved professions, I have been a Web Designer for all of my adult life. I love doing it, and I feel truly privileged to be able to do it professionally.
I’ve just had a quick look on Authentic Jobs, here are a few examples of the roles being advertised that cover skills I believe you would expect a Web Designer to have (excluding stupid titles that have words like Ninja, Rock Star or Guru):
- Web Designer
- Front-end Web Developer
- UX Consultant
- Creative Web Designer
- Designer for Web, Mobile and Print (!?)
- Front End Web Designer (!?)
- UI Designer
- UX/Design Lead
- Web UX Designer
- UX/UI Designer
- Interaction Designer
- Lead Visual Designer
- Web Producer
- UI/UX Web Designer
- Wed Designer & UI Dabbler (Yes that was an actual title, yes I quite like, but it is silly.)
For this industry I am relatively old, I’m practically a veteran – it feels very weird to be typing that at the age of 32. Seeing roles being so sharply focussed like that leaves me in two minds.
Specific job titles like those fill me with a feeling of mildly unnerving inadequacy. I’ve been a Web Designer all my life. I’ve not been to UX school. I haven’t had any specific UI training. Am I becoming a luddite stuck in my Jack-of-all-trades role? Am I old fashioned?
But then I can look at that list and think, yeah I do all of that, I’ve been doing them all of my career. UI is the crux of web design. Surely? Certainly a website without a user interface of some kind is certainly going to be… interesting. Is it really a separate skill? Visual web designer? How how do you do that without some semblance of UI?
Then there is UX, undoubtedly a massively important discipline, but one that is as hard to pin down as it is to achieve good examples. It’s a term bandied about by people all over the industry often, I suspect, without knowing what it really entails. It’s a term that’s almost scary to traditional web designers like me. It’s taken on an almost mythical aura.
So… Web Designer?
I am used to being a Jack-of-all-trades Web Designer. I am used to doing bits of everything. I enjoy doing bits of everything. I feel I’m pretty good at it.
I will always be hesitant to apply for a job as a Front-end Developer because that implies I lose the ability to use the design, UI and UX skills I have spent my career honing. Similarly other roles suggest I will miss out on crafting high quality HTML and CSS, and other areas of development. I’d miss that too.
Despite all it’s flaws it’s hard to think of a better job title than Web Designer to describe the job I have done all my life. I haven’t had any choice but to get all of these skills firmly under my belt. That is how people who have been in the industry for more than 5 years learned to do what they do. There wasn’t any other way.
Greater specialisation, however, is not only inevitable – it’s happening now. People who enter the industry today are not going to be expected to do everything. They are going to be slotted into roles as part of larger teams, they will become specialists in a certain part of the larger Web Design field.
There will always be a place for a one man band, but for the bulk of the industry I do worry that it seems the Web Designer is becoming an endangered species.