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Rethinking What It Means to Be a Web Designer

Eric Karkovack
Published: February 13, 2023

Can web design still be considered a “new” industry? Sure, it hasn’t been around for as long as tech stalwarts like software development or graphic design. But it’s no longer an emerging career opportunity, either.

The industry has matured. And the job description has evolved as well. Web designers are expected to know much more than basic HTML and CSS. At the very least, we need to understand the tools that help us build with those languages.

But that’s only a starting point. The depth of available knowledge is staggering – as is the variety of technologies we can work with. Even the most dedicated designers would have difficulty absorbing it all.

The expectation used to be that web designers had to know a little bit of everything. In addition to the basics, we could dabble in PHP, JavaScript, MySQL, server operating systems, and graphics tools. But being a generalist only gets you so far these days.

Therefore, maybe it’s time for us to rethink what it means to be a web designer.

Code Is Now an Optional Skill

The past few years have brought a massive shift regarding web design tools. A wave of no-code editors has made it possible to build without back-end expertise.

WordPress alone offers several options – including the baked-in Block Editor. This allows us to visually create custom page layouts and add functionality. Meanwhile, the Site Editor takes things a step further. It extends those block-based capabilities into the site’s theme templates. And we can’t forget about the likes of Divi, Elementor, and other third-party page builders.

That’s just one example of a wider industry trend. Code, and coding knowledge, are becoming increasingly optional.

This doesn’t mean we should forego learning these skills. They are still crucial for features that go beyond what no-code tools are capable of. And there is still great revenue potential in building custom solutions.

But code is no longer a hard requirement for being a web designer. It’s now possible to launch a career by mastering these powerful tools, rather than studying computer science.

Modern tools make it possible to build a website without knowing code.

Finding Core Areas to Focus On

The age of working with multiple platforms may be coming to an end. It’s still possible to use a myriad of content management systems (CMS) or server environments. But the task of keeping up with and maintaining these skills is daunting.

Each platform is unique and intricate. As such, switching from WordPress to Drupal to Shopify requires in-depth knowledge. While some broad concepts may carry over, there are so many details that don’t. Finding the time to learn them all isn’t for the faint of heart.

Web designers don’t necessarily have the luxury of doing one-off projects using a random CMS. The future implications of this approach can become a burden. Having a single client that uses a different setup than the rest might get in the way of those that are more relevant to your core business.

That’s why specialization is so important. The idea is to find a platform that allows you to achieve project goals and provide room for growth. Dedicate your time and resources to learning and evolving alongside it.

It’s still OK to experiment with other options. But by choosing a core focus, you’ll be able to build a solid foundation for your career.

Specialization is a key to a career in web design.

Workflow Is as Important as Technical Skills

Technology allows us to build websites faster than ever. That’s a double-edged sword, though. It means that we can get more done. But it may also leave us with more websites to maintain.

And as what we build becomes more complex, maintenance does too. This can result in being overwhelmed when managing client websites. Things like security holes, malware, bug fixes, and everyday software updates tend to pile up quickly.

Developing sound processes for website maintenance helps to calm the chaos. Without a system in place, you leave yourself open to risk. For example, making mistakes while rushing to get things done or, worse yet, forgetting critical steps.

Thus, you need an efficient workflow – no matter your level of technical knowledge. It can help you move from project to project with confidence. And when something does go wrong, you’ll be able to respond to it effectively.

Getting a website up and running is one thing. Keeping it functional and secure is a completely different skill set. Modern web designers must master both.

An efficient workflow will help you manage tasks.

Web Design is an Evolving Field

When the web was a new medium, the expectations of what it meant to be a web designer were vastly different. It was the equivalent of being a virtual sheriff in the wild west, wrangling code and lassoing a variety of technologies.

These days, the definition has become more flexible. Coding knowledge, although helpful, isn’t always necessary. And working with a broad set of platforms has given way to specialization.

Yet this doesn’t decrease the amount of knowledge required to be proficient. The tools we choose to work with are more advanced. There’s still plenty to learn – it’s just more narrowly focused.

The processes we use for getting things done have also taken on a greater role. This is especially so for those of us who provide website maintenance. Managing multiple websites can easily get out of hand without an efficient workflow.

Indeed, web design has evolved quite a bit. And we’ve changed right along with it.

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