Choosing the appropriate professional for your creative project

The design field is now teeming with multiple disciplines, thanks in part to the introduction of web technology. This has allowed some professionals of a particular discipline to pursue the trade skills of another field relating to their work, bringing in more business. It is not unheard-of today to observe a freelance graphic designer also performing web design.

The negative aspect to this somewhat prevalent practice is it has muddied the waters of the design professions and clients can easily become confused and expect anyone that can draw or produce graphics can also create websites. This is a negative the other way as well; if you are a web designer, the client may expect you can also draw or create complex graphics. Each discipline has its own set of rules, skills, education and specific minutiae necessary to be mastered. I always harbour some trepidation when presented with the “Jack of all trades” offerings by some designers. In any discipline, regardless of experience, there will always be much to learn to continue to improve and offer your client excellent work. The possibility to spread one’s skill set so thin you are only “just competent” at all these additional disciplines is a very real possibility.

I threw together a brief synopsis of a few of the disciplines. Touching on the particular services and skills each discipline provides: 

The Graphic Designer:

A graphic designer is a professional within the graphic design and graphic arts industry, assembling images, typography to create a cohesive design. A graphic designer creates the graphics primarily for published, printed or electronic media, such as brochures and advertising. A core responsibility of the designer’s job is to present information in a way that is both accessible and memorable.

The Illustrator:

An Illustrator is an artist skilled in enhancing writing by providing a visual representation that corresponds to the content of the associated text. The illustration may be intended to clarify complicated concepts or objects that are difficult to describe textually.

Illustrations have been used in advertisements, greeting cards, posters, books, magazines and newspapers. A cartoon illustration for example, can add humour to an already humorous article and draw the reader in.

The Web Designer:

A web designer is a professional with skills creating presentations of online content delivered to an end user via the internet, using a Web browser or other Web-enabled software. The intent of web design is to create a website—a collection of electronic documents and applications that reside on a Web server/servers. The website may include text, images, sounds and other content, and may be interactive.

A web designer has a specialized skill requiring knowledge of scripting languages.
These scripting languages, their use in developing a website and trends in web design changes dramatically on a regular basis. To remain competitive, a web designer needs to devote quite a bit of time updating their skills and staying on top of web technology.

A few of the languages a web designer may be required to be competent with include:

* Markup languages (such as HTML, XHTML and XML)
* Style sheet languages (such as CSS and XSL)
* Client-side scripting (such as JavaScript)
* Server-side scripting (such as PHP and ASP)
* Database technologies (such as MySQL and PostgreSQL)
* Multimedia technologies (such as Flash and Silverlight)

The web designer must also construct and test a website, ensuring it displays as intended on multiple web browsers (IE explorer, Firefox, Safari etc.) and various end user monitor sizes.

The Web Developer

Web developers are the “Big Kahunas” of the web world.  Whereas a web designer works on the “front end” of a website, it’s design, usability and how it’s presented to the visitor. The web developer does the heavy lifting making it all work, the “back end”, focusing strictly on the code of a site and how it communicates with the server. They have the ability to develop complicated web applications such as Facebook, Ebay and Craigslist. One could not possibly expect web designers to have the coding skills to create web applications this complicated. As you might expect, the web developer commands a much greater fee then a web designer based on the complexity and specialization of their work and superior knowledge of code and scripting languages.

In summary, no creative should be expected to be an expert in everything; and to be fair to clients should be up-front and honest about their capabilities in a particular field. Our industry could benefit so much from freelance peer referral.

I used to design websites an awful long time ago, and every so often I’m approached for web work under the assumption every graphic designer can also design websites. When money’s tight, I’m tempted to take on the project.  I then remind myself there are dedicated web designers that can offer the client a superior product in much less time than a casual shall we say “hobbyist” ever could.

– Chris Sagert

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