Are You a Web Designer or a Web Decorator?
This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved e-book: On Web Development.
This has bothered me for a long time, it popped up when I thought about art and design, and it had to get out when Roger asked whether we were designers or developers: Our industry is very creative in coming up with new and occasionally weird job titles but the most obvious one is missing—the “web decorator.”
“Web decorator” is not such a weird job title actually, it’s rather the canonical title for an apocryphal job, assuming that there are more crucial things to do than decorating. From my experience, it should be the job title for many web designers, even for some developers when they’re doing design stuff or stuffing code.
How to Tell Whether You Are a Web Designer—or Not
Here a two things that make sure you’re not just a decorator:
Your Designs Work
You care about usability and you run or attend tests. Form really follows function. You know that there is such a thing as usability testing, and you promised yourself that you’ll focus on it, using the right methodology, of course.
For You, Design Is Not a Matter of Taste
You know the reasons why you cannot use certain color combinations even if you “like” them, for example—classic—red and green while not using any other cues to deliver the message. You know that there are people who cannot read black text on “bright-black” background. You know that thick borders might distract and cause noise, as elements interact. You are creative and intuitive, but you also know what you’re doing. You know that, and you can defend your design decisions.
I couldn’t resist to illustrate the current situation in our industry regarding web designers and web developers—a rough, intentionally flawed gimmick by a man who likewise added the title “web decorator” to his first job.
Figure: People doing web design, people doing web development, people doing both.
Figure: The truth.
Wonder why so many web developers are affected? Well, let’s rather wonder why so many developers manage to “decorate” code.
I know I simplified and exaggerated, as I like to do at times, for a reason. But the point is, most of the sites out there do not carry the handwriting of a professional designer or developer. That doesn’t target personal sites covering topics other than web design and development, though, and in other cases, indeed, an infamous saying applies (courtesy Ralph Caplan):
A camel is a horse designed by a committee.
Take this with a grain of salt. Our industry is still very young, and people new to it cannot start as experienced design and development professionals. It is our responsibility to share our experience with them and to lead them. Also, decoration certainly has its justification, including an “emotional component” that requires skills, too. Good practitioners could after all be called “professional web decorators”—without any bad aftertaste.
About the Author
Jens Oliver Meiert is a technical lead and author (sum.cumo, W3C, O’Reilly). He loves trying things, including in the realms of philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.
If you have any thoughts or questions (or recommendations) about what he writes, leave a comment or a message.
After reading this, I say most every Designer or Developer who works in an agency is a Web Decorator. What would you name a website designed by committee? where Creative Director, Creative Designers, Front-end and Back-end Developers, Maketing and Sales and Client are all allowed to make changes?
Sean, I just invented a new role by misreading your comment; “Back-seat designer” - so appropriate for some people don’t you think? 😊
On August 28, 2007, 20:07 CEST, Vlada Milanovic said:
Good point, Jens.
and theres a lot of websites, that are visually very appealing, but rather decorated, than designed.
On August 29, 2007, 1:44 CEST, Steven Turner said:
I would consider a web designer to be someone who solves a problem using websites. A web decorator would probably be more of an artist, someone that creates something that looks nice but doesn’t solve the given task, i.e selling promoting etc. I view developers as coders. People who build websites are probably a combination of all three.
On August 29, 2007, 3:07 CEST, Geoff said:
“A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”
It’s a pretty stupid quote really. Camels are superbly adapted to the desert and and stronger than horses, faster over long distances and have much greater endurance.
On August 29, 2007, 3:07 CEST, KatB said:
And yet, we still miss an all-encompassing name for web developers, web designers and web decorators.
Are we web builders? Or do we refer to ourselves as web professionals?
Thanks for this articles…
I think I’m Web Decorator 😊
For a colorblind viewer, web designers and web developers look just the same.
Ironically, the first figure reflects what a decorator would produce - according to your first rule of thumb 😉
On August 30, 2007, 5:26 CEST, ray leigh said:
No offence to anyone, but I have yet to see a web site that realy worked to the maximum for the designers client.
Most working under the name of designer/creator/stylist/artist haven’t the faintest idea about designing a web site that works.
75% have no idea how to write for demographic .75% are more concerned with SEO and when they get to the top of the SEO list the design doesn’t keep the viewer interested long enough for them to act positively to the message.
Pretty pictures and colours DON’T sell.
No humour. No idea of business. No strategy. Code crunchers are two a penny. Designers are two a penny. Copywriters few and far between. All of the above very very few. Forget your artistic ego’s and start creating for your clients stuff that works for them!
I’m glad you brought up this topic, because I’ve been thinking about it for a while. . .
. . . and I’d say that every site has a designer and developer–after all, they’re all developed (though not necessarily well) and all have a design (though not necessarily an ‘intelligent design’).
What I’d hope to be able to call myself one of these days is a web engineer.
After all, we don’t call them aeronautical designers, or electronic/electrical designers, software designers.
I’d say that designer is a derrogatory term. If your work deserves respect, you’re at least a web producer, if not a web engineer
Or, so that’s what I think.
On November 20, 2007, 7:18 CET, Aelizia said:
Its interesting and also informative.You provide a great comparison between, web designer and web decorator.After reading your post, i think i am a web decorator.
Thanks for this nice article.
On January 28, 2008, 19:16 CET, SeonDesign said:
Well my main field is Web designing , so i would prefer to talk about web designing as i also know very much about web decorating because my girlfriend is a web decorator:)
On March 24, 2008, 11:44 CET, Vanja said:
I think this article is true. “Our industry is still very young, and people new to it cannot necessarily start as experienced, professional designers or developers. ” 100% you right. 😔
Jens grüßt Jens 😉.
Ich kenn das. Man arbeitet in einem kmu, betreut die Website. Die Anforderungen steigen und der eigendliche Webdesigner motiert zum sogenannten “Web Decorator” 😁. Die Anforderungen solcher Mischberufe sehe ich als deutlich höher an. Oftmals treffen 2 Berufsrichtungen zusammen die leicht unterschiedlicher in sich bürgen. Aber gerade der “gute” Allrounder hat die Möglichkeit sich besser den Gegebenheiten anzupassen.
On May 22, 2008, 13:17 CEST, Jonas said:
web director. yeah.
On March 12, 2009, 21:22 CET, Paul Nil said:
I’m a professional web developer. Its really a great place to learn and follow for career prospect. Keep it up…
“Web Designer but often Decorator 😉” -
Following the interesting article and the thoughts, I feel that many of us are walking on the line. You design when you can and you decorate when you have to.
On June 5, 2009, 15:30 CEST, Finca said:
wise words. i ll forward it directly to our we decorator 😉
I’ve never thought about this topic but now I’m wondering how my daily work could be described. I really want to be a web designer. It sounds much cooler than decorater 😉 But imagine you’ve got a lot of work on your desk and there is no time (and therefore money) to do all the usability tests.
Furthermore I’m curious about how many people calibrate their displays/monitors. IMHO this is the first step in design. But I’ve met a bunch of people not knowing abou it. So do you think this is an essential step?
On September 29, 2009, 8:18 CEST, Markus said:
Well, my strength lies in desigen to 60%, 30% to create templates & css and 10% for other (like php etc.). In our company we have real css and php freaks, everyone does what he does best. When an php freak design an website > 80% of this “page” looks horrible 😉
On November 30, 2009, 12:12 CET, Michael said:
I agree to Markus: You find excellent developers. They create all kind of difficult plug-ins, workflows and database connections within “seconds”. But I dislike their user interfaces very much. On the other hand I find very talented designers that have no clue about web UI and application behaviour, but they can really bring live into dead web pages.
Unfortunately it is pretty hard to find people with both skills.
Have a look at the most popular posts, possibly including:
Perhaps my most relevant book: CSS Optimization Basics (2018). Writing CSS is a craft. As craftspeople we strive to write high quality CSS. In CSS Optimization Basics I lay out the, at least some of the most important aspects of such CSS.
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