Make sure you’re hiring the right type of designer for your project.
The design world is a complicated place. We often notice when talking with our clients that they’re often confused about what our design skills are, and which skills translate from one medium to another. We’ve had prospects who don’t understand that the work we do is different from modifying a prepaid theme, and others who have hired us to design their entire website and then ask us whether we do “graphic design.”
The answer is: yes. Yes, we do graphic design.
But we don’t blame our clients for their confusion. On the contrary, we understand that there are plenty of designers out there with an array of specialties. Some of them are highly competent in their area of expertise but may not be a good fit for your project. Others are unqualified for almost every project. Here’s our guide to the different types of designers you may encounter, and how to choose the right one for your project.
1. “Web designer:” Works with page builders; no meaningful print or coding skills.
Occasionally you’ll come across people in the design world who claim to be “web designers,” but don’t have any meaningful experience doing actual design. The only thing they know how to do is work in a page builder modifying someone else’s template and usually making it look worse.
The best way to spot this type of designer is through price. If they’re charging a suspiciously low amount for design work and can’t demonstrate any meaningful coding abilities or any work that they’ve done that can stand on its own, they’re not really worth any amount you pay them.
2. Front end designer: Light coding and design skills; no print experience.
Front end designers cover a range of professionals, some of whom know what they’re doing and others who are just starting in the field. For instance, most front end designers have only light coding skills, but they may have extensive experience with interface development. If this is the professional you’re dealing with, they should be able to differentiate themselves pretty quickly. Ask them about any work they’ve done optimizing user experience or tasteful animations, and they may be able to show you an impressive portfolio.
On the other hand, many designers who are just getting started describe themselves as a front end designer to cover the fact that their experience—like their design—is only surface-deep. They typically lack skills that someone with a print background might bring to the table such as preflighting or selecting paper stocks. This further limits their usefulness on a project. They might be fine if you’re hiring an entry-level employee to learn the ropes under a more experienced professional, but they’re not ready to handle a full project on their own.
3. Graphic designer: Excels at custom graphics and extensive photo editing; limited production knowledge.
At this point, we’re starting to contend with true professionals. A graphic designer usually has skillsets that lie between print and web. They work in a digital medium, but their work may then be translated to any number of applications.
They typically excel at custom graphics and extensive photo editing, but aren’t necessarily involved in the production of each. If you want a detailed and artistically rendered infographic, you would probably turn to a graphic designer. Ditto for graphic artwork, posters, logos, and photography. Their deliverable will probably be an image file that you may then have to turn over to a different designer to put in place.
4. Print designer: Deep experience with traditional print design; limited web experience.
Back in the day, print designers were the only designers there were. They worked extensively with typography and layout, understood how the physical act of printing something on paper would change its appearance, and knew how to plan a design around fold lines and creases.
That said, print designers often run into trouble when they first try to apply their experience to web, which we’ve written about in the past:
All snark aside, we really do respect the good work print designers do. It’s just that the Internet is a different medium. While many of the principles of good design hold true and transfer from one place to the other, their application can be very different. And there are other factors and unknowns that the print designer will have to contend with once they begin designing for the web. And that brings us to our next type of designer…
5. Web designer: Deep experience with web design, understands code, UI, and UX;
Unlike the first two types of designers we discussed, a true web designer also has enough coding experience to understand how their design decisions will affect the behavior of a website. They know how to design for hover states, how to design elements that look clickable, and how to create a flexible design that will look good across an array of devices and browsers.
Furthermore a web designer should be able to speak intelligently toward topics pertaining to user interface design (UI) and user experience (UX). You can also find designers who are specially trained in these areas, but they’re more of a niche skill set.
The next generation of designer: Understands print as well as code, knows their way around graphic design.
We have a lot of respect for any designer with a solid skillset in graphic, print, or traditional web design. But the reality is, the needs and demands of customers are changing. The design world as it has existed for the past decade, with its siloed structure and lack of interdisciplinary training, isn’t preparing designers with the skills and knowledge base they need for the digital world. And as a consequence, many customers are being underserved by designers who are producing work that is only suitable for their own area of expertise.
The type of designer you really need is a mixture of graphic, print, and web. Depending on your project, you may choose a designer with a specialty in one or the other, but the more integrated multichannel marketing campaigns become, the less feasible it will be to have a designer who isn’t competent across specializations.
That’s why at build/create we value autonomy and mastery as qualities that define our team members. We want our designers to feel empowered to learn a variety of design skills so that they’re qualified to meet the next generation of needs.
That’s where we see the industry headed. We want to be there first.