What does a web designer do?

Whenever someone asks, “what does a web designer do?”, it’s often prefaced by “I know this is a stupid question, but…”. Let me stop you right there, it’s not a stupid question! In the big wide world of design and development, there’s print designers, logo and brand designers, icon designers, app designers, editorial designers for print, editorial designers for web, advertising designers, book designers, illustrators, font designers, and even more. If someone says they’re a designer, they normally specialize in one or two things. For me, that’s branding and web design.

So what does a web designer do exactly?

Web designers are the lovely people that *make the look of* the websites you look at. That means that they have Photoshop documents where they have created the layout of the website. Depending on the purpose and size of the site, that usually means a layout for the homepage and a layout for the interior pages and maybe a blog too.

Here’s the homepage layout I designed for Modern Acupuncture:

Web designers put every element that they want on the site into their layout. So we are placing and sizing the logo, placing and determining the fonts for the navigation, headers, body copy and whatever else appears on the site. We are figuring out the best layout to share what needs shared. Sometimes brand designers come into play with this too. So if a client had a brand already created for them, the web designer would use their brand guide/specs to inspire their web design. So fonts and colors may already be chosen, as well as different brand elements that can be incorporated. The web designer still uses their design sensibilities to make all of those elements work together in a way that makes sense for the web and the purpose of the website.

The whole point

The first question that I ask when I get a new web design project is “what’s the purpose of your site?”. I have lots of other questions too, but that’s the most important one. The whole design revolves around the purpose of the site. Maybe the purpose is to get people to sign up on a mailing list. Then the site would have multiple calls to action and sign up forms to direct uses to see them and sign up. Every page of a site should have a call to action, or somewhere to go next. So that when you get to the end, you have another place to go to stay on the site. I call that the flow of the site.

So after the site is designed, the next step is taking that design from Photoshop to a live site. That’s called development. There are many ways and different platforms that help you do that. Usually, the web designer and web developer are not the same person, but they can be. So the web designer would then hand off their Photoshop files to the web developer to build and create the (already designed) site. In my case, I do both the design and development. So I hand off the files to myself. I’m going to go into detail about what web developers do in a future post.

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