Interesting discussion on Asterisk this morning about content and usability vs. design. I started as a “web designer” during an era where you could still call yourself that without embarrassment. I don’t think we can separate design from things like usability, accessibility, web standards, etc., any more. I don’t think that there is a place for old-school “web designers” anymore. Even if you don’t work for an ecommerce company, as I do, you still need a more sophisticated, broader skillset. Unless you’re just doing Flash sites for your gaming clan, you need to understand IA and at least a bit about what goes on backstage. No one will ever find your personal site without a basic understanding of SEO – there are just too many sites out there, and the days of surfing from site to site for the wonder and newness of it all are gone.
If you want to work professionally in web development, or at least do professional-quality work, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades, a bit like the old “webmaster” of yore. Even in a situation where you’re working as a member of a team of specialists, you still need to understand how it all works together. A designer, although they may not code the backend or write the copy or handle SEO/SEM, still needs to understand current standards and practices…you can’t just be a pretty face. How can you design the look and feel of a site without an understanding of usability and IA? You can’t.
For certain sites, there obviously is a place for stretching boundaries, for extending the bleeding edge a bit farther, for challenging visitors to think. You wouldn’t do it on a commerce or content site, of course. But what you need to do is understand current best practice so that you can warp or change it in unexpected ways…rather like an artist that has a firm grounding in the technical aspects of being able to draw, an understanding of perspective and colour, etc., who then paints wildly surreal or abstract paintings to challenge the viewer. You need to know what the rules are before you break them.
Just a thought…the conversation on Asterisk got me thinking about this. I work with a copywriter who is totally web-illiterate and doesn’t think that his job requires a knowledge of SEO. I have to re-write all of his copy – he is a very weak link on the team, because of a basic lack of knowledge and skills. Designers who say “Someone else can worry about all that – my job is only to do the design” piss me off. I do feel consoled by the fact that they’re an endangered species, as they won’t be able to evolve to meet the demands of the current environment. It’s the tar pits, baby…you’re looking at them. Evolve or die. :)
Just my two cents (2p as they would say here).