Sam Brown

Does your job title command the respect that it deserves?

“Another problem for web designers; it’s not a field that confers tremendous respect, even if you say you are just a designer there is a great deal more respect that comes with it than if you say you are a web designer.” – Jeffrey Zeldman

Jeffrey Zeldman discussed this in a talk he did at Gain, the AIGA Business and Design Conference held back in October of 2008. Do take a moment and watch his presentation.

I thought this would be an opportune time to ask such a question after what I hope was a very good and relaxing holiday period with friends and family for everyone.

Zeldman notes that Architects, Attorneys and Surgeons all confer tremendous respect, even Designers do, but not Web Designers? I hesitantly have to agree. Although of late a wider assortment of job titles are springing up that are a little more focused, such as Information Architect or User Experience Designer, 2008 sure was a good year for buzz words.

Do you feel that our job titles command the respect that they duly deserve?

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Tim Van Damme 2 January 2009, 02:10 #1

I honestly have no idea what to call myself. Every time someone asks, I answer with something different. It also depends who I’m talking to. My grandparents know I do something with computers, my parents know I make websites (same goes for friends). Professionally, I went from “GUI designer” to “interface designer”, but it still doesn’t feel right, as it is so much more we do, but I don’t want to call myself a “User Experience Architect Designer”. (the longer the job title, the smaller the… erm… shoe-size)

Christoph 2 January 2009, 06:33 #2

A really good question.
Jason Santa Maria wrote a similar article about that:

I did a three year in-firm job-trainig called “media Designer Digital/Print” in Germany, but if somebody ask we what I do, I often just say Designer or Graphic Designer, sometimes Web Designer, sometimes media Designer. But none feels right, as it is all too abstract and not accurate enough.

I see 2 problems: – Our job is too complex to describe it in one or two words. And everyone feels different about what he does. – Our business is still very young
That means it is full of career changers whith different backgrounds. Many of them are good, but many are also wanna-be good. There are no really defined benchmarks.
If you want to be an Architect, you have to study long and hard and pass many tests.
If you want to be a Web Designer, you grab a domain an say “Here I am”.

Matt Wilcox 2 January 2009, 07:07 #3

Web Designer has very little respect in general, but most especially from other designers. I’ve worked at two places that employ a print department and a web department, and the print people have routinely figured that their job is harder, more artistic, and to be blunt ‘better’.

The reason is two fold. Firstly there’s the fact that the majority of people have no clue what a web designer does because the field is a new one. Secondly those that do know it know it from ten years ago when a web designer really was just a guy that used Frontpage to cut graphics into slices and press “upload”.

There will be no respect on the same order as other designers until what a web designer does is understood by other designers and by clients. That’s going to take a long time to filter through, if it ever does. To a print designer the most arduous task is getting layouts over multiple pages to work. The highest risk is an un-noticed copy error or spelling mistake that costs a complete re-print to fix. Stressful, but hardly difficult – a print designer has total control of all variables and complete freedom to do whatever they like knowing that everyone everywhere will see the end result exactly as intended, and there’s no need to consider things like “accessibility”. How do you explain the mountain of problems, restrictions, work-arounds, etc of the web to these people? How can they NOT look down on a medium as totally flawed (creatively) as the web? We can’t even put text on a fucking curve, we can’t even use a fancy font, we can’t even be sure what size screen people are going to see it on, and every single thing we do is stuck inside a box. Literally everything is a box. Of course they have no respect for the creativity of the web – neither do i. It’s woeful as a visual creative medium. Still.

But, I do respect the designers that go up against it every day, their job is hard. And they get little respect for it.

Cole 2 January 2009, 08:06 #4

Well, from Monday I will be enjoying a new job as a Middle End Developer

Looking forward to finding out what that means exactly but looking forward to it!

Mike Robinson 2 January 2009, 11:32 #5

Every so often I’ll have a ponder at what my job title should be. At the moment I am just “Developer” but it’s fun to try and think of something that sounds more interesting without being completely off-the-wall!

Though, most people I interact with understand I work in computers, some know it’s with the web, and they are happy enough at that. Outside of the industry, I don’t really find the need to take my title further than “Developer”, and anyone inside the industry will just know that the crazy ones boil down to just that. I guess I don’t have a problem with my job title :)

Luke Williams 2 January 2009, 11:45 #6

I was just drafting up a post about this funnily enough, guess we got the same brainwave. Most of the time I reluctantly refer to myself as a web designer, even though I consider myself a web developer or web programmer. The problem, as Matt said, is that it’s a new field, so even if the commitment and expertise is as valuable as Architects or Artists, the fact that Joe Bloggs has no idea what being a ‘web designer’ actually involves means they think of it as more of an abstract profession, and therefore less demanding of respect. It makes it seems more specific and self-indulgent, especially freelancing.

Thats why most of the time I simply say ‘I make websites for a living’

Francis Booth 3 January 2009, 16:24 #7

When I used to freelance, I settled after many iterations on “graphic designer, web developer” which I thought also implied my print design background a bit too. That was the happiest I’ve been with a title. Nowadays, running a company, I’m simply the somewhat nondescript “partner” after dropping the over bearing “executive” prefix.

On some of my personal emails I used to write “musician, photographer, webmonkey” …but I could just go with the far less modest “Renaissance man” …or there’s always “Polymath” …or not! ;)

Jacob Lindsey 7 January 2009, 06:23 #8

…late comment, but don’t forget: Architects, lawyers and doctors must endure not only specialized training but also years of internships and rigorous professional licensing procedures. Until web design has all the accoutrements of an established profession, I think it’s a little bizarre to even make the comparison. Web design is unique in the world because it is new.

Holly 22 January 2009, 13:24 #9

I was recently hired at a company who has been in business for 30 years, but is still very small. I have been given the opportunity to give myself whatever title I see fit. I work out of the owner’s home and I do absolutely every sort of job that he needs. I was hired for graphic and web design, but I do technical support, networking issues, consulting, research, answer phones, filing, data entry, correspondence, hell, I’ll probably be dusting next week too. I feel that “Secretary” has a connotation of either having a full day of administrative tasks or bent over in a French maid costume. I want a title that will sound impressive, hopefully captures the versatility of my duties, but also will look good on my primarily creative/technical resume. Any suggestions?

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Sam Brown co-founded Iterate, and was previously VP of Design at Foursquare. Based in NYC.