What Skill Set Web Designers Need to Get Hired?

Posted on June 5, 2012 by
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Determining where web design and web development should overlap is an ever-raging debate in the industry. Some argue that a Web designer should be skilled in HTML and CSS codes, while a Web developer should know how to use Photoshop, but does it end there?

Ultimately, controversy isn’t settled in discussions, but in real life, where companies are hiring employees with well defined qualifications in mind. Job seekers in the industry should understand what employers are looking for and how they can prepare themselves to land a job. Each one of us has unique skill set, which means we can’t fully rely on hard and fast rules.

Before understanding this topic further, you should be aware about various positions in the web development industry:

Graphic designer: With each passing year, this position becomes more vague and unclear. Before the digital age, it referred only to those who worked in the printing industry. They created flyers, logos, product packaging, posters, print ads and others.

Web designers: Some also work as graphic designers, but others are not. These days, web designers usually have less experience in print-related tasks and they are more focused on website UI and layout. They often work with Fireworks and Photoshop and results are delivered as layered files. Many Web designers have enough understanding on HTML and CSS, they can also convert Photoshop design mockup into a working live website, however, they are mostly confined in visual design and rarely, if ever venture into any coding task.

Web developers: They are expected to have strong grasp on HTML, CSS and many other Web programming platforms. For example, many web developers are highly proficient in PHP, JavaScript, JSP, Ruby on Rails and many others. Web developers should be familiar with all technical aspects involved with web servers and the type of operating system, platform and application that run on them. A solid grasp on design skills is not required for most Web developers. However, they need to know their way around methods used in Web design, although they are not necessarily those asked to define the feel and look of the site.

Descriptions in these positions could be oversimplified but there is one thing you should be aware of: These jobs often have blurred definition and mistaken with one another; although they have different skill sets at heart. Ideally, they minimally overlap and professionals should determine which fields they like the most and focus on it to the best of their abilities without expecting people from different positions to venture into their work areas. But of course, real life has different ideas.

A good way to know what is expected of the job applicants in the industry is to take a look at typical job posting for web designers in your area. These qualifications are often listed in many job descriptions:

• Between 2 and 5 years of professional experience in Web design industry
• Proficiency in Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Fireworks and other design tools
• Good understanding of HTML and CSS as well as how to achieve cross-browser compatibility
• Good grasp of best practices in the Web development industry
• Experience with MySQL database
• Comfortable working within a PHP-based website
• Experience with Adobe Flash
• Strong working knowledge of content management system, such as WordPress and themes
• Intermediate Javascript
• Copywriting experience
• Experience with optimizing Web design for SEO

Many job postings state that Web designer should also know HTML, CSS, MySQL, PHP, Javascript and Flash. Clearly these are skills typically expected from a Web developer. Some employers even expect some experience in printing industry. A good sense of usability and strong typographic skills are sometimes required from them.

There are some somewhat unrelated skills incorporated as well, such as SEO, video editing and copywriting. The skill set expected from a Web designer seems so diverse that it might appear that the employer tries to shove an entire department into a single person. Is it appropriate for a Web designer to be expected to work with PHP codes and MySQL. In a way, it might sound a bit like asking someone with experience in constructing brick walls to work as auto mechanics.

Just like in any industry, there is always an inherent problem in non-technical employers hiring people for technical positions. Often, they don’t have a clue what technical jobs in their businesses entail, so they simply throw in all buzzwords they know and try to find jack-of-all-trades. Consequently, many job postings in Web industry are simply absolute mess of unrealistic expectations.

Even today, employers still seek people that can do anything from designing a complex website to creating an attractive packaging for company products. Unfortunately for job seekers, these anomalies still exist, especially in a down economy where jobs are scarce. Many Web designers come to a realization that no matter how much they learn, there will be those who are asking for so much more. Things can get so bad that some employers want printing designers to know about PHP and MySQL. Honestly, even with all their skills and experiences, veteran Web designers in industry may not qualify for a “simple” graphic designer position required by those employers.

Employers always have the upper hand and they can afford to be picky when it comes to hiring a professional. They know that a single job posting ad in Craigslist can net them a few hundreds of applicants. There’s a lot competition of getting hired.

Consequently, some people are forced to artificially fill their resumes with an unbelievable array of skills. On the other, a plain belief that a Web designer shouldn’t have anything to do with Javascript, MySQL and PHP, won’t get you anywhere.

It easy for Web designer to feel a bit confused about where they should stand in this mess. Some lament that almost all job postings looks unrealistic, while others simply choose to shut up and struggle with the fact. However, in the end jacks-of-all-trades are not a good solution for the web design industry as a whole.

For many designers, the situation is disheartening, enraging, frustrating and flat out frightening. Of course, some are energetic enough to enjoy the challenges and have the mental energy for constant learning that they end up encouraging employers to ask so much more from the rest of us. We should learn one thing or two from these special breed of designers, there’s nothing to lose from learning everything you can during your spare time, especially if you are desperate for work.

To be fair, some employers are not like this. As a matter of fact, huge corporations tend to divide their departments into thousands of highly specialized positions that it’s nearly impossible for employees to not to be proficient with their jobs after a few years. Other companies simply juggle the right mix between challenging their employees without overstretching them.

The last two types of companies are difficult to find, but once you are hired by one of them, you should relish it. Freelance web designer, on the other hand, have much more freedom, despite the stiff competition. They know which skill to focus on and can devote resources accordingly, a luxury that many employed Web designers don’t have.

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