Should we stop using the term 'web design'?

Some argue that the term 'web design' is outdated, others that it is still useful. We ask experts what they think.

Reading Room’s CEO Margaret Manning sparked a discussion on Twitter with her argument that the term 'web design' should be abandoned. We ask other experts what they think...

Stu Collett

'Web design' is a rather vague and outdated expression of what many of us now do. As websites have become more like environments and as digital design practices have developed, it no longer seems adequate. At Super User Studio, we refer to ourselves as both user experience designers and digital product designers.

Stu Collett is a co-founder of Super User Studio

Jonathan Smiley

The web is still a big deal, and a bigger deal every day, so I have a hard time getting worked up too much over any limiting connotation 'web design' might have. That said, when people ask what I do I say I'm a designer. I usually follow up with "mostly on the web". It's just easier that way.

Jonathan Smiley is a partner at ZURB

Jason B Jones

I think the emergence of terms like interactive designer or user interface designer seem to more appropriately fit the work we actually do. However, I'd rather be known as a good designer than any platform-specific skillset.

Jason B Jones is co-owner of Otterball and director of creative marketing at Capitol Christian Music Group.

Mike Buzzard

'Web design' is clear and understood with the vernacular of today's specialist as well as laymen. The media format being identified, 'web', is specific enough to suggest a particular skillset and understanding of creative and technical capabilities, limitations, implementations and, most importantly, expectations.

Mike Buzzard is a partner member of Cuban Council

Shane S Mielke

It's an antiquated and vague term that means very little to any of us. It doesn't scratch the surface of describing all of the roles involved on a project, some of which have nothing to do with visual or stylistic design. It also doesn't elaborate on all of the ways in which our work doesn't just live on the web any more.

On the other hand, when we try and tell people about our fancy titles or job descriptions we're often met with blank stares. When I describe what I do it changes depending upon whom I'm talking to and how much they know about our industry.

For family members, strangers or my neighbours I normally default to saying I'm a "photographer and graphic artist who creates websites". The typical response is "cool, sounds like fun" as there's nothing glamorous about what we do and there's no way to make it sound anything other than geeky.

Shane S Mielke is an award-winning designer and creative director

Elliot Jay Stocks

Being a 'web designer' is often a case of being a jack of all trades and as such is a rather broad term. But sadly it also has something of a stigma attached to it. Tell people outside the industry that you're a web designer and you'll often be met with a response like, "Ah, maybe you can help me fix my email ... " I prefer the term 'designer'. While it's certainly a lot broader, it better alludes to the importance of aesthetics in my work. Plus, for me personally, working on the web is only part of what I do.

Elliot Jay Stocks is creative director of Typekit

Chris Coyier

Love it. It's simple and clear. Most people have some understanding of what a web designer is. They think you make websites. That's good enough. If the conversation goes deeper and they are truly interested, that's fantastic. You can take the opportunity to explain more about exactly what you do from day to day. That's different for all of us.

I might tell somebody that when I design things, I think about what it's going to feel like for a user to see and interact with the thing I'm building. I try to make the things I think they are going to do easy, obvious, and rewarding.

Chris Coyier is the designer behind CSS Tricks

Leisa Reichelt

Back when I used to use Front Page to build web pages (sorry internet - it was a LONG time ago), I used to call what I did web design. These days, I find the term so generic as to be meaningless. What does 'web' mean these days? What kind of a designer are you? What do you actually do?

How we describe ourselves and what we do is important because it is part of how we educate our industry and the people we work with about what the component parts of our craft are and what is important.

It's why I've spent the past years trying to explain information architecture then user experience to taxi drivers and my non-internet friends. We need to be more descriptive – precision matters.

Leisa Reichelt is Head of User Research at the UK Government Digital Service in the Cabinet Office.

Jeff Croft

I do feel as though the term 'web design' is a bit dated. Although much of my work is still on the web, more and more of it is not, and I think that calling myself a 'web designer' doesn't adequately describe my skillset. These days, I usually call myself a 'digital product designer' or sometimes, just a 'designer'.

Jeff Croft is a product designer in Seattle, WA

Christopher Schmitt

The industry has become more fractured, specialised into various different disciplines. You have information architects, frontend specialists who work on CSS and HTML (but also program JavaScript), backend specialists, mobile app developers and so on. There are even normal looking people walking around that call themselves "social media experts" without a hint of irony.

A decade ago, one person could handle most, if not all, the needs of a web project. With automation and frameworks, a lot of the load of a small to medium-sized web project can still be done by one talented person - but you need a team for the long-term nurturing of an online presence.

I refer to myself as a "web design specialist" since most people out of our industry know what "web design" means - which is stunning when you realise this field didn't exist 15 years ago.

Christopher Schmitt directs Heatvision, a small new media publishing and design firm.

Rob Mills

For some projects, 'web design' is an accurate term. For others where IA and content strategies are needed, can't we just use those phrases: IA and content strategy? When I describe my profession I usually say that I'm a studio manager for a design agency, working on print and web design projects.

Rob Mills is studio manager for creative agency Bluegg

Chris Mills

I think 'web design' is still a reasonable term to use when discussing what we do with non-technical people. Yes, it limits the scope of what we do, which involves content strategy, IA, UX, accessibility, interaction design and more. But it's a more recognisable term for the uninitiated.
However, I never call myself a web designer, as it's not really what I do in my day-to-day work. Sometimes I am a web educator or web education advocate, sometimes I am an open standards evangelist, and sometimes I am just a web technologist.

Chris Mills is a tech writer at Mozilla.

Mike Mackay

The term 'web design' is pretty much archaic these days. But if new clients approach me as a 'web designer', sometimes it's easier to maintain that term. I make a distinction, though, between the development that I do and the visual work that I get a designer to do. I feel the generalisation lies between the actual term and work carried out, not the distinction between protocol, functionality or mode.

Mike Mackay is a web developer

This article was previously published in net magazine