10 ways the role of web designer is changing

Once upon a time, web design was mainly concerned with visual design, with creatives simply having to think about the aesthetics of a website.

However, over the last 20 or so years, the web designer’s role as changed considerably, as an established language and structure for websites has taken shape.

With so many developments over the years, a web designer now needs many more strings to their bow. Here, we look at 10 ways in which the role of a web designer has changed over the past two decades...

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01. Tables are dead

If your sole training in web design back in college was based on using tables, then you're seriously out of date.

At one point, tables were the only way a designer could make a website look how they wanted, and slicing images and shims were the order of the day. Thankfully those days have passed and web designers learning their trade now need to embrace semantic markup and CSS styling.

02. Flash is fading

occupyflash.org logo

www.occupyflash.org is attempting to bury use of Adobe's Flash plug-in on the web

Once upon a time, Adobe's Flash plugin seemed to offer designers the perfect answer to their web problems - you could use the fonts you wanted and were not confined to the restrictions of the early internet. But as much as it offered freedom to design, it lacked accessibility and led to great eye candy but a lack of substance.

Though Flash still has its place today, its role as a medium for building whole sites has diminished, particularly since it won't function on Apple's mobile devices. Designers now turn to jQuery and CSS to achieve things that once would have been the domain of Flash.

03. The web no longer apes print

Web design typography

The answer to the question: Do websites need to look exactly the same in every browser?

The old preoccupation with recreating the pixel-perfect medium of print online meant the idea of semantic mark up was left by the wayside. This kind of thinking has now been largely jettisoned, especially since the rise of responsive web design.

The battle is still still not over, though. Designers still love control and it can be hard for people coming from print to accept that the web is a medium that should not be constrained in the same ways.

04. People have increased expectations

People want to get more out of websites nowadays. It’s no longer just an online brochure or calling card, we want more. Users want to interact with a site, to watch video and share their experiences with their friends. Designers have had to learn and adapt... Quickly.

05. Skills need constant updating

append.to jQuery learning course

Even the most experienced web designer needs to keep updating their skills

Things move so quickly now that the modern web designer needs to be able to spread their skills across several areas in order to achieve their client's goals. It's no longer enough to have an eye for design and a copy of Dreamweaver. Web designers, possibly more than any other design occupation, have to constantly update their skills. The web doesn't stand still for one second.

06. The web is social now

Social media buttons

Like it or loathe it, social media is now an integral part of web design

You'd have to have been living under a rock for the last decade not to be aware of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like. Social media sharing and integration is really important to any website nowadays, so every designer needs to have at least a rudimentary understanding of how to incorporate it into their client's web strategies.

07. Web fonts offer typographic choice

FontDeck homepage

Services like Font Deck have brought web fonts to the masses

Web fonts are a massive breakthrough for designers. We used to have to export headings as GIFs, making them inaccessible and hard for the client to update. It all seems so archaic now web fonts are so easily incorporated into our websites. We are finally able to have typographic control (pretty much) of our type on the web.

08. The window to the web is varied

The ability to view websites on multiple devices now means more testing. While the thought of this may make you want to weep (you thought dealing with just Netscape and IE was bad?), it has also been the catalyst to establish designing using web standards as the norm.

09. HTML5 is the new normal

HTML5 Test homepage

Take the HTML5 Test at http://html5test.com

The last few years have seen HTML5 establishing itself as the future of building websites. We're all agreed that we wanted semantic, content-rich websites, but HTML5, combined with CSS3, offers more than that. The relative freedom that a modern web designer has, allows them to convey both the client's information AND impart their style and direction. We've never had it so good!

10. Designs must be responsive

Do Lectures homepage on two different devices

Media queries enable us to make our design respond responsively

A solution that allows a website to respond to the screen size and device it is viewed on has completely shaken up the way we approach building websites and we now have the tools to provide specific styling depending on the size of a viewer's screen. At least in the dark days, despite the browser wars, you only had a couple of screen resolutions to take into account. Luckily media queries have given us the freedom to style specific to different viewport sizes which allows a truly responsive website.


Web design continues to forge its own path and move further away from being an extension of print design. It's no longer something any designer can turn their hand to as more and more technical skills are needed and less print skills are transferable.

Although this constant evolution means you never feel like you know it all, it's an amazing area of design to work in and we should relish the challenges we face each day...

Words: Sush Kelly

Sush Kelly is a senior interactive designer at Imaginate Creative Ltd, a creative agency in Leamington Spa, UK. He also blogs at www.sushkelly.co.uk

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Have you been working in web design over a long period? How has your day to day work changed over the years? We'd love to hear your thought in the comments below!

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