Web Designer vs. Print Designer

I had to provide brief talking points yesterday about the difference in skill sets and knowledge between a web designer versus a print designer. Since the points needed to be brief, I focused mostly on the web designer:

  • Web designers/developers have expertise in using HTML, CSS and JavaScript, which are the markup and programming languages used to create websites, ebooks and apps whereas print designers would not know this;
  • Web designers/developers understand that their “canvas” (the screen) comes in hundreds of combinations of shape, size and density (HD vs. standard definition) and how to create for that whereas print designers understand the limited dimensions of their canvas (paper, banner, ad, boat, etc.)
  • Web designers/developers understand the importance of using the proper HTML markup to provide semantic context and structure to content through multiple delivery mechanisms (e.g. screen, screen reader, etc.) whereas print designers provide the same structure through fixed, visual differentiation in design
  • Most web designers/developers can work in simple print design (e.g. document production, brochures) because it is considered an easier medium after having mastered the complexities of web design and HTML, CSS and JavaScript languages.

While I think I captured the essence, I’d like to hear what you think I forgot or missed. Submit your comments!

3 thoughts on “Web Designer vs. Print Designer

  1. I think the problem is terminology. When I think graphic design, I think of the way the graphics look and work to communicate an idea, regardless of media. So I think web design is graphic design for the web; print design is graphic design for print.

    It’s clear there is a distinction in a lot of minds that web design also incorporates what I’ve come to understand as a developer’s role. A developer is an expert in code. Working together, a graphic designer designing for web and a developer can make super fantastic things, because they both understand the complexities of look and feel, as well as how to get that look and feel to work in the most effective way possible.

    You wouldn’t expect a print designer to understand the complexities of running a press. I’m not sure it’s fair to expect a graphic designer to understand the complexities of programming the back end of a site. Nor would I expect the press operator or a developer to be able to make stunning designs. As a team, designers, architects, content managers and writers, and technicians create marvelous media.

    Again, I think this is the way the terms are shaking out. I’d like more clarity, personally. Though I realize I’m only one person and not likely to change everyone’s way of thinking.

  2. I think you are close, but might be over-exaggerating the importance of coding, as well as muddling/combining the terms web designer and web developer. They are so much more complex than that.

    Dismissing the argument that title is prestige in this instance, there is a distinct difference between a print designer and a web designer. It is arguable that a web designer needs to know code, but I know this is a valuable asset a designer can have. In a lot of cases, web designers and developers don’t work together as close as they should. As a web designer, it is important to know whether or not your designs can be developed efficiently, if at all. Creating outlandish navigation patterns or other strange interactions happen quite a bit, but knowing the limitations of your medium can help guide a designer in making decisions that will ultimately affect the communication of the project.

    Most important, it is the innate properties of the two mediums. Paper is palpable. I can hold it and I can sometimes feel the ink, binding, or what have you. It’s in this world. Interactive design is not, it lives on a screen in a space that is evolving by the minute. It is heavily influenced by device, screen size, programming languages, technologies, and third-party browser wars. It’s a complicated place that is not today what is was yesterday.

    Good design is good design. But I will always hold tight in my conviction that paper and printing technologies are much slower moving than the web, and that, is what I love about being an interactive designer. For me, it is a fusion of my fascination with visual languages and my curiosity with technology.

  3. I’ve been a print designer for 20+ years. While the technology for print might “move slower”, it is most likely because there are so many mainstays in print design that will never change, for example, terminology. There will always be points, picas, leading (pronounced LEDDING, not LEEDING, please), dpi, CMYK (also with hexa-chrome variations), etc.

    Those of us coming from a “real” print background know that there are just good ways of doing things and there are bad ways of doing things. With web design, there are so many different types of variables, including whether someone uses html, css, java, etc.

    The development part of the web is really separate from the design, per se. A web developer has to “skin” a web application with something that a designer created. The overall use-ability of a web page is also determined by web developers, who are usually adept at understanding how a web application is to be used. Designers don’t dabble in that mess.

    Web designers are terrified of databases and the information the web developers use to populate the fields of any web application or web page.

    On the other hand, a print designer is concerned with design AND printability. There’s no point in designing something if it cannot be printed. Don’t design a print job in RGB, for instance. Or make sure all your graphic images are 300 dpi or higher, especially depending on which substrate is being used. While the variables for print design in and of itself are somewhat limited, the variables for the *printing* part of the process are almost endless.

    Good design is good design, but there is definitely something in the print world that, because it is tangible, has to be more exact. Print design is more of a science, rather than an art, in that way.

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