Division of Labor in Web Design

September 1, 2006

When I first started working on the web, it was not only possible but common to build an entire website by yourself, from back end to front end. Even promotion. We called ourselves webmasters because we had mastered (or more often, just did) everything. The back end was Javascript or Perl because that's what was available; the front end was table-based HTML; and promotion meant submitting to the 10 or 15 new search engines eager for links. I tell you this not to drive home what an old fogey I am, but to highlight the extreme difference between the web design process of just 5 or 10 years ago and that of today. Today building a site of any real size requires the efforts of a small army of people--systems folks, programmers, graphic designers, CSS/HTML coders, usability experts, information architects, project managers and marketing people. Web sites are rarely the product of a sole creator anymore, but a complex choreography of many specialists. I love this blossoming web of seemingly endless possibilities and all the exciting new technologies. But sometimes I have trouble shaking the habits of the old Jack-of-all-trades webmaster. I want to have a hand in everything, from conception to launch and beyond. I want to write apps, create graphics, layout pages, code the CSS/HTML, and run the usability and accessibility tests. I do realize it's not humanly possible for one person to do it all anymore. Being the in-house CSS person and the resident accessibility advocate should be satisfying enough. But I'm itching to do more. Call me an old fogey, but deep down I still believe specializing is for wimps. I'm ready to add a new skill to my repertoire. Maybe programming. Maybe graphic design. Or maybe IA or usability or... And therein lies my problem. It all sounds exciting. What should I try next?