The profession that dare not speak its name

I took it! And so should you. The Web Design Survey, 2007.

Question: If web design makes the new information age possible—if it creates new markets and new products, generates significant global cash flow, changes the way companies and non-profits interact with the public, and employs untold legions of specialists—why, until now, hasn’t anybody tried to find out more about it as an industry?

Hypothesis: No one has tried to measure web design because web design has been a hidden profession.

The hypothesis is neither far-fetched nor particularly insightful. If you think about it, it’s obvious. Web design has been hidden because its workers have, for the most part, been masked by old business and old media categories. Call it death by org chart:

  • A producer, designer, and developer collaborate daily on their non-profit’s rather unwieldy website. The producer’s business card claims she is an Associate Communications Coordinator. The designer’s title is Art Director. The developer is called an Assistant Director of IT. All three are really web professionals—but nobody calls them that, and nobody at the organization solicits their opinions except on small, technical matters. This, even though the website handles nearly all public communication and fund-raising, and these three are the only people in the organization who know about usability and design.
  • On paper, a large law firm employs only one web employee despite having a vast public website and an even bigger intranet site. Her title is webmaster, although she is really a graphic designer with HTML, CSS, PHP, and usability expertise. On the corporate org chart, she reports to one of the partners, who is charged with supervising the website in his free time. He knows nothing about websites, so she handles everything. Once a month they have lunch; once a year she gets a nice raise. Because she reports to an attorney, she is part of Legal.
  • On paper, a daily news magazine employs just one “web” employee. His title is webmaster, although he is really a developer, and he is slowly being squeezed out. The actual web development work—and there is a ton of it, every day—is performed by two IT staffers. A half dozen other folks work on page templates and site image production; on paper, they are graphic designers. The site is directed by a committee representing the editorial, advertising, and marketing departments. But regardless of their placement on the org chart, they are really web people, making web content and web layout decisions that are then executed by the “graphic designers” and “IT guys.” In all, nearly fifteen workers toil over the magazine’s website each day, yet the magazine’s web “staff” consists of one guy who’s about to take an early retirement.

There are many self-proclaimed freelance web designers and developers, and many staff people with those (and related) titles, but there are also hundreds of thousands of “hidden” web designers and developers, and this partly accounts for the business world’s indifference to us.

But the hidden workers are coming out of the shadows. Over 12,000 people filled out The Web Design Survey during its first 24 hours online. Average completion time was 8 minutes, 45 seconds. Not a bad start. Keep spreading the word.

[tags]webdesign, survey, web design survey, ala, alistapart, design, development[/tags]