Multi-skilled graphic designer
April 19, 2011 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Hiring a new graphic designer. Is it realistic to be looking for someone with both print and web design skills and some ability to code?

We're a small internal design office with a historical focus on and expertise in print design, but we're increasingly being asked to create more interactive online ads, micro sites and mobile ads.

The demand isn't high enough yet to justify hiring someone solely devoted to web design and implementation.

Is the ability to be able to design for print and web and be able to do some coding something that is being taught nowadays? Or am I looking at two vastly different skill sets that I'm not likely to find in one person?
posted by n-clue to Work & Money (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think its unreasonable. I used to wear all those hats at a job I had a few years back. This was for scientific and medical journals. I had no formal training, just learned as I went.
posted by ducktape at 10:08 AM on April 19, 2011

It's perfectly reasonable, but if they are any good they will expect to be paid well.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:13 AM on April 19, 2011 [10 favorites]

I think it's reasonable nowadays. I often have to do both for my clients (though I'm primarily a print designer.) Just be nice enough to compensate them appropriately - it's not easy to acquire all of those skills and to have them in one "package" is really good for you, in terms of cohesiveness, etc.

Also remember that just because a person can code, that doesn't automatically make them a great designer too. There's two parts to web design - technical and aesthetic. A well-functioning web site won't get you too far if it's ugly.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 10:15 AM on April 19, 2011

Speaking as someone who's hired (and in a previous life, managed) hundreds of both coders and designers... you'll get better results from two people (specialists) but of course that's very expensive.

Decide which is more important to you and hire/screen that way. Most designers learn a little bit of web coding. Most web coders can design a little. They won't be experts at both. They just won't. (That resume is lying.)

Half-guessing: Since you're an established internal department, the amount of creative is likely quite light, in that you probably have to follow internal guidelines from higher-up, and generally make things that "match" existing media. As such, maybe the coding side is more important to you: someone who can implement quickly and accurately is very valuable.
posted by rokusan at 10:21 AM on April 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Totally reasonable (as everyone above agrees). Just have to execute well: attracting the right person, distinguishing between the right and the wrong person, and persuading the right person to work with you.

It's easier to identify a good specialist than a good generalist, so your risk of making a poor hiring decision goes up. Just good to be aware of that.
posted by doteatop at 10:22 AM on April 19, 2011

I suppose it depends on what you mean exactly by "code", but yes, this is reasonable. Our designer can do all this. That said, her strengths are in design, not coding - she's learned what coding she knows because of her web design, not the other way around.
posted by rtha at 10:22 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think doing "some coding" is a reasonable expectation. But web design can get really deep into the programming world, really fast.

For example - I can create a basic HTML-based site using Dreamweaver (plus lots of hand-coding using CSS). But I'd have no idea how to create a database-driven site using ASP templates (for instance) that produce pages created on the fly.

If you're going to create or maintain sites for businesses that will depend on, say, your know-how when collecting user information securely, you'd better know what you are doing. You might first want to determine your company's online strategy before proceeding.

For me, I'll do a freelance website only if it's small and relatively simple, technology-wise. If the client wants their site to take credit card numbers, I tell them I'm not the right person for the job.
posted by see_change at 10:27 AM on April 19, 2011

Best answer: Completely reasonable. I am currently a graphic designer and I do all of those things. I know of two others that know how to do all three, code, web, print. I graduated in 2007 and we all had to take classes on all phases of design including web design. Just a word of warning though you might have trouble finding a designer that knows PHP and all JavaScript. Some designers will say that they know web design/development and what they know is basic HTML and CSS. If you want a full PHP/JavaScript/taking credit cards, you might need to look for a coder who knows more coding than design.
posted by lilkeith07 at 10:29 AM on April 19, 2011

As long as you're not expecting serious server-side coding (like writing a CMS from scratch or some kind of ecommerce system), it's not unreasonable. Most designers are taught (or very quickly learn) html and css at least, and a lot of them also know flash and javascript.
posted by empath at 10:31 AM on April 19, 2011

Best answer: It's reasonable to expect that a designer should have a handle on HTML/CSS and maybe Javascript, but in my experience, great designers tend to be poor coders and vice versa.

For something really basic, you can get by with one person with some ability in both worlds, but for anything substantial, two specialists are better than one generalist.

Design work done by a coder is going to annoy a designer enough that they'll re-do the design, just like code written by a designer will likely be re-written by a good coder.

Keep in mind: bad visual design isn't going to introduce massive security holes, bad code will. It shouldn't be an issue for creating basic ads, but if you were going to implement an online advertising system, you'd want an actual coder.
posted by jjb at 10:36 AM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's entirely unreasonable, but those people are going to be kind of rare—I get the impression print and electronic are two different communities, and not a lot of people straddle them effectively. I know of one instance where a web-designer friend designed a print piece for a business. All the type was spec'd in pixels, not points, and he used Arial. And he didn't know squat about aspects of design peculiar to print (like how colors will look different on different paper stocks).

Then someone else who has a background in print design and production took that project over and (needless to say) completely redid it. But then she was being called on to produce HTML for the same client, which she has little experience with. She's game, but it's a struggle for her.
posted by adamrice at 11:03 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I take the opposite view - quite UNreasonable, as it's unfair to your clients.

If you look at the previous answers, they all just touch on some html/css, and only one person dared venture into database driven websites.

Well, that's what you should be building for your clients from the get-go - something that they can update themselves, where the data/content is separate from the html/css.

Otherwise you're just building fancy ads and billboards.

Anyone claiming to be a web designer (or worse, developer) and still handing out flat html websites (no content management underneath) is stealing client money.

If you've got some early demand for website work, then perhaps you could go with a freelance ghost firm where 'you design, they build' - just be sure to listen hard when they tell you that photoshop fiasco won't work as a website, and here's what usability on the web, as well as search engine optimization, really means.
posted by MTCreations at 11:08 AM on April 19, 2011

I didn't read the responses above however I can give some insights.

I'm a graphic designer - illustrator - web designer by trade. I can do print and write css/html. I can't (and won't) develop.

I am currently teaching at the local college here and am launching the first design/web program and I can't stress to my students enough how important it is to have web skills along with print skills.

So yes, it's reasonable. But it's my opinion you should not pay just for a print designer salary and also include a web designer's salary in there too.
posted by Hands of Manos at 11:11 AM on April 19, 2011

It's not unreasonable at all. Look for candidates who have real experience in print-work though; it's easy to pick up HTML/CSS/Javascript and CMS programming in a few months. Print experience accumulates much more slowly.

As mentioned up thread, most people billing themselves as web/print designers have experience making Wordpress/joomla/expressionengine themes. As long as you're not expecting them to custom build you a web app or CMS from scratch, they should be alright.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:13 AM on April 19, 2011

I used to do IT support for a Community College graphic design department. Many students went to Hallmark after graduation. Students got a healthy exposure to web and print design, and a little bit of Javascript and actionscript (flash). PHP and SQL is generally not on the menu for that two year degree, but the wiser students take it anyways or get exposure after matriculating to a bachelor's program. If you're lucky, they've been exposed to Drupal, Wordpress or similar that lets them avoid getting the prickly parts of backend design wrong. Expecting them to be masters of SOAP APIs or implementing new Django models is probably unrealistic.

There are people who can expertly handle web and print, but don't expect they'll come cheaply, and may well have to recruit them away from existing employers.
posted by pwnguin at 11:34 AM on April 19, 2011

Where are you located? Students from programs like this have all these skills.
posted by media_itoku at 12:13 PM on April 19, 2011

Turn it around. You don't want a Graphic Designer with coding abilities, you want a Web Designer with print experience. Many more designers have dropped print for web over the past 15 years than there are designers who have just a bit of web experience. This will probably get you plenty of people who used to deal with printing, and probably quite experienced ones, too. Just explain in the ad that the emphasis is on print, but that there is increasingly enough web work that coding abilities are required. You should be able to get plenty of web people with 2-5y experience (or whatever your req is) no matter what, but from those you'd definitely be able to find people with 5-10 years of print before they turned to the web.
posted by rhizome at 12:15 PM on April 19, 2011

Not remotely unreasonable. It sounds like me, and several other people graduating college with me – we wish more people were looking for people with both skills; sometimes it feels like (as a designer/web person) having skills in both areas can almost be a drawback (e.g. trying to fill two roles well is harder than filling one). But no. Not unreasonable at all.
posted by good day merlock at 1:38 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Reasonable. I'm a trained designer who has all of those skills and more. I have more web experience than print experience, but believe me, I've stripped my share of type, done brochures, posters, etc etc and so on and so forth. You should be able to find someone easily enough, but do pay them for their skills. Ten bucks an hour won't cut it; you'll get laughed (at cussed) at.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 2:07 PM on April 19, 2011

No. It might be possible to find someone with both print and web experience (though not in equal measure) but if you tack on the ability to develop at a competent level as well then you're talking about three specializations that are rarely found in an individual. If you don't already have development expertise in-house then it's not likely that you're in a position to recognize competent execution in all three domains. This deficiency also means that even if the type of designer you want exists, and you can find them, you'll have trouble attracting them because they almost certainly have better prospects than an internal organization that lacks an established web design culture or a development culture and is accustomed to offering print-design salaries. Unless the candidate is desperate for work, which is unlikely, given the skillset you describe. On the other hand, if you're comfortable with mediocre work in one or more of the three domains then I think what you propose may be reasonable.

A better solution might be to contract the development side of your work to professionals on an as-needed basis (or hire a developer and contract out the design). At least until the volume of work increases.
posted by Jeff Howard at 5:37 PM on April 19, 2011

n-clue, your profile doesn't say where you are, which is a pity, because the students I teach, who are currently having their graduate showcase here in Calgary, are exactly what you are looking for. So no, it's not unreasonable: the best of my students can (and have) designed and coded a CMS and ecommerce system from scratch while designing the front end for both screen and mobile, taking well-shot photographs and video for the site, while doing print work. However it can be hard to to find the right balance of those skills. Ideally, if you have the time and resources, I would have potential applicants code a quick web page with some graphics, and design a poster, all to the same theme, in an hour. Then, test the page for validation, semantics, and size, and the poster for use of color, etc.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:17 PM on April 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the insightful responses. The job is still primarily about exceptional design skills, and I don't expect anyone to be able to build a page from scratch or do any kind of complicated coding, so I will phrase it as knowledge of HTML, CSS, etc isn't essential, but a valuable asset that will be given preference.
posted by n-clue at 9:25 AM on April 20, 2011

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