Dirk Knemeyer

Webmasters, generalists and web design

Webmasters, generalists and web design, August 23, 2006

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

In the early days of professional web design, we saw a center of gravity form around “webmasters,” jack-of-all-trade professionals who often handled everything related to developing and managing a website: from design to writing to programming. But as the web became more mature and complex it became evermore apparent that these “generalists” were inadequate to the job before them: the importance and sophistication of the web got to the point where it demanded different, specialized participants. Thus the role of things like usability testing and information architecture came to the fore, and a diffusion of the “webmaster” or “web designer” ideals in particular began to fade away. As a result we had a few years or more of highly localized specialization, with design teams often laboring along with an outrageous diversity of what I would characterize as overly specialized participants. That is beginning to even out now, and the people with the greatest value are those that synthesize multiple tactical disciplines into one designer. As time goes by the breadth of this synthesis will only need to increase and, unlike the webmasters of old who had knowledge about many things but wildly varying degrees of skill in each of them, the digital product design professionals of tomorrow will need to achieve excellence that crosses multiple domains that only recently were still being treated as separate, siloed roles. This becomes less a model of generalist success and more a model of highly experienced and skilled designers who aggregate various skill sets into a complementary and finely-honed set of tools.

Similarly, Bob’s point of there always being room at the top is a good one. And the craftsmen (and women!) who are exceptional at more niche (but necessary) skills such as illustration will always have opportunities, so long as they are bullish about honing their craft and pushing their level of performance. Of course that sort of dedication to constant personal development applies to all of us.