Why ‘Grumpy Designer’ Is the Only Title I Want


Perhaps no industry has a wider array of mystifying job titles than web design. One could spend hours attempting to figure out the difference between a “People Operations Coordinator” and a “Project Manager”. Is the former just a fancier way of describing the latter? Only the job poster knows the answer.

The titles that organizations toss around appear to be an effort to differentiate themselves from competitors. Why trudge through life as a “Customer Support Representative” when you can be a “Happiness Engineer”? Even if the pay is lower, the prestige is much higher. It’s also undeniable proof that your new employer thinks outside the box.

There are some unintended side effects to this line of thinking. These gimmicky job descriptions tend to cause heated debate. Some within the web design community use titles as a means to exclude individuals. Tweets declaring “Don’t call yourself a Full Stack Developer unless you know x, y, and z” are an invitation to an unsavory argument.

For our mental health and well-being, I say it’s time to look past titles. The following are a few thoughts on how to focus on what matters.

Official-Sounding Titles with Arbitrary Thresholds

Part of the issue stems from the fact that there are few if any, universal certifications in web design. Fields like information technology have badges from large companies such as Google and Microsoft. But there’s no official way to become certified in say, WordPress (and you won’t receive a special graduation ceremony with Matt Mullenweg handing out diplomas).

In reality, anyone can call themselves a designer or developer. And anyone can question whether we’re “developer enough” to qualify for a job.

The term “full-stack” seems to be especially loaded. If I can design and build a website from start to finish, perhaps I fit the bill? But does that still apply if I rely on readymade scripts or plugins? It largely depends on who you ask. Feel free to pose the question on social media – just be prepared for the inevitable disagreements.

These arbitrary definitions move beyond the community and find their way into organizations as well. What one employer considers to be a “Senior Developer” could be quite different somewhere else.

And those of us who have been freelancing for several years are especially hard to quantify. Real-life project experience means something. But would it be valued in the job market the same as a formal education?

A "Help Wanted" sign in a window.

We Should Be Judged by Results, Not Buzzwords

The real test for any of us is in what we do – not how someone else would categorize us. In practice, that means demonstrated results. And there are many ways to do it.

Your portfolio can say a lot about what you have accomplished. Including case studies that detail the technologies you used and what you learned along the way are great reinforcements.

Then there is the act of being a part of something bigger than yourself. Contributing to an open-source project shows not only your skills but your ability to work as part of a team. Dependability is also part of the equation. These are things that every employer should value.

If you’re just starting in the industry, you may not have a lot of history to go on. But that doesn’t make you any less talented or dedicated. You can still demonstrate results through personal projects or educational achievements.

While titles are meant to be a simpler means of assessing skills, they aren’t a more accurate representation than the things you’ve done. That should be the ultimate way to judge a web professional.

A book passage that reads, "A little space to be creative".

Avoid Falling into the Title Trap

One of the reasons I love the moniker “Grumpy Designer” is that it accurately describes who I am. To be sure, I’m friendly (I don’t bite). But it reflects a somewhat cynical view of trends and the “must-have” skills of the moment.

It’s also a jab at how the industry tries to box us in. If we listened to titles alone, none of us would dare to venture outside of our assigned lane. That could result in less innovation and a lot of individual boredom. People who aren’t allowed to grow and evolve won’t want to stick around.

And web design is one of the few career paths that have a seemingly endless array of possibilities. There is still an opportunity to learn every day. It’s something you can’t fully capture in a title.

With that, let’s stop chasing a particular title or letting ourselves be defined by one. Instead, focus on tangible results. The goals will be different for everyone – and that’s the point.

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