The Ever-Evolving Spectrum of the Web

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I wrote a post last summer where I identified myself as a web designer in light of my experience in front-end web development. The response was pretty overwhelming and has stuck with me ever since.

What stuck with me most is how relative job descriptions are in web development. I might be a web designer standing next to one person, but a web developer standing next to someone else. Creating exact labels (and job descriptions, for that matter) is an inexact science. When it comes to designing, building, and maintaining websites, it’s hard to pin down labels, despite all our best efforts to do it.

What if we were able to properly categorize and label what we do into neat buckets?

I tried to do that and it gets very messy very fast. In the chart below, hover over the red dots to see different technologies placed on a spectrum.

See the Pen Web Terminology Matrix by Geoff Graham (@geoffgraham) on CodePen.

Feel free to disagree with the placement of the dots. This is more to illustrate the idea that our world is a spectrum. I’m not trying to pigeonhole anyone or anything.

I made that to see where my understanding of general web terms falls into the spectrum of four different disciplines: design, front-end development, back-end development and IT. Chances are you would move the markers based on your own work and experience. Please do! Comparing each other’s would be interesting.

This helped me see how blurry the lines have become between these four disciplines. I remember a time when my job was to “lay out” web pages in Photoshop and send them off to IT for implementation. Many of us would chuckle at that workflow today, but it was a reality then and a sharp contrast from modern workflows. Where design and development used to be in stark contrast to one another, we now have more shared tasks.

Let’s try a different type of chart.

My thinking after creating the spectrum chart led me to think that a scatter-style chart was a bad way to visualize the differences between disciplines. So I made a Venn diagram instead:

See the Pen Web Terminology Venn Diagram by Geoff Graham (@geoffgraham) on CodePen.

The blurred lines are (hopefully) easier to see in this visual. This still gets messy and complicated as our understanding of new techniques and skills evolve.

So, what’s the point of all this?

Looking at datasets is fun.

More importantly, this has a lot less to do with job descriptions, personal labels and specific skills. What I see is a movement beneath the surface that is re-drawing our understanding of what makes up the web spectrum. I was so focused on buzzwords and where they fall on a chart that I believe I may have overlooked the buckets that make up the actual chart.

Our jobs are not contained in anachronistic terms like React, Bootstrap, Grunt and SEO. Those things will come and go and perhaps even come again. Instead, our fundamental understanding of what it means to design or to develop are evolving and, in many cases, overlapping. If the past is any indication of where things were and where they are heading, then I would expect to see the plots on any chart like this start to collect toward the center of the spectrum and for the circles in a Venn diagram to continue becoming more like a single circle.

Or perhaps we’ll see a chart where there is only one circle called The Web© and around it will be many, many other circles that slightly overlap it. Who knows? That’s really the fun part of what we do: continue learning and evolving.