Back in its infancy (digital aeons ago) while the web was taking its first steps, anyone who had their own web-site was known as a webmaster. It was generally a deserved title back then, when you had to have a decent knowledge of how and what http was and how to set up a web-server. However, as the web grew at its staggering exponential rate into the wonderful place we know today, it became much easier to put up a web-site, indeed you know don't need to know anything about how or what http is, you just need a web-browser (and sometimes a credit card). While the access to the technology changed the use term webmaster did not. Suddenly everyone was a webmaster when they put up a page with a yellow background and pink text. From this the term webmaster has now become synomonous with poorly made web-sites. The term has quickly been disregarded by the community now and very few people call themselves a webmaster.
Due to the very nature of the web, where by anyone can publish material on the web, anyone can call themselves a web-designer.
Although not to the same extent, the same phenomenon has happened more recently with the term web-designer. Due to the very nature of the web, where by anyone can publish material on the web, anyone who (like the webmaster term) can put up a page, can call themselves a web-designer. So the question that springs to mind is: what makes a web-designer?
One commonly held view of web-designers (and not necessarily untrue in many cases) is a teenage boy, with a cracked copy of Dreamweaver making sites late at night in a dark room what would send the w3c validator into a spin. Often these sites are poorly designed and if doing contract work the boy will give web-designers a bad name.
It looks for quite a while that the web-designer would go the same way as the webmaster, but over the last few years as the web has developed into a mature technology there has been a concerted effort by web-designers to not let the term slip into disrepute. Not a co-ordinated effort in any way, but rather a new profession which has started to produce very high quality works, easily distinguishing between the professional and the script kiddie.
Although web-designers themselves have not co-ordinated the movement of web-design into a profession, there are several standards bodies and government legislation which have helped. Both the UK and US government require that government deparements and company web-sites are accessable to people with visual impairments. The w3c has helped this along by setting standards which makes it possible for web-designers to readily develop such sites, and the new generation of web-browsers with excellent standards support (Safari, Firefox, Opera 9) have driven the need for standards across the web home.
While anyone can call themselves a web-designer, it takes someone with a multitude of different skills to actually be a web-designer.
However, a web-designer isn't made by someone who can make a web-site which conforms to web standards. To me the term web-designer means someone with a multitude of skills. These might range from print and graphic design, typography, colour theory, animation, photography, programming and database interaction. In-fact , generally most of the really good web-designers are actually professionals from other fields who bring new ideas and innovations to the web.
So what makes a web-designer? While anyone can call themselves a web-designer, it takes someone with a multitude of different skills, most of which are not web related, to actually be a web-designer. Perhaps in the future a more interesting job title would be Internet-designer, where you don't just work with the web and all its limitations, but rather you work with several protocols (gopher anyone?) aimed a several target applications or browsers. Not only would it be interesting, but it would be unique.