The old adage is that when the only tool you have is a hammer, you see everything as a nail! The idea is that you tend to use the tools you have and tend to see everything you do in terms of the tool(s) you have available. Bring that principle into the 21st century and web design.
Graphic designers see everything as a design issue; coders break out their editor of choice to fix any problem; those using WordPress see plugins as the panacea to every problem. The reality is that web design is both complex and multi-faceted. It requires graphic design, coding and third party help to make a killer web site. The problems come when you only have a subset of the skills/tools required – then the natural inclination is to use what you have to fix what you need. But hammers tend to mangle screws and the wrong tool can at the least make your web site more cumbersome than it should, at worst it can make an unholy mess of what should be a sleek and elegant design both on the surface and under the hood.
What do we need?
The greatest requirement with web design is to have someone who understands all the methodologies required and can objectively decide what is the best tool for each part of the job. As with IT in general, web design is fragmenting into ever more niche disciplines – and experts in those disciplines can struggle to see the bigger picture.
Talking to a young graphic designer recently his inclination was to find a graphical tool within WordPress to do the bits he couldn’t. He was looking for an ecosystem within an ecosystem. The fact that these exist in abundance proves the point. The problem is that the all encompassing theme or plugin becomes the cuckoo in the nest that overtakes the WordPress framework. The downside is that there is still a huge amount of work involved in learning the ecosystem, with much less benefit in that investment.
My advice? Start by understanding HTML, CSS, server side coding and databases. Then a grasp of graphic design principles and the use of CMS ecosystems such as WordPress can be employed to build an effective web site. Understand the principles before choosing your tools.
Remember that clean code behind the scenes is as important as that slick interface that everyone can see.
So, keep that hammer to hand, but you might also like to consider acquiring some screwdrivers, spanners, torque wrenches etc., or at least be aware of what they are and what they can do for you…