What do you do for a living?

I've gotten this question for a while now, and I'm only now starting to come up with something that sounds half intelligent. In web design, I think there are three main disciplines:

Web Designer

Web designers create prototypes and graphics in desktop software programs like Adobe Fireworks. I think this is the biggest point of distinction for a web designer, who can be as proficient in print or industrial design as they are at web design.

Strengths

Web designers excel at the polish that makes a design charming. They're particularly skilled at creating great marketing websites that need personality and don't require a huge amount of thought of how it "feels" to use each page as a part or whole.

Weaknesses

Not a programmer, and not really too deep into the science (and there's a lot of science) behind user experience.

Front-End Engineer

A front-end engineer is a programmer who specializes in the "V" part of MVC (model-view-controller) frameworks. Their strongest programming languages are HTML, CSS and Javascript. What do I tell my mom? "I make prototypes and graphics for websites."

Strengths

Great at designing applications where functionality and usability are key. If you give them formatted data and a pre-configured server, they'll come back to you with a working application.

Weaknesses

At the end of the day, they're still engineers, and you definitely don't want an engineer designing your marketing material.

What do I tell my mom?

"I build interfaces for web applications."

UX Researcher

UX researchers are really different from the two above. A UX researcher plays a really important role in design, even if one doesn't exist at your company. This person conducts scientific experiments to learn everything about the interaction between a site visitor and a website. A UX researcher typically creates just enough collateral—either as a prototype, code or a whitepaper—to communicate their findings.

Strengths

Really understands people. A good UX person, in my opinion, knows how people think and feel. A UX expert takes an application that "makes sense" and turns it into something that makes people really happy while using it.

Weaknesses

They usually don't ship code or graphics, which is often a dealbreaker for small companies.

What do I tell my mom?

"By studying how people use the web, I help designers create great applications." Over the past two years, I've transitioned from a web designer to a front-end engineer (with still a lot to learn), but I think I finally know a lot more about what I do. I don't just "build websites"