How to Become a Web Designer

Some might be surprised at seeing this occupation on a list of art careers, but unlike what many may think, web design is a creative job with lots of room for imagination. You will need to understand the technical side of things in addition to being creative, but this versatile career will allow you to develop and apply skills such as marketing, user experience, design, art, visual effects, and technology.

While it can be an exciting path to choose, it is also one of the few creative options that could offer financial stability, a competitive salary, and good market projections for the future. Having said this, web design is also extremely demanding, and there is more competition in the field every day. If you choose this career you will always need to be updating your skills and following the latest technology and design trends. Working on client deadlines will also mean you may need to work long hours, and we can’t forget outsourcing – since technology is international, your competition is not only local, but global.

If the pros sound like your type of thing and the cons don’t scare you, then you should start thinking of how you will become a web designer. Our experts give advice on that from their own experience, and we’ve also done some research to help you out. But first, take a look at this infographic to get an idea on what the industry looks like today.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

David Wickstead

Holywell Design and Print

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • David Wickstead
  • Oxford and Reading, UK
  • 24
  • Holywell Design and Print
  • @Wickodesign

I have a B.A. in graphic design, typography, general art, and design. When I left college, I was asked to go back to teach 2 days a week at the London College of Printing. At the same time, I was also working for Electronic Arts producing 3D graphics and game development. I did this for just under a year before I was head hunted and asked to join a creative and marketing studio. Around 1994, I designed my first website, and by 2000 I was producing websites in Cyber Studio, later to become Dreamweaver and Flash. Today, I produce websites using CMS systems like Joomla and WordPress along with many other platforms.

I love the energy when designing and developing new websites full of graphics and functionality. Making websites that not only look good but that also deliver results. What I dislike is the lack of graphic attention and care for the end user; developers and programmers who can’t see past the programming.

Advice

Web design is diverse
It’s not just about programming. Make sure you study graphic design, layout proportions, and color. You don’t need to know about detailed programming, but an understanding of the basics is good. There are many layers that make up a good website. Design, layout and typography, optimization images, and meta details. Think of the end user who doesn’t know your website and how they would do. Make it easy!

Begin practicing early
Start with an image editor such as Photoshop and design a series of buttons and icons. Get a server (doesn’t need to be too powerful, but must run the latest PHP and handle MySQL database). Install the basic version of either Joomla or WordPress CMS systems. Don’t be afraid to make errors. You can learn from trial and error. Just make sure you backup and check every change. Keep it simple.

Lysa Miller

Ladybugz

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
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  • Business:
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  • Lysa Miller
  • Southborough, MA
  • 18
  • Ladybugz
  • Interactive Agency
  • @LadybugzInc

I have a degree in Public Relations from Mount Saint Vincent University in Nova Scotia, Canada. I have always loved design and writing, and when my first job asked me to be their “webmaster” I jumped at the opportunity and found my true calling there. I have worked for some great companies in web design and project management. My last full time job was with ZDNet/CNet (now part of CBS interactive) as an e-commerce project manager. When I had children I decided to freelance, which was the best decision I ever made. I always did freelance work on the side, even in college, so that was easy for me. To this day, I still have one client from the first US Web Design/Hosting Company I worked at in 1998.

I love my clients, my specialty is helping smaller businesses grow and flourish to compete with the larger businesses, because there is room for everyone, even the small guy. I love working with small chains and decentralized businesses helping them bring it all together; using that combined presence to help them grow. There is not much I dislike! I rarely have difficult clients, but I pick and choose carefully the people I work with. I also don’t make promises I can’t keep; I always keep my word.

I wish I had moved to San Francisco in the early days when the whole dot.com scene was happening. I think of that like music and if you’d experienced the Woodstock days. I would still love to spend time there; I love it, and being Canadian, I am frankly tired of snow! I know wherever I go, I can bring my business and my career with me, cold or warm.

Advice

Versatility is key
Not everyone who is in this field is trained in art and graphics. That is why I feel many designers miss out on taking up this career. Also, marketing and writing are super important skills, because just designing a website for a company is not really enough. They want it to be a marketing vehicle.

Have a focus
If you like web design, you need to pick the part you like. Do you like coding or do you prefer the UI part. I think it is hard to be excellent at both, although some people are. I think it is better to specialize in one area, which would still require more than one skill, but you’d be geared in that direction; if that makes sense. However, if you are a freelancer, you have to do both until you can find someone to work with.

Education vs. experience
I think graphic design and some basic programming are important, but the real education comes with just doing it and looking at what the really great designers are doing. If you have a flair for design and marketing and get bored doing just one thing, web design is a great career, because you get to do a bit of it all. It’s important to do SEO, have a good visual eye, and you need to architect the site to influence the user’s behavior. To begin with, design your own website. Design websites for friends and family members to get experience. Join groups with other designers, and don’t be afraid to ask.

Ross Barber

Owner of Electric Kiwi

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
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  • Years in the Industry:
  • Business:
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  • Ross Barber
  • Glasgow, Scotland
  • 3
  • Owner of Electric Kiwi
  • @ElectricKiwi

My educational background is actually in music – I have a B.A. in Popular Music Performance. I always knew that I wanted to work within the music industry, but until my final year at university, I wasn’t sure in what way. When I did a Promotion & Marketing class, I was able to combine the web design skills that I already had (I had started to teach myself HTML, CSS, and some graphic design at the age of 12.) within the context of music marketing. I started doing some freelance work on the side, and after working with one of my favorite independent artists, I realized that this was definitely what I wanted to do.

It’s funny, because in many ways there is no average workday, but at the same time there is. As I’m mostly a solopreneur, I’m wearing all the hats and taking care of all aspects of the business. My days are split between designing, invoicing, communicating with clients and potential clients via email and Skype, updating my social media profiles, and troubleshooting. So for the most part, I’ll be doing all of these tasks each day, but the order and the amount of time spent on each one varies. I love the variation and I think it really helps to keep things interesting!

I love working with musicians and independent artists – I get so much satisfaction from helping them with their branding and their online presence. It allows me to merge two worlds that I am really passionate about, and there’s nothing that beats the feeling of genuinely enjoying what you do.

I wish I would have known just how important relationships are. You can never underestimate how far a positive business relationship will go. I also wish I had learned that it is okay to say “no” to clients who don’t feel right or who promise you exposure rather than payment – all too often it’s not worth it.

Advice

Learn and enjoy
My advice would be that you have to enjoy it. You have to be willing to put in a lot of work, and you have to be interested in learning all the time since things are always changing. The Internet is such a great resource. I’ve not personally used services like CodeAcademy, Lynda.com, or Udemy, but I often hear good things about them. I think in many ways, the best education comes from experience. It definitely doesn’t hurt to read books and learn from online tutorials or courses, but nothing beats real life experience and putting theory into practice.

Use networks for opportunities
My big suggestion would be to always be on the lookout for opportunities and take the ones that feel right to you. Take advantage of social media – Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can be great places to find potential clients. Ask around; see if any local organizations or businesses need help with their websites. I’m wary of suggesting to do work for free, but in many ways it can be the best way to gain some recommendations and testimonials, which are so important.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Web Designer?

This is another career on our list that does not have a definitive education path. While many recommend formal education, others say that this is not necessary and a portfolio is everything.

The truth is, you have a few options when it comes to becoming a web designer. You can go to university or college and simply get a degree in web design. While this is the obvious choice if you already know that it is what you want your career to be, it is still a good idea to do a lot of self-learning, since you will need an extensive portfolio once you are searching for a job or clients.

You also have the option of studying something else, which can be related or not. For example, good program options could be computer science, arts, design, graphic design, marketing, and business. Having said this, you will need to invest a lot more time in online tutorials and practice hours in order to get all the aspects of web design.

And, of course, you can just choose the DIY path. In this case, it is the obviously cheaper option, but you need to be sure that you have enough self discipline and perseverance to learn online and do a lot of trial and error without external help.

No matter the path you take to become a web designer, you will need to learn some aspects of programming, graphic design, user experience, accessibility and usability, marketing and sales, as well as have a creative spark that will allow you to make websites that are fresh, exciting, and customer-friendly.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE IN WEB DESIGN?

  • Full Sail University
    FSU offers a Web Design & Development program both on their interactive campus in Florida and online. In either case, the program is focused on being hands on and allowing the students to learn in a real-life environment with lots of practice. A semester on campus costs around $14,762 and $8,444 online.
  • Rhode Island School of Design
    If you already have a degree in a related field or have opted for a self-learning path, RISD offers a Web + Interactive Design Certificate as part of their continuing education program. The certificate is focused on both technical aspects of web design and the creation of user-friendly designs.
  • International Academy of Design & Technology
    Offering a program in Web Design & Development, as well as many related degrees and certificates, IADT gives the advantage of its many locations. The specific program is available in Chicago, Tampa, San Antonio, Detroit, Seattle, Sacramento, Orlando, Las Vegas, and online. Tuition varies across the different locations, but on average, the whole program costs around $72,000.
  • Drexel University
    For those looking for a program that offers design for non-traditional media, the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel has just the right curriculum. Interactive Digital Media is specialized in design for mobile devices, teaching the more dynamic types of design, such as touch-based interaction. Tuition is $43,135 per year here.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

So, as you might have already guessed, the most important thing for a web designer to land jobs is his or her portfolio. You can have a degree from the top school in the world, but if no one likes your work, then no one with hire you either.

The question is, how do you get one?

Design your own website. Brand yourself that way. Help your family and friends out by doing websites for them for free, or for a fraction of the price a website would actually cost. Volunteer for non-for-profit organizations and design for them. This will both help you get a portfolio and perfect your work.

On the other hand, you will need to network. And this doesn’t mean just knowing people; it also means that you will always need to be ready to sell yourself. Have your business cards on hand, have screen shots of your websites on your smart phone, and update your portfolio constantly so you can send it right away when someone asks for it.

Building a name in this competitive industry won’t be too easy since there are so many web designers out there, but if you are good, this is a career that holds much opportunities since pretty much everyone nowadays needs a website and soon will need an app. Who knows what other type of platform will be needed in the future!