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Getting Started in Web Design

A web designer needs a keen eye for aesthetics, an understanding of creative techniques, and concise design skills, along with a strong a foundation in the most recent technology of the web. The best web designers know that good web design is nearly unperceivable and feels intuitive to the user. A designer’s job is to make websites and mobile applications appealing to the target audience and a pleasure to use. Knowing this, it makes sense for beginners to focus on the fundamentals, including basic drawing, web design theory, and industry-accepted best practices.

Basic Drawing

Though drawing is not critical for most of the web designer’s job, there is an element of illustration that is needed to express your ideas to clients and peers. Most graphic designers and web designers need to be capable of drawing graphs and grids to help clarify their layout plans. A designer should have a basic concept of drawing shapes, shading sections, roughing out menus, incorporating basic logos and more in their initial design process.

Web Design Theory

Most websites are not merely pages connected together with content thrown onto them. Good websites follow a strict theory of design, appeal, navigational rules and coding. Those that are going to perform at a top level are going to be specifically designed for a certain target audience and increase actions established as goals for the company. Web designers have to understand the ever-changing demands of technology and platforms that constantly affect the user experience.

Many clients want a lot of elements to “pop” on their page, not understanding that design has to be effortless in appearance and cohesive. A basic understanding of the principles of good design is the foundation for creating beautiful websites. You must learn to adjust adjacent colors to add contrast, create depth with texture, incorporate movement, and use repeating shapes, patterns, and borders to unify your design. Fonts have to be easy to read on a computer or a device, while keeping with the feel of the brand. Important elements have to grab attention without disrupting the design.

Layout and Structuring

Building a website takes a good understanding of structure. Websites shouldn’t be basic stagnant pages filled with content that stand for years, but an ever-changing part of a company’s virtual presence. As the company changes, the webpage will need to reflect that. From ecommerce security to the shifting requirements of search engine optimization, web designers have to understand what makes a page appealing to users from start to finish. Websites need to be secure from hackers, while open to helping search engine bots understand what their value is so they improve rankings. Pages need to connect in a way that moves a visitor through their buyer’s journey in an effective way. Websites need to have the right number of outgoing links, inbound links and buttons without directing users down a rabbit trail. And, after all of that, each page also has to have a structure that makes navigation intuitive for the user and branded for the client.

User Experience

A good user experience design will make visitors stay on your site. A bad one will make them go to someone else’s. An understanding of UX design principles will make your site behave in a way that users want and expect. Designers have to make sure pages load quickly and are responsive towards different devices and computer screen sizes. Users should be required to jump through as few hoops as possible, so designers should understand how to create intelligent forms that don’t ask for information they already have stored and how to create streamlined checkout processes. And, when users are looking for a specific location, product or bit of information on the site, finding things should be nearly second nature because of the design.

Website Design Best Practices

Websites have to be structured in a way that makes them friendly for users as well as search engine bots. As target users look for specific answers to their questions, your website needs to have the right pages to rank high in the search results for relevant keywords and queries. Best practices will tell you that you have to worry about producing quality content on the subject as well as including alt tags on photos and carefully crafted subheads to help increase your rankings with search engines. Understanding the current best practices of web design will help you know what your visitors and other platform algorithms are going to expect.

Metrics and Analysis

Finally, you have to be able to critique your own work as a web designer and improve with every effort. Your clients should be able to see unquestionable ROI (return on investment) when you create their websites. By learning how to utilize key metrics and measure your results, you can help build a case for whether or not specific areas of your website strategy were successful. These metrics will then help you built a pitch to improve their results by continuing some approaches while changing others.

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Master Web Design Software

In every industry, becoming fluent with the key tools is the difference between success and failure. You cannot enter the web design world without knowing the basic programs that are going to impact your career. You should become very familiar with the capabilities and shortcuts available on each program. A great web designer will be fast and effective, using these key programs as if they were simply second nature.

Adobe Photoshop

The best program for editing specific images is Adobe Photoshop. While you may not be doing a lot of stylistic photo editing for clients, you should understand the basics. More importantly, a web designer should know how to properly resize and compress images to be suitable for web viewing. Professionals should know how to crop an image to properly fit within specific spaces in the design. You might even need to change file formats to better suit your needs. Photoshop is going to offer control over raster based images (or images with pixels, like photographs). It will allow you to include slices and add hotspots for your website.

Adobe Illustrator

You will want to be able to use a program that is great with font and vector images (or line-based art that contains no pixels). If you want to use a specific font on a website, for example, you can’t simply put it in the code, since many computers may not have that same font downloaded. Instead, you need to create an image that can be placed as a graphic within the design so every user will see it the same way. You may need to adjust logo colors or create custom button graphics for your client, so knowing how to use Illustrator is very important.

Adobe Animate

Most web designers have been trained on Adobe Flash for website purposes. Adobe discontinued Flash and replaced it with a similar tool in Creative Cloud called Animate. This program allows user to turn vector images and text into animations. This is incredibly useful for increasing engagement in websites and apps.

Adobe Dreamweaver

Of course, web designers should understand how to actually write and edit code. Dreamweaver is a text editor that has tools to help you edit your code faster. Hints within the program will help you learn HTML, CSS and other languages faster. Special coloring and visual aids can help reduce errors. Live preview capabilities and inline editors help make editing efficient on the platform, while also helping you as you create responsive designs that fit your content correctly on any size screen.

Premiere Pro

Many websites are now incorporating video as part of their content. Web designers are often expected to help create video testimonials, product showcasing, tutorials, advertisements and other short clips that help the client. At least a basic grasp of video editing and manipulation will be helpful when you are including client content on the site.

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Learn the Programming Languages

It is going to be difficult to work in the web development industry without knowing any of the programming languages. You will struggle to know the possibilities when you work strictly through programs. Here are the big languages used by web developers and you may want to consider learning one or two in your own educational pursuits.

HTML/CSS

Some of the highest paid web developers are those that know HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). These are the basic languages that will not only help you know how to code, but how to edit code. Typically, HTML establishes the structure and content of the page, while CSS is what controls the design. Even developers that use programs to help them code should understand at least the basics if they want to really get in and make edits or find errors. Many professionals do not learn these languages, but they should be central to the education of a web developer because of how fundamental they are.

JavaScript

As one of the most in-demand programming languages, it is important for designers to know JavaScript. It’s ability to work across multiple web browsers is highly important for interactive websites. This programming language can be used to create games and apps.

Flash

Flash is also an interactive language that is often used for games, apps, animations and more. Flash is not required to be a web designer, but it is another tool you may want to have up your sleeve. In some circles, Flash is considered a dead or dying language. Flash is known for crashing sometimes and taking the whole browser down with it, annoying many people. A lot of the flashing web ads are also Flash banners, which hasn’t given it a good reputation as a strong programming language.

Python

Many designers consider Python a beginner’s language. However, Google, NASA, Instagram and Pinterest all rely on this language to work their platforms. The language is capable of working with desktop as well as mobile devices.

PHP

Websites like Facebook, WordPress and others are powered by PHP. Not all web developers need to know PHP, but those that want to develop anything on WordPress or Facebook will have to know it. This is not a beginner language, so only advanced students and professionals might take an interested in learning it.

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Earn a Degree in Web Design

The best way to prove your knowledge is to earn your degree and back it with a strong portfolio. Most businesses are more likely to hire you if they feel you are up to the task – college shows you at least have the basic education to use the tools properly. On top of mastering basic tools and programming languages, college classes should give you and in-depth understanding of design theory, audience expectations and best practices as you look to enter the field. College should ensure you have a basic understanding of writing and communications skills that would allow you to work professionally the clients and fellow designer. While a lot of information can be found online, the experience of college profs, competition among peers and intense project deadlines are a large part of helping a novice become ready for the professional world.

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Create Your Own Website

Make a virtual presence for yourself as a professional. You want to show you are not only skilled, but start establishing your content and pages now. Google is more likely to rank your site as valuable and authoritative if you’ve been around for a while and updating content regularly. A professional website is a place where clients can contact you for work and firms can check out your chops before choosing to interview you for more.

Every single project you work on – even those for yourself – should be treated with equal care. You want to create stunning work that catches the eye of your potential employer. This means that you have to carefully test your own website – checking load times, looking at responsiveness, trying out personalization and testing navigation. If you are sending clients there and hoping to snag new leads, you definitely don’t want to have any flaws or problems that are sending your viewers away. Don’t even launch before you’ve thoroughly tested.

You want to feature clients or projects you’ve worked on that show a range of your capabilities. Utilize a portfolio section of your website to highlight companies, organizational or professionals that you’ve designed for. Include your very top pieces and if you don’t have many (or any), reach out. There are plenty of small organizations that could benefit greatly with some volunteer web design help. Your broad range of skills should showcase the mediums, platforms, design theory and varying client styles with examples of what you can do.

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Begin Your Career

A career path is the ultimate goal for any educational process. You need to keep your eye on the prize and leave your education with a degree and a hunger for your industry. You will have decisions to make along the way that will help you know which way to turn as you exit. You will want to continue to improve and make yourself and invaluable asset.

Freelance or Work for an Agency?

Before graduation, you should at least have an idea for what direction you want to head in. A large agency can offer the comfort of regular clients, regular paychecks and a supportive system. Working freelance can offer higher pay, provide you with flexible hours and allow you to work remotely. Making a decision on your direction will help you refine your own website and portfolio to appeal to the right people. Clients are going to want to see other client examples and know a bit more about the actual process of working with you. Web design firms are going to be looking at your past work in a different light and wanting to see a lot of examples of your abilities that might be needed on their own team.

Learn How to Sell Yourself: Build a Brand

If you are going the freelance route, you will want to sell yourself to clients. Find what sets you apart and capitalize on that. Maybe you are more relational, helping the client get where they need to go at a slower and more personal pace. Maybe you are more flexible – fitting your schedule to meet their posting or creation needs. Perhaps you are more agile or you work at a lower budget for quality work. Whatever the case, find a way to sell yourself as the best option.
Market Yourself

Clients aren’t going to just come pouring in. You are going to have to get the word out and then keep pulling in the business. Look for ongoing gigs where companies want you to continue to post or make edits on their site, giving you a small monthly fee to keep up with certain aspects. Push word-of-mouth and ratings on your platforms to boost interest of those connected to your customers. Target your audience with ads and then retarget those who leave without a commitment of any kind (like signing up for your newsletter). Stay in touch with an email that is centered around value your customers will want and produce blog posts, pod casts, tutorials or other content that will show you as an authority. You might want to look into additional marketing classes if you are thinking about becoming a freelancer, since so much time is spent in finding and converting leads.

Keep Learning and Constantly Evolve

Web design is a field in constant development. Web designers will be in a permanent state of evolving. Don’t ever let things start passing you by, unless you are retired and done with following the industry. Continue to critique your own approaches and educate yourself on the trends. You can join peer groups if you are freelance and feeling somewhat isolated. You can also read blog pots and other resources from authoritative sites to help you learn about how the world is changing.

Remember that your first jobs are about gaining experience and contacts. The money is important, but when you are getting started, the foundation of referrals and experiences is most important. Many professionals that are just graduating start out in a lower position or making less per hour freelance then is industry standard. Don’t feel disappointment when you don’t start right at the top; plan to move up the ladder with a great work ethic and solid understanding of your field.

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