How To Become a Web Designer

So you want to be a web designer, eh? A good web designer must know a lot about the business they are working with and combine that knowledge with technical development, written communication and graphic design. You also need a working knowledge about business & marketing. It is a communication industry. reat communication, you will make terrible websites. Keep in mind that anybody can build a website, but there is a big difference between amatuers and professionals. This will teach you an overview of what it takes to be a professional and give you a foot-hold on what you will need to learn.

Web Design a communication industry with constant learning

Be ready learn constantly and apply what you have learned as the web evolves. Being a web designer is not just about choosing pretty colors and doing HTML coding. Web design is a field that is often looked at as "anybody can do it." This is simply not the case. A DIY person who has built a couple websites calling themselves a web designer is like a person who built a shed in their backyard and now calls themself a civil engineer. Sure both built something, maybe even designed it, but there is an enormous difference between the two.

The right tools for the job

There is some debate over exactly what tools you will need as a web designer. The ones listed here are the ones I know you need by working in the web design industry for over 12 years. These tools and languages are essential. You need to learn these before you move onto anything else.

Some basic tools & technology to help you get started:
  • Responsive HTML design with <div's> and CSS stylesheets
  • Adobe Fireworks and/or Photoshop
  • Javascript - modifying and writing Jquery scripts
  • PHP if you are mathematical
  • At least one content management system such as Wordpress or Expression Engine. FTP based content management systems can also be very effective for many businesses.

Learn project management

To be a good web designer you need to know how to manage a lot of different information at one time. Lots of web designers manage multiple projects at one time. That can be lots of different project with lots of different information. If you think that you can do this by just remembering, chances are you will forget and miss all kinds of details. This will result in more organized people getting very frustrated with you. A happy web designer has happy customers. So, to be a happy web designer you will want to be very organized with the way you work. At the least you need to set milestones for your projects and make to-do lists. There are various project management software variation available. I suggest using a simple system like basecamp. Gmail also has a task and calendar functionality.

Understand Information Architecture Design & Writing

Web designers really need to know how to communicate effectively. Going into a business and knowing what the pages are even going to be is really important to making a good website. If you do a bad job at designing the information architecture of the site, it doesn't matter how pretty it is, the site will not be very effective for the person you are building it for.

Writing good content is something that really comes in handy when you are designing a website. A good design is one that is functional for the message being conveyed. If you don't understand how to communicate a good message, then you won't be a good web designer when it comes down to quantifying the results of your work.

Moving forward after being educated on the fundamentals

Once you have a basic understanding of information architecture design, writing, design and the basic web languages, then you can get going building some actual business websites.

Create a website for your services or a business idea

It's not a good idea to do your first web design project for somebody else. There are many things you will learn along the way and you don't want to have a negative impact on someone's business while you are learning. You wouldn't jump into a deep and fast moving river if you don't know how to swim would you? Start by making a simple website that has a few pages such as a bio page, a resume page, and a contact page. Graphic design is an aspect of web development that separates what most people deem as the level of quality. Design is like writing. If you want to be good at it, you need to do it every day.

Do a few projects for little or no money to gain experience and start a portfolio

Web design can be a lucrative career for those who are good at it. Do some work for friends with businesses that are really small, but have a good chance of staying in business. Why? Because you want to keep them as a customer and if they are not able to stay in business for years on their own, then you can't keep them as a customer regardless of how awesome your work is! It's a lot cheaper to keep a customer than it is to get a new one.,,just about every business school teaches this. Doing these small website projects will not only give you chance to hone your skills and allows you to build your design portfolio that will be your primary means of selling your services throughout your career. Keep in mind, that this applies to whether you are a freelancer or working for a company full-time. If you are doing work for tiny start-ups, and chances are you will be, you can still keep copies of the website to use in your portfolio. At the least, keep a screenshot. 90% of start-up business go under in the first 6 months. It takes a lot more than enthusiasm to keep a business profitable and running.

Constantly expand your skills to new technologies

Learn HTML5 and CSS. Sharpen your jquery skills. It helps if you decide within your first couple years whether or not you want to be a front-end web designer or a back-end developer. There is a pretty big difference between the two and most companies have these separated into two departments. Some web designers can do both, but it is very uncommon to find someone that is actually really good at both back-end and front-end development. If you are better with design, then you should probably consider being a front-end developer. Most brochure style websites are built by front-end developers and most websites under $5,000 are primarily front-end development, writing and design projects. Front-end development will give you a good foundation on how to build usable interfaces; one of the things that many software applications could use improvement upon. If you are going to do back-end development with languages like PHP, C#, C++, Ruby on Rails, ASP or other similar languages, then you will have a better chance at getting some of the higher paying jobs. Building custom software applications usually require large budgets of $10,000 to $100,000+. Because these budgets are much higher, they are also more competitive and there is a lot more to lose if you screw something up. If you are just starting out, you can and will mess up sometimes. The less money that is involved, the less damage will be done. The last thing you want is a lawsuit on your hands at the beginning of your career.

Continue to build your portfolio

Always keep this going! There are a lot of web designers out there. If you don't continually build a solid portfolio, you will have a difficult competing against other web designers for work...particularly anything that involves design. Even if you already have a good portfolio, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is going to be relevant in 3 years, 5 years or 10 years. Keep on keepin' on!

Decide whether you want to focus on freelance or get a regular job

This is a difficult cross-roads for some people. Either choose to get a job at an established company or go out on your own and enjoy the freedoms of freelancing. They both have their pros and cons. You simply have to level with yourself and figure out if you can support yourself independant from a day job. Many people choose to work for another company and freelance on the side until they build up a good client base. This is usually a good idea if you are in your first couple years in web design, but beware! If you have intentions of web design freelancing, it is important to remember that the skills and methods that you develop while working for another company will only be as good as that company itself.

About Freelancing

Make sure your design portfolio is rock-solid and be certain that you have what it takes to sell yourself. Many people have a hard time with this, particularly at first. Also, hire a lawyer and an accountant. Don't make the mistake of trying to do everything yourself. Many small business owners make the mistake of trying to do everything themselves instead of focusing on what actually makes them money. It might seem like an investment at first, but if you are not able to get the legal and financial aspect of your independant business venture in line, you probably are not actually ready to freelance or start your own web design firm.

Making contracts for your projects is extremely important. They are good for both parties. Always be weary of someone who is not willing to sign a simple contract. This is a red flag and you will probably get screwed by that person even if they originally have good intentions. A good contract should contain at least the general specifications of the work that will be done. You should not leave yourself open to working an infinite number of hours and you should always leave both parties an option to make a clean break if you should choose to discontinue working together.

If you get a day job...
Get a degree and/or certifications if possible. You can be discriminated right off the bat from some jobs if you do not do this, particularly large companies. There will still be other jobs that you might be able to find. Some of the best website programmers in the world never finished college. They do however make up for it by knowing exactly what they are doing. Many employers, particularly the best paying ones have tests that they will give you to make sure you know your stuff. If you are applying for a front-end development job, many companies will test you on your knowledge of HTML5, CSS3 and javascript. Once again, you really need to know these languages really well and have a rock solid understanding of the fundamentals on a hand-coding level. These tests are designed to weed out the pretenders so don't think that you can just study the night before and be able to fool them.

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