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How to Become a Web Designer

What is a Web Designer?

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Web Designers create and build websites and web pages by combining any number of visual design elements including text, photos, graphics, animations and videos. A Web Designer could create a brand new website or simply make updates to the design and layout of existing pages.

Web Designers are not primarily responsible for knowing how the code works that underpins their designs — but instead their focus is creating aesthetically pleasing and that users have a positive user experience when they visit the website. Web Designers might use programming languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript, will utilize graphic design software — including products like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and GIMP -- to aid in creating eye-catching design, and they will test their designs through the construction of prototypes and wireframes.

What Are the Job Responsibilities of a Web Designer?

Though the exact responsibilities will vary from job to job, generally speaking most web design roles will have all of the following responsibilities:

  • Conceptualizing creative website ideas for and with clients

  • Designing engaging and responsive website landing pages

  • Employing industry and design best practice through website build process

  • Conducting testing and improving the website design to create the best possible user experience

  • Integrating client CMS programs and data feeds into websites

  • Optimizing sites for maximum speed and scalability

  • Establishing design guidelines, standards, and best practices, potentially in a style guide document

  • Designing visual imagery for websites and ensuring that they are in line with branding for clients

  • Liaising with Back-End Developers or a web development team to ensure web and app logic is properly integrated

  • Ensuring website function and stability across devices i.e. desktop, mobile, tablet

  • Working with marketing and research teams to incorporate brand elements and relevant market research findings into website

  • Communicating design ideas using user flows, process flows, site maps, prototypes and wireframes

  • Incorporating functionalities and features into websites

  • Designing sample pages including colors and fonts

  • Preparing design plans and presenting the website structure

  • Providing internal support and external customer service throughout the build and launch process of the website

Where Do Web Designers Come From?

Web Designers come from a wide range of educational and professional backgrounds, with many people transitioning into web design after starting their careers in web development, graphic design, or another field related to visual design.

To get into web design, you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree. Although having a bachelor’s degree in a field like design, communications or marketing couldn’t hurt, a traditional four-year college degree is unlikely to give you the skills you would need to be employable as in web design.

Instead, most Web Designers working in the field now found other ways to build out their skills. Many opted to attend bootcamps, certification courses or other online web design courses in order to pick up the practical and technical skills necessary to get a job as a Web Designer.

There are also many bootcamps and courses dedicated to similar roles. Web development bootcamps or courses teach students the skills necessary to code in various programming languages, while user experience (UX) design courses would definitely be relevant to building out the skill set of aspiring Web Designers or Developers, since UX design principles are dictating the design of every website or web page being created right now. That will also show employers you're dedicated to continued learning.

Characteristics of an Effective Web Designer

Even web design is a large field, the best Web Designers tend to share a few things in common beyond their skill sets. Here are the top characteristics of an effective Designer:

1. They’re Passionate About Their Portfolios

You might notice that any good Web Designer is going to pour a lot of time, energy and effort into creating the perfect portfolio website.

To succeed as a Web Designer, one needs to have a polished, professional and eye-catching portfolio to showcase the past projects you’re most proud of and show any would-be client or employer that you can spin the same magic for them.

These web design work samples should be varied and show your versatility as a Web Designer. And trim the fat -- a quality over quantity approach is definitely preferred.

2. Good Business Sense

Web Designers, especially when they’re starting out in their career and are therefore more likely to survive on freelance gigs, must have a decent head on their shoulders when it comes to business.

When negotiating with a company over pricing, Web Designers need to know what the competition pricing is and market their services in a competitive way relative to their experience level and location. A good Web Designer also knows how to come up with a realistic budget, pricing and schedule for the services they’re proposing, another element that requires a bit of a head for numbers.

Freelance Web Designers will also have to deal with contracts, something the best designers don’t take lightly. Don’t just glance at the pricing and sign off on anything without being clear on the terms.

3. They’re Organized and Stick to Schedule

The best Web Designers have lost count of how many websites they’ve designed over the course of a career. Over time, they developed clear processes that have been refined again and again. As a result, they can easily identify -- and avoid -- any pitfalls or mistakes ahead of time.

That’s important because time is a crucial aspect of any website project. A good Web Designer needs to supply clients with a document of their website development process to show how they’re going to go about building a website.

Effective Web Designers will also inform stakeholders in advance any time they encounter a problem that could put deadlines in jeopardy. Although one should never miss a deadline, if it doesn’t happen, good Web Designers would be detailed in explaining why they failed to meet their schedule.

4. They’re Flexible

Even as we reference the importance of meeting deadlines, it’s also worth acknowledging that sometimes things come up that no one could have predicted. Whether it’s clients changing their minds about a design feature or the web development team hitting a snag with the back-end of the proposed website, a Web Designer needs to roll with the punches and alter the scope or contents of a web design project on the fly.

Web Designers should be ready, willing and eager to adapt and confront problems should they crop up.

It’s also best for Web Designers to be flexible in the types of tasks they perform. Web design work on a website could eventually span duties Web Designers don’t typically perform -- say, content creation or SEO -- but it’s to everyone’s benefit if one meets those challenges with enthusiasm.

5. They Have Strong Communication Skills

Expert Web Designers will talk to clients in a down-to-earth, jargon-free way to explain the web technologies and design ideas they’re considering.

If Web Designers can’t communicate intricate concepts and terms to clients -- whether in person verbally or in writing over email -- they won’t be trusted to communicate a company message via their design.

Working in web design means interacting with many different professions, most of whom have totally different roles. Handling all of those relationships smoothly is the something all great Web Designers need to learn to do.

6. They Are Open to Ideas

Inevitably, clients or stakeholders are going to have ideas for how they think their company website should look. Sometimes those ideas will be great, and sometimes they won’t be -- but it’s the job of Web Designers to listen and take those ideas into consideration as they continue on with the website.

You never know where the next great design idea could come from. Good Web Designers will also scour the web for inspiration and to explore the latest design trends.

7. They Are Familiar With the Latest Design Tools

New tools are constantly being created, improved or introduced to help make web design easier.

Good Web Designers are committed to constantly exploring the use of these tools to make themselves more efficient and effective. This could mean up-skilling with online courses, workshops or bootcamp courses, or just staying on top of webinars, YouTube tutorials and design blogs that could cover the latest innovations.

These tools often empower Web Designers to focus on big-picture elements of their websites rather than being stuck in the weeds worrying about smaller tasks.

8. They Have a Sense for Design and an Understanding of Their Users

It probably goes without saying that you can’t be a good Web Designer unless you understand design and how to make things visually appealing, not to mention important web design theory principles like color theory, structure and user experience.

UX design, whether it’s in Web Designers' official titles or not, is increasingly an important part of any design job. Web Designers can get inside the shoes of their users and understand what they want and how they will likely move through as they experience the website.

That means that Web Designers must leverage whatever user research and data analysis you have access to so you can make informed decisions about the design and structure of the site.

What Are Some Similar Roles to Web Designers?

There are some positions in tech that share some of the responsibilities of Web Designers, including:

  • User Experience (UX) Designer: It’s the job of a UX Designer to create products that are usable, intuitive and accessible by conducting extensive user research and testing on each aspect of a user’s journey through a website. Usually, the UX design team works as part of a wider product team that also includes Web Developers, Product Managers and data professionals. UX design is about being an advocate for users and improving usability while at the same time trying to use that extensive user research to identify opportunities and support overall business goals. User experience design and web design roles go hand in hand.

  • User Interface (UI) Designer: UI and UX design are commonly confused. User interface design applies UX design principles to a product’s interface (a sitemap, layout or menu for instance). UI design is about how the product’s interfaces look, work and feel. UI Designers are also usually responsible for ensuring products are responsive, accessible and inclusive no matter which browser you're using (even Internet Explorer!), and would also span ideas like interaction design.

  • Front-End Web Developer: Like Web Designers, a Front-End Web Developer works on the client side of websites, but with more of a focus on the code, using a variety of programming languages including JavaScript, HTML and CSS to build websites. In some situations, it might be the responsibility of a Front-End Web Developer to actually implement what Web Designers have created. Again, the lines between the positions blur, because many Web Designers do work regularly with HTML, CSS and JavaScript too, and a Front-End Web Developer would usually have some input on design.

  • Visual Designer: Visual Designers are responsible for the esthetics of the buttons, icons and backgrounds that users see when they visit a site. They also oversee resizing assets for different devices, creating email marketing items, presentation materials, and interactive event materials, and they would typically draft a guide to let others in the organization know about standards for visual elements on the site.

  • Information Architect: Another position focused on website interfaces, Information Architects decide how to arrange the parts of something so that it can be understood. Information architecture is a science of organizing, arranging and structuring content of a website or app, among other things. Information Architects aim at putting content together in such a way that users easily and quickly find what they need.

Who Do Web Designers Work With?

Web Designers generally work as part of a larger product team, so they would work closely with Web Developers, Software Engineers, Product Managers and content creators as they work to design eye-catching products.

It doesn’t stop there, however, as the work of Web Designers would require collaboration with many other departments through a company. Web Designers could work with sales and marketing teams, quality assurance teams as well as executive-level management.

Reasons to Become a Web Designer

If you’re still on the fence about whether web design jobs are right for you or just beginning to consider your job search, here are a few of the best reasons to get into web design.

  • It’s a creative position. Whether you’re most passionate about graphic design, web design or visual design, Web Designers have that rare role that allows you to combine all three and exercise your artistic and creative skills on a daily basis. If you’re detail-oriented and get excited by the sight of a dazzling new design, a web design role would allow you to indulge those artistic impulses and put them to good use designing beautiful web products.

  • Unlimited opportunities for learning. New design tools or updates to existing design tools are hitting the Internet constantly. Sometimes having the right tool makes all the difference, so if you enjoy experimenting with some new program or feature, web design jobs would give you endless chances to do that. And even though Web Designers doesn’t necessarily need to be handy with JavaScript, HTML and CSS, learning new programming languages and how to code is something that could only make you more valuable as a web design professional and it’s something you could do in your spare time either via online tutorials, or through courses and code bootcamp programs.

  • Shape your own career. Web Designers have a choice between working in-house for a large organization, working as part of a team at a design agency that would cater to a roster of clients, or being your own boss and going freelance (a lot of people choose one of the first two career situations while still pursuing a freelance career on the side). If you do go the self-employed route, you could pick which clients you want to work with, set your rates and hours, and hone your business and marketing skills. You would also likely have the option of working from home. Having that kind of control over your career makes all the difference for some people.

  • Work in an industry bursting with opportunity. What business doesn’t need an attractive website? Web Designers and developers remain in high demand and the future outlook looks good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment for Web Designers, included in the larger category of Web Developers, is projected to grow 13 percent through 2026, which is much faster than average for all occupations.

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