Web Worker Careers: Web Design

XHTMLYou wouldn’t be reading this post if it weren’t for web designers. It’s web designers who help make it possible for us to have the best and easiest web experience possible. Web design is a large and growing field; despite the downturn, Dice.com currently lists nearly 1,000 vacancies for web designers. Demand for skilled web designers is only likely to increase in the future.

Could becoming a web designer be a good career move for you?

Web Design Career

Web design is not the same as web development. Web designers focus on visuals, typography, colors, layouts and other important design considerations. Their technical expertise usually consists of mainly HTML, XHTML and CSS along with one or two programming languages like JavaScript and PHP for adding interactive features. Web developers concentrate on web site function and programming, rather than design and the interface.

Once upon a time, web designers could do it all. All they needed to build an entire site was to know was some HTML and possibly a little JavaScript. In the last few years, though, the web site-building process has become more complicated and has evolved to include more technologies and techniques, including  CSS, AJAX, Java, PHP, Ruby on Rails, ASP.NET, information architecture, search engine optimization (SEO), usability and user experience. This long list makes it impossible for anyone to know it all and do it well. Designers like Jon Phillips from Spyre Studios know this and hire freelancers with specific skills to help out with their projects.

Matt Brown of thingsthatarebrown does design consulting and full-scale site development and deployment. However, as a small design shop he finds that the best use of his time and resources is focusing on design projects. “In a given day I tend to manage 2-5 projects (of various sizes) concurrently, and I’ll usually do a little work for each one during the course of the day,” he says. “This keeps me fresh and not too ‘over-focused’ on any one client project.”

How to Qualify

Do you know how to do HTML and CSS, but have no portfolio to speak of beyond your own web site? Do what Reese Spykerman of Design by Reese did. She asked, “Hey, who wants a free design for their personal blog?” Offer to design a web site for friends and family. Few designers majored in anything related to design in college. Most learn through reading and studying various online resources, and also by examining the code for web sites they like. A few take design classes at a local school or online. Jon Phillips makes time to learn new tricks and experiment with web design techniques.

This field is still very young, which is why those doing web design today typically don’t have degrees or certification in the field. However, new and wannabe designers have more opportunities than ever to get a formal design education as colleges and universities are increasingly adding design programs, such as the School of Visual Arts, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in graphic design, illustration, photography and more. Matt Brown recommends interning with design agencies to learn how to work with clients and gain experience in working with the latest tools and technology.

Web Design Tools

Photoshop, of course, is in most web designers’ toolbox, along with Fireworks and Illustrator. They love Firefox’s Web Developer Toolbar Extension for editing and testing the site and its CSS. Designers often use a text editor like Textpad, TextMate or TextWrangler for hand-coding because WYSIWYG editors, like Dreamweaver, add a mess of unneeded code that weighs down the page. Besides design tools, many designers rely on business apps like FreshBooks for invoicing, Harvest for time tracking and Basecamp for project management.

Geography doesn’t tie down web designers. Reese Spykerman, who’s located in Malaysia but has most of her clients in the U.S., communicates with clients through email, telephone and conference calls.

Find Clients

Word-of-mouth marketing takes the lead in helping designers find gigs. Jon Phillips reported that over 40 percent of his clients found him through Twitter, but they also find him through his blog and referrals.

Are you considering a career in design?

Image from T. Al Nakib.

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