So you want to become a web designer? Why not! This creative occupation means you’ll be working at the intersection of cutting-edge technology, user experience design, and the latest trends in marketing.
Web design is an exciting and in-demand career in the 21st century. It can also pay well, but you’ll find that it takes considerable work experience and a good portfolio of clients to start seeing significant income.
The road to becoming a web designer can take a lot of twists and turns. As such, you may not know where to turn to figure out the best and most efficient way to arrive at your chosen career.
Should you learn to code, in earnest? Will watching many of the abundant educational videos on web design widely available on the Internet be sufficient enough to empower you to become gainfully employed as a web designer, or should you really make a huge commitment by getting a formal education in web design?
With so many questions at hand for one of the hottest careers and jobs in the 21st century, we’ve decided to put together the step-by-step walkthrough of what you’ll have to do to become a web designer.
Step 1: Decide What Type of Designer You Want to Be
This is key, right off the bat, as not all designers always do the same things or have the same skillset. I’ll explain. You see, some designers can code (HTML and CSS), and some cannot. The debate over which type of designer is “better” is one that’s been going on for several years.
When you really understand, though, what the role of each type of designer is and what he or she can still accomplish, you begin to quickly understand that it’s not so much a question of who’s better, as it is the reality of using different paths.
The Importance of Knowing How to Code
As a designer, you’ll be working with developers and engineers on sites and on the user-experience process. Knowing code empowers you to communicate with these developers (who are usually working on the back-end of the site) much more clearly. In other words, you can speak their language, so there’s little room for costly misunderstandings!
Knowing how coding works means you’ll also be able to form a much more accurate idea of whether or not your design will be technically feasible on a site or app.
The superb thing about website templates, however, is that web designers can create entire sites from them regardless of whether they know to code from scratch or not. If your knowledge of code is limited, you can still customize a template’s layouts to achieve the end result you want.
Check out some of our Creative Market website templates for your own design projects:
So now that you know that you’ll have to first hash out how much expertise you want to amass as a designer, you can move on to step 2.
Step 2: Get an Education
The thing about this line of work is that a formal education helps, but it’s not absolutely necessary. What’s more important is being dedicated to constantly learning and knowing how to use the latest tools to make yourself an in-demand and highly skilled designer.
If you want to go the formal route, there are specific degrees in web design and development that you can strive for. There are a number of places of higher learning that offer these programs. Some examples are:
- Full Sail University – Web Design & Development Bachelor’s Degree
- Drexel University – Web Development Courses
- Academy of Art University – Web Design & New Media Undergraduate Degree Programs
- Colorado Technical University – Bachelor of Science in Information Technology – Web Development
Of course, don’t think for a second that getting a good education will automatically make you an in-demand and well-paid web designer—you’ve got to market yourself first or get hired by a top design agency, but more on that later.
You can also go the informal route, which involves self-education. The web is replete with an amazing cornucopia of web-design educational material that’s just waiting for you to absorb it! Here are some high-quality resources on the Internet to help you learn web design:
- Team Treehouse – Learn Web Design: Guided HTML, CSS & Design Courses
- Code Academy – HTML & CSS
- Shay Howe – Learn to Code HTML & CSS – Beginner and Advance
- HTML Essential Training – Lynda.com
- HTML5 Training Bundle Course Training Video – Infinite Skills
- Web Design Courses – Coursera
- Web Design Courses: Build Websites for Yourself or Clients – Udemy
These courses are either paid or free, and they’re all exceptionally immersive and deep. That just goes to show you the amount of self-learning that’s available on the web for those who are motivated. Of course, even if you’ve taken formal classes and have a degree in web design, you can always continue improving yourself—making your services and brand that much more indispensable to your clients—by studying with these online resources.
Step 3: Learn to Use the Best Tools
You’ll need to develop a skillful proficiency in utilizing the latest tools in your design work, if you want to become a top-notch professional. These tools not only allow you to work as a web designer, but they also tell your leads and clients that you’re a pro and know the way around your industry.
Tools to design web elements
For starters, using Adobe’s suite of tools is a must. To succeed at web design, you’ll need to learn how to efficiently use tools like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. These two programs are essential for your work with graphic design.
Here are some stellar resources to help you learn to use Photoshop:
- Photoshop Tutorials – Learn How to Use Photoshop CC
- Photoshop Tutorials – YouTube
- Photoshop Tutorials.ws
- 700+ Free Photoshop Tutorials for Beginners & Pros
Here are some stellar resources to help you learn to use Illustrator:
- Illustrator Tutorials – Learn How to Use Illustrator CC
- 100 Amazing Adobe Illustrator Tutorials
- Illustrator – Online Courses, Classes, Training, Tutorials on Lynda
- 42 Best Illustrator Tutorials
Tools to work with code
Now, while these are the two, core tools to help you design visual elements for the web, there are also others that facilitate code building.
- GitHub – Useful for version control and web design management and collaboration
- Pattern Lab – Allows web designers to design with dynamic data
- Vivaldi Browser – The most customizable browser out there for power users (read: serious designers)
- Sketch App – Tool for faster and more accessible web design
Once you start working on actual projects, you’ll find that selecting a great code editor is an essential decision. If you’re not using a website builder or Content Management System like WordPress, but working on raw code, these are some outstanding code editors:
In a nutshell, knowing how to use these tools—primarily the Adobe software—will make your life as a web designer that much easier. Besides this pragmatic advantage, these tools will also tell people you work with that you’re a designer whose knowledge level and skill are deep, which should make your services more marketable.
If you’re going to use a site builder such as Adobe Muse, though, Creative Market has a whole range of templates that are compatible and editable with Muse:
Step 4: Become Versatile in Your Skills
Part of being an in-demand and successful web designer is being able to do more than just design and build sites for your clients. Web design also relates intimately to being able to write well (all that web copy on sites), understand SEO well, and at least know the basics of marketing (since sites are businesses’ primary lead-generation tools).
When you have a more fleshed-out background like this, you can take your know-how of SEO and marketing to make the site you create for your clients all the more user-friendly and featuring a great user experience.
For example, if you understand the basics of marketing well, you can design a site that includes:
- A big headline, tagline and explanation of your client’s product or service
- A minimalist design that uses popular design trends like flat
- Fast performance in terms of page loading
When you do this, you design a site that not only looks aesthetic and functions excellently, but also does much better for your client regarding driving traffic and, therefore, leads to the new site.
Being a more well-rounded web designer doesn’t only enable you to tackle more projects, but it also makes you more marketable.
Becoming at least basically familiar with SEO and digital marketing to complement your web-design skills is easy because there are lots of resources on the web to help you learn. Here’s a sampling of some of the best:
- SEO: The Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization – Moz
- The Advanced Guide to SEO – QuickSprout
- Search Engine Land’s Guide to SEO – Search Engine Land
- SEO: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners – Kissmetrics
- The Complete Beginner’s Guide to SEO – Buffer
Step 5: Decide Where You Want to Work
You’ll generally work in one of two environments as a web designer: as part of an agency or company, or for yourself, as a freelance web designer. Whichever path you choose, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re getting yourself into in either case.
If you work in-house for an agency or a company, the big benefit is that you won’t have to constantly hunt for new clients all on your own or network all that much. You’ll be part of a team that has specific projects that have to get through the pipeline, and you’ll work on those when at work. You’ll also enjoy the support and camaraderie of an entire team (read: engineers, developers, marketing people, other designers, etc.), which can help when it comes to staying on track and accountable, not to mention with morale. There’ll also be opportunities for enjoyable travel and company events.
Then, there’s the solitary route, which is going into business for yourself as a freelance web designer. Note that, sometimes, you don’t always have the choice to freely make on your own since your circumstances can dictate which path you choose. For instance, if you’re not getting hired by a design firm or don’t like the environment of working for someone else as part of a team, then you’ll have to go into business for yourself.
When you’re a freelance web designer, you enjoy independence and the responsibility and fun of running your own business. You decide what projects you want to work on, but also remember that you have to find your own clients, which means networking and advertising yourself. This means setting up your own design website and/or portfolio, in addition to showing off your work on design sites like Behance. Since you’re not part of an agency, work won’t automatically find you; you have to go out and seek it!
If this professional lifestyle is appealing to you, then you have what it takes to go out on your own. Remember, though, that it’s not always easy starting out on your own, as it takes time to build up your own portfolio, gain experience, and network to get the word out about your services. That’s why some web designers first start as in-house designers with agencies or companies and then, after a few years of experience in that environment, go to freelance. At this point, you’ll have more industry contacts, experience, and a decent network from which to draw on for future opportunities.
When you’re a solopreneur, though, always keep in mind that you have to understand the basics of running and operating a business, too.
Here are some excellent resources on the fundamentals of doing that:
- 8 Tips for Running a Successful Online Business – Entrepreneur
- 5 Tips for Running a Successful Business – Success
- 9 Tips for Growing a Successful Business – Investopedia
- 10 Essential Tips for Running Your Business Better – Small Biz Trends
A Lot of Determination and Work, but A Lot of Reward
In your journey of how to become a web designer, you’ll find that it’s not going to be smooth sailing. Before you get to the point where you can either be regularly working for a great design firm or running your own successful web-design service, you’ll have to map out your roadmap for this goal and then pursue it with confidence.
Web design is a field that requires you to have a lot of know-how. It’s important to note that it doesn’t necessarily have to be formal education — given the sheer wealth of design-related courses and tutorials on the web—but your understanding of all things design needs to be rock-solid.
Then, there’s also the auxiliary know-how that you need to, at the very least, be familiar with. This includes the more marketing-oriented side of things, which includes the basics of SEO and marketing in the 21st century today. When you educate yourself to develop an even rudimentary understanding of these two topics, you boost your career and your viability as a web designer since you come across to clients as more useful.
In short, it takes more than an eye and an appreciation for design to make it as a web designer.
When you do make it, though, you’ll enjoy working in an industry that’s very rewarding, as you’re helping to build the Internet for various clients by establishing their web presence. The more experience and clients you add to your portfolio, the more money you’ll also make, but don’t expect this in your first few years.
For some additional inspiration on the path to your web-design goals, look through our collection of assorted, ready-to-use web-design themes:
- Oleander – A Blog and Shop Theme
- Biz Lady WordPress Theme
- Coastal – A Multipurpose Theme
- Architekt – WP Business Theme
- Zircon II
- Arvios – Multipurpose Theme
- Negation – Responsive HTML5 Template
- Bootstrap Starter Kit – Web Edition
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