Web designer. An exciting and fascinating career for a creative problem-solver like you. Turning text and images into gorgeous sites that customers love to visit and companies are proud to show off.
But just the idea of getting started in web design can be overwhelming. What do you really need to know? Should you learn to code? What tools do you have to have? How about managing clients?
Don’t worry! You can get going in digital design more easily than you can imagine. Just start with these foundational skills and you’ll soon be on your way to an amazing career on the Web.
First, let’s find out about the technical side of what you need to know. All those strange acronyms and terms can seem intimidating, but they’re really pretty easy—and super fun!—once you get to know them.
1. Visual Design
Seems pretty obvious that you need design to be a web designer. But what this includes when it comes to the digital realm might be different than what you expect. In this case, design principles are what sets the look and feel of a site. It ranges from proportions to typography, grid systems to color theory, and it’s your chance to dig into creating mood boards and type hierarchy and experimenting with web fonts and color palettes.
Here come those funny abbreviations! UX stands for user experience, or how people feel (calm, frustrated, etc.) when they use a website. Of course you want the users of your sites to feel as happy as a puppy romping in a field of dandelions!
To do that, you’ll research your users and create “personas” (profiles of imaginary ideal users). You’ll lay out the pages and content with a site map. You’ll figure out the path users take on your site in user flows. For example, do they always click straight through to social media? Or are they just looking for contact information? And you’ll build wireframes to sketch out the key parts of each webpage.
3. Design Software
Like any craftsperson, to do your work, you’ll have to the right tools. And knowing your way around the industry standards will be helpful in any case and critical in many. While designing a site can be done right in a web browser now, tools like Photoshop and Sketch are ones that almost all designers use for important parts of their job like creating mockups, designing assets such as logos and images, and of course modifying and enhancing photos. So, you should get them in your toolbox too.
You might not have imagined that a web designer would need to code. But, nowadays, it’s an expected skill for most design jobs. And, hey, it’s a pretty easy way to get your tech on and actually build websites from scratch! HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, which is the coding language used to put content on a web page and give it structure. That means it’s how you turn a bunch of words into headlines, paragraphs, and footers. And it’s also how you get the “cool” content like photos, videos, and graphics on a website.
And then there’s HTML’s partner, CSS or Cascading Style Sheets. CSS is the code that tells browsers how to format and style HTML for a web page. In other words, it’s what makes all the text and other content look good. With CSS, you can adjust the colors, change the fonts, or add a stunning background – and so much more! This is where your eye for design really shines and how you can put your creative stamp on every site you create.
Now that you have the design and tech part down, you only need to add some management to keep yourself organized and effective in your web design work.
6. Time Management
Whether you go freelance or work for a company, you’ll need to stay on top of your schedule and your projects to be a standout web designer. This can mean getting to know productivity apps like task lists or calendars or, especially if you’re in a large organization, learning project tracking tools like Trello or JIRA. Whatever the tools, mastering the art of prioritizing and tracking your work will be essential for your success (and sanity!) in the busy world of web design.
Staying in touch and getting your point across are also must-have skills for a designer. You’ll be keeping clients up-to-date on the progress of their projects plus pitching ideas and explaining your creations. And you might even be called on to do some copywriting or editing for sites, especially if you’re running your own one (wo)man shop. So, buckle down on your writing and your speaking, and you’ll be sure to get your point across in every situation.
8. SEO / Marketing / Social Media
The skill set of SEO (search engine optimization), marketing, and social media might seem like it’s meant more for a salesperson than a web designer. But, since the Internet is the way so many companies sell today and since you’ll also need to sell your web designer talents (when you’re looking for a job or for freelance clients), you should wrap your head around them, too. Even knowing the basics of each and keeping them in mind for both client and your own sites will get you a long way in your web designer journey.
9. Business / Client Management
And, as an employee or as a freelancer, understanding the bottom line will help you make sure you or your company is profitable and sustainable. You don’t have to go back for your MBA, but you should have an idea about the goals and finances of your employer or your own business so you can use them to guide your work. And, if you’re designing directly for clients, you should have a plan for making sure that your cash flow and project backlog are both healthy and doable in the short and long term.
As you can see, there’s nothing mysterious or mind-blowing about the skills you need to be a web designer. A foundation in the tech side and a good handle on the organizational parts will both get you going and be there for you as you build your knowledge and your career in web design.