If you're interested in becoming a professional web designer, there are a range of things you need to consider. Including what avenue you want to pursue, and whether you want to work freelance or as part of a company.
So how do you get a career in web design?
Design and development
Essentially you can break website work into two areas: design and development.
Web designers may also refer to themselves as graphic designers and some will have crossed over form traditional print and magazines design. Indeed many of the skills are the same, but you need to be able to understand how to design for a very different environment when working online.
To be a web designer you will need to understand what makes a good user interface for a website and how to incoporate the various essential elements of a web page into a relatively small space. You will also need to be fully competent in various design packages, typically this work is done in programs such as Flash, Fireworks and Photoshop.
Although many web designers will also understand how to create a live web page, plenty stay purely in the realm of visual design and don’t get into the coding side.
To freelance or not to freelance?
A large number of people in this area now work freelance. Many find that working for a company just doesn’t strike the right balance between give them the level of challenge they need to stretch their skills and simply overwhelming them. Working freelance means a freedom to decide the types of projects you do and don’t want to take on. You can also decide how much of your time you want to dedicate to learning new skills and keeping yourself competitive – most full time employees will struggle to do this.
As for qualifications, many colleges and Universities now offer multimedia courses and degrees where you can learn about many of the disciplines required to make a competent web designer. Unfortunately this is also a very popular and competitive environment and you’ll often find yourself needing to work from the bottom up.
David Matthews, commercial director of web design agency Bopgun, explains how he got where he is today. “I started from the bottom, working in a small print shop and training on the job with another designer. From there I moved on to working at a large publisher, this taught me to work with a multitude of clients from small ones to blue-chip, and how to work with internal teams, too.
“Although multimedia courses are all over the place today, with computer graphics its very hard to find a qualification that suits the real world environment. My biggest skills have been learned on the job. However, a basic understanding of the technology and design concepts will really help.”
Good and bad
So, what are the best and worst things about the job? “I really love the creative side of it - looking at a problem and trying to come up with solutions and ideas to promote the product or service,” says David. “One of the worst things can be working with clients that don't have the vision that you have. Everything these days needs to incorporate return on investment, but it still needs to grab your attention.”
David offers some sound advice for people wanting to come into the industry: “Experience is key, look around you and use the network that you have (friends or family) and see what they do day in day out. Shadow them in their roles, see what excites you about the different elements of business and follow that. Networks are very important, use the people around you to help you find an entry point.
“Essentially, it all comes down to what interests you - if you have the passion then it will take you a long way. Gain the experience from other people or from doing things in your own time.”