Thinking of becoming a web designer?
Do you often find yourself thinking that you could make a better job at designing some of the websites you visit? Or perhaps you already have your own blog or personal website, and found you enjoyed the design and build process more than you expected.
If so, and you have an eye for detail, a flair for creative design and aren’t afraid of technical language, then web design may be the ideal career choice for you.
You may have already decided that you would like to learn how to become a website designer, but are feeling overwhelmed and have no idea where to start.
Or you may only be considering whether web design is indeed the right career path for you, in which case you will likely have a myriad questions. Do you need a degree to be a web designer? How to start a web design career? Should you learn to code? What tools do you need? Are web designers currently in high demand?
In either case, help is at hand! Getting started in web designing is simpler than you might imagine. Read on to find out all you need to know about how to become a web designer in the UK in 2019.
Is there a demand for web designers?
Bill Gates once said: “If your business is not on the internet, then your business will be out of business.” According to Netcraft, there are now more than 644 million active websites on the internet and this figure is increasing daily. As a result, web designers continue to be in high demand and there is no sign of this trend slowing down any time soon.
What does a web designer do?
A designer’s job is to make original, inspiring, easy-to-navigate websites which appeal to an appropriate target audience. The main role of a web designer is to create the visual elements of a website, controlling everything from the font to the colour scheme, and everything in between.
Other key duties will usually include the following:
- Meeting with clients to discuss their objectives and requirements
- Designing the site, including: deciding on the style, layout, fonts and colour schemes; writing content; and preparing graphics and images
- Implementing designs through programming
- Optimising the site so that it can be found by search engines
- Uploading content to the site, and making sure it fits stylistically
How much does a web designer earn?
Web designer salaries have been rising in recent years along with demand, and the average salary is now around £30,000. Entry level web designers can expect to start out with a more modest salary of around £22,000; however this rises quite sharply with experience and earnings of £40,000 is achievable with experience.
What is the difference between a web designer and a web developer?
Many people get these terms confused, since in reality many web designers are also developers and vice-versa.
However, whilst these roles are most often interchangeable they can also be separated, which is why some people choose to specialise in one or the other.
In cases where the roles are separated, the web designer is usually responsible for the stylistic elements (i.e. the look and feel of a website’s front-end), whilst the web developer is concerned with its functionality, which is achieved through complex programming and coding in the back-end.
However, someone who simply drafts a design using applications such as Adobe Indesign would be classed as a graphic designer. To be classed as a web designer, you need to have at least a basic understanding of HTML and CSS coding. Even when a client commissions you for the design only, they will usually expect to see some basic functionality before handing it over to a web developer.
What professional skills and personal qualities will I need to be a web designer?
Learning web design can lead to an exciting and fascinating career, but there are some essential professional skills and personal qualities you will need to build a successful career.
Web design career requirements
- A high level of computer literacy
- A creative flair for design and an imaginative mindset
- An attention to detail
- Objectivity, and an ability to see the bigger picture
- Patience and flexibility
- Creative problem-solving skills
- Good time-management skills and an ability to work to deadlines
- Excellent team working and communication skills
- Good business / client management / people skills
A web designer needs a keen eye for aesthetics and an understanding of creative design techniques, along with a broad awareness and understanding of ever-evolving web technologies.
A good web designer is able to visualise how a site will look, whilst effectively communicating this vision to the client. The best web designers know that good web design is almost imperceptible and feels intuitive to the user.
A strong attention to detail is an essential skill for any website designer. There are so many detailed elements involved in the design of a website, and it is important to develop a keen eye which will pick up small errors and inconsistencies with ease.
Creative problem-solving is another essential skill to develop. Both design and technical challenges should be seen as valuable opportunities to learn more about your craft. Indeed, you will never stop learning in this profession, and for many this is part of the appeal.
As a web designer, you will need a lot of patience. Clients’ design requirements and demands can change and evolve rapidly as the process progresses, and you will need a willingness to be flexible, and perhaps even go back to the drawing board on occasion. Web designers also need to be prepared to produce multiple designs, so that the client has options to choose from.
Effective communication skills and excellent people skills are necessary for successful projects too, particularly when dealing with clients. You will need to pitch and communicate your ideas clearly, and you will also be expected to keep clients informed and up-to-date on the progress of their projects.
If you are required to write content or edit existing content for clients’ sites, you will also need very good written communication and presentation skills. Besides clients, web designers should be able to communicate effectively with developers, marketing professionals, and other designers.
Whether you work in a big design department or a small design studio, teamwork is inevitable. Finally, whether you work as an employee or a freelancer, having an understanding of the business goals and budget limitations of your employer or your own business will help to guide your work, and will ultimately help to ensure that the projects you undertake are both profitable and sustainable.
What technical skills will I need to learn?
In the first instance, it makes sense for beginners to focus on the fundamentals, which include basic drawing, web design theory, and industry accepted best practices.
Since web design is a broad discipline, designers need to be familiar with different aspects of design, such as graphic design and prototyping.
To create an eye-catching web design, it also helps to learn colour theory and the basic principles of visual hierarchy.
And, of course, to become a successful web designer, you will need to acquire proficient technical skills in the most common web design applications (see the Tools & Resources section of this article), as well as a thorough understanding of web programming, coding and scripting languages.
Graphic and visual design
Website design determines the look and feel of a site, and includes visual design principles such as colour theory, typography, grid systems and space. These stylistic elements help to ensure that all the different elements of a website – such as fonts and colour palettes – complement and work in harmony with each other.
It’s also essential for web designers to know how to use a graphics editor. The most common task web designers carry out in graphics editors is image editing — resizing, cropping, compressing or adapting images, so that they fit properly within certain spaces and will also load quickly.
Basic drawing skills Although the ability to draw well is not essential for a web designer, most will need to at least be capable of drawing graphs and grids so that they can express their layout ideas to clients and colleagues. A designer should also have a solid grasp of basic drawing concepts such as sketching, shapes, shading, and roughing out, so that they are able to incorporate basic logos, menus and content blocks into their initial layout design ideas.
Coding It would be difficult to find work in the web design industry without any knowledge of programming languages. Even a basic understanding of coding will make your life as a web designer much easier. Of course, it’s possible to create a website using site builders like Wix or Squarespace, but these can be very restrictive and limited in their abilities. Knowing how to code will open up a huge range of design possibilities, and it will also enable you to work out whether your design is technically feasible.
The basic programming languages for web development and design are HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).
HTML establishes the structure and content of the page, while CSS is what defines styling options and controls the design. Learning these two languages will enable you to create your own code and edit existing code.
Additionally, there are a number of other back-end web programming languages that can be used to develop a website. Some of these include PHP, ASP, Python and Java. Complex websites may use more than one programming language to operate the framework of their website.
And finally, web designers and developers would be advised to develop an understanding of MySQL, which is the most widely-used database on the internet.
Here is a summary of the specific functions each language fulfils:
- HTML: used for the main content and structure of a web page – including headlines, paragraphs, footers, photos, videos, and graphics.
- CSS: tells browsers how to format and style HTML for a web page – i.e. it’s what makes the content on a page look good (colours, fonts, backgrounds, etc).
- Python: many designers consider this a beginner’s language – however, Google, NASA, Instagram and Pinterest all rely on this language to work their platforms. Python is capable of working with desktop as well as mobile devices.
- PHP: for server-side scripting. Web designers who want to develop WordPress sites will need to understand it, as the WordPress platform is powered by PHP. PHP does not require you to make individual HTML pages but allows you to use templates to display multiple pages within the same design.
- SQL: for database management.
Web designers need to become familiar with popular pre-built CMS (Content Management System) software used to create and manage digital web content.
CMS is often favoured by clients as it enables them to quickly and easily update their own websites themselves, rather than having to rely on their web designer or developer.
The three leading off-the-shelf CMSs are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. Having hands-on experience with at least one of these is essential.
Metrics and analytics
Finally, you have to be able to critique your own work as a web designer and improve with every effort.
Your clients should be able to see unquestionable ROI (return on investment) when you create their websites. By learning how to utilize key metrics and measure your results, you can help build a case for whether or not specific areas of your website strategy were successful. These metrics will then help you build a pitch to improve their results, by continuing some approaches while changing others.
Learning about User Experience (UX)
UX is an over-riding term used to describe how people feel when they visit and navigate a website – i.e. is the site user-friendly; a pleasure to use; equipped with fresh content; cohesive and simple to navigate; easy-on-the-eye, etc? Or is it likely to frustrate, confuse or anger the user, and make them leave the site within seconds?
Of course, the aim is to create good web designs and a great UX that will make websites behave in a way that users want and expect, and will ultimately make them want to stay on a site.
User experience necessarily incorporates each of the technical elements described above, but it also reminds the web designer to keep the end user at the front of their mind at all times when designing a site. The question should always be, “what exactly does the user need, and how can this site give them what they need as quickly and pleasurably as possible?”
To understand UX more fully, it is advisable for beginner web designers to learn at least the foundational principles of web design theory. This will enable an understanding of information architecture (the rules around how the information on a website should be organised), site maps (a model of a site’s content designed to help users and search engines navigate it), wireframes (to sketch out the key elements of each web page), and user flows (the path users take when they visit the site).
Achieving an effective UX relies on a good understanding of layout and structure. Visitors should be required to jump through as few hoops as possible, so designers need to ensure that web pages load quickly and are responsive over different devices and screen sizes; that checkout processes are streamlined; that calls-to-action can be followed through with ease; and that navigation is intuitive, making relevant content easy to find.
Fonts should be easy to read on all potential devices, whilst also being compatible with the feel of the brand. Important information, such as calls-to-action, need to attract users’ attention without disrupting the design.
Colours should be compatible, textures should be used to create depth and imply movement, and repeating shapes, patterns, and borders can also be used to unify a design.
Another very important aspect of UX is security. Users need to feel confident and reassured that their personal information is safe from hackers when they visit your site. This high level of security needs to be achieved whilst simultaneously making the site open enough to allow search engine bots to find and understand pages within the site.
Finally, web designers should remember that a website will be an ever-evolving element of a business’s virtual presence. As a business changes and user expectations change, so their website will need to adapt to reflect these changes. User experience should always remain paramount in the minds of web designers when implementing these changes.
Tools & resources you’ll need
In any industry, becoming familiar and confident with the necessary tools for the job is an essential step towards success. You will need to become familiar with good website design software, as well as a range of other tools and resources over time.
Understanding creative techniques and knowing your way around industry standard design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Animate and Dreamweaver is highly recommended, as web designers are expected to use these for important tasks such as creating mock-ups, designing logos and other assets, modifying images, and enhancing photos.
Adobe Photoshop Widely considered by the industry as the best programme for editing images and changing file formats. Photoshop allows greater control than many other graphics editors, especially when editing images with pixels (such as photos).
Adobe Illustrator Illustrator works really well with font and vector images (line-based art that contains no pixels). For instance, if you wanted to use a specific font on a website, you would need to create an image that can be placed as a graphic within the design to ensure that every user will see it the same way, regardless of whether they have that specific font downloaded on their computer or device. Beginners who are unable to fork out for Illustrator will find Inkscape a good, free, open-source alternative.
Adobe Animate Animate has replaced the now discontinued Adobe Flash. This programme can transform vector images and text into animations.
Adobe Dreamweaver Dreamweaver is a text editor which enables you to edit code faster through the use of live preview capabilities and inline editors. It can also help web designers to create responsive designs that fit content correctly on differently sized screens.
Mockplus Prototyping skills enable web designers to validate their design assumptions and decisions quickly, without having to wait for the final web design. Powerful prototyping tools such as Mockplus make it possible to create a fully functional prototype in minutes.
Other useful tools and resources for web designers
Sublime / Atom / Visual Studio Code / Brackets These dedicated code editors offer many useful features, including: text completion, mark-up colouring, and tabs/panes for side-by-side editing.
Google Pagespeed Insights or Pingdom Part of a web designer’s job is to test the websites they create to ensure that pages load quickly and smoothly on all potential devices. These tools will enable you to do just that, and they can also help you to analyse any loading problems.
Awwwards This website is very popular with web development professionals. It features a nominated ‘Site of the Day’ where designers can find interesting and unusual examples of web design.
Dribbble This site enables web designers to become familiar with the latest visual design trends.
Behance An excellent resource for in-depth web design case studies.
The Daily UI Challenge A fun resource which promises to make you a better designer in 100 days.
Trello Whether you end up going freelance or working for an employer, you’ll need to prioritise tasks and stay on top of your schedule to become a successful web designer. Productivity apps such as Trello offer scheduling boards for task lists and other valuable project-tracking tools.
Recommended Book: “Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (Voices That Matter)” by Steve Krug
Recommended Book: “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites” by Peter Morville.
Create your own website and develop your web design portfolio
So, you have been studying hard, becoming familiar with web design theory, concepts, coding languages, and the tools you will need. It is now time to put what you have learnt into practice, and what better way to do this than to create your very own website from scratch.
In the early days, whilst you’re still learning, your site could be used as a test-bed for experimenting with new designs, layouts and styles. Later on, it could be used to host your online portfolio.
There are several options open to you when considering how to create your own website. The method you choose will partly depend on how technically competent you are with the various coding languages, as well as how experienced you are with using basic web design software.
You may wish to install a web server on your computer so that you can work on scripts locally without an internet connection. When it comes to relatively easy to set up frameworks for your website, you may want to consider the open-source web framework, ASP.NET. To enable this, you will need the Windows Add-on, IIS (Internet Information Services). IIS is a user-friendly web server which provides access to web pages published on it. If you choose the PHP route, try Wampserver for windows or Mamp for Mac, which allows you to create web applications with Apache2, PHP and a MySQL database.
If you feel you aren’t quite ready to build from scratch, you may wish to customise a pre-designed theme in a CMS framework such as WordPress.
Whichever method you choose, remember that before you launch publicly your site should be tested very carefully for any errors – both technical and grammatical. Load times should also be checked on a regular basis, and don’t forget to ensure that your site is responsive across multiple devices and screen sizes.
Whether you eventually end up working for an employer or you become a freelance designer, it is essential that you create a virtual presence for yourself to showcase your abilities and skills. Having your own professional website will ensure that potential clients can contact you for freelance work, and potential employers can see tangible evidence of your work and get an idea of what you are capable of when deciding whether to shortlist you for interview.
It is not enough to know the theory; you need to be able to prove you can put theory into practice consistently. By creating a high-quality portfolio on your own website, you will be able to showcase your web design skills and give yourself the best possible chance of seeing off the competition.
When putting together your portfolio page, it is best to feature projects that demonstrate a wide range of your capabilities. This section of your website should highlight the very best web design work you have carried out for businesses, organizations or individuals.
If you’re just starting out and haven’t designed any sites other than your own, then try volunteering your services to local charities or small organisations – there are plenty looking for basic web design who would be extremely grateful for some help.
You should aim to include stunning, original, eye-catching work that will give a great first impression. Try to demonstrate as broad a range of skills as possible in your portfolio, including your knowledge of design theory and different stylistic approaches, and an understanding of various platforms. Ensure that your designs are as unique as possible, and work on developing your own personal style and brand.
What qualifications do you need to be a web designer?
If you’re wondering how to become a web designer without a degree, then wonder no more!
Unlike other professional careers such as lawyer, doctor and teacher, there is no industry requirement for specific qualifications, and you won’t need a degree or formal training in web design in order to follow a career as a web designer.
While some people do choose to attend web design degree courses, many web designers decide to either teach themselves or participate in online courses at their own pace.
The best way to learn web design depends on your circumstances and personality. However, most people opt to take advantage of the wealth of free and inexpensive resources available online. Learning online enables you to study in your own time, practicing until you’re capable enough to offer your skills to others.
Whether it takes four months or four years will be up to you. It is possible to study online at any time of the day or night, fitting study sessions around your individual schedule.
In our opinion, opting to study for a degree in web design is the worst, slowest and probably most expensive route into a career as a web designer. Here at Bootcamp Media, we do not pay much attention to a university degree when hiring our web designers. We’re primarily concerned about the practical skills candidates can demonstrate, regardless of where and how they learnt those skills.
Online courses – study web design at home
There are literally hundreds – if not thousands – of online web design courses out there, enabling anyone to learn how to become a web designer from scratch, without a degree or prior experience.
Not all of them offer web design qualifications, but it is better to find a good course with no qualification attached than a terrible course resulting in a worthless qualification no employer will recognise or care about anyway.
However, you will need to tread carefully. Rather than settle for the first course you find offering a whopping discount, only to find that the substance of the course is even more useless than a chocolate teapot, it pays to conduct some careful research.
The best online schools for web designing offer engaging, high quality content, multimedia resources, excellent support, and self-paced learning.
To get you started, check out our Top 5 picks for online web design and web development courses that really know what they’re talking about and consistently deliver the goods, whilst also offering good value for money. All of these are suitable for beginners, as well as those who already have some knowledge of coding and design principles.
Codecademy offers many free courses as well as paid courses, which is ideal for those who aren’t yet absolutely sure that web design is for them, as you get to try before you buy. If you are unsure what to study to become a web designer, Codeacademy offers a good foundation for those just starting out. Here, you can learn computer science history and theory, as well as all the major data science and web development programming languages. Codecademy leaves no stone unturned when it comes to coding. Skillcrush’s 3-month
Web Designer Blueprint course promises to cover all the skills you need if you’re looking to learn how to become a web designer fast, while their Visual Designer Blueprint course is perfect for creative types obsessed with colours, fonts, and all things visual. Both courses include 24/7 access to materials as well as lots of support from instructors and fellow budding web designers in the online student community. You’ll also learn how to find, land, and complete your first paying web design project.
Treehouse offers video-based tutorials suitable for beginners in all aspects of web design and development. As well as covering all the major coding languages, there are also tutorials in design basics such as typography, colour theory and branding. The site also includes a game element that rewards you with achievement badges as you progress with your learning. Subscription to the site costs $25-$46 per month, with 7 days’ free trial.
Udemy is a learning platform which features a wide range of affordable courses offered by individuals who are experts in their field. If you are unsure what to study to become a web designer There are hundreds of web design courses to choose from on the platform, and courses are rated by previous students to help you decide which ones to choose. A few of the courses are free and others start from as little as £9.99.
How long does it take to become a web designer?
This is very much a “how long is a piece of string” question, and it will entirely depend on: a) the route you follow into the profession (e.g. studying a time-limited course or teaching yourself); b) how much time you have to spare for learning the necessary skills; and c) the rate at which you learn personally.
It should be possible to learn the basics within a few months, but for a more thorough understanding which will equip you with the level of skills necessary to call yourself a web designer, it is likely to take most people up to three years. Even then, it can take many more years to master those skills.
Working as a web designer
Businesses and organisations are always on the lookout for creative web designers who can deliver their vision and present their brand effectively with a unique, fresh and innovative website.
Most clients will expect a return on investment for their website, which means that designers need to be highly aware of their clients’ goals and objectives when constructing their web pages. To ensure that future visitors engage with the sites you create, it is advisable to work with clients to research their target audiences and create “personas” (profiles) of imaginary ideal users.
Should I be freelance or work for an employer?
Whereas an employer such as a web design agency can offer the reassurance of existing clients, regular wages and a support system, working freelance can often lead to higher earnings and can also offer advantages such as flexible hours and working remotely. It can also offer more exciting web designing career opportunities you may not be exposed to when working for an employer.
However, being self-employed can be stressful and very time consuming, particularly during the first couple of years when you are trying to build awareness and a good reputation.
If you’re eager to find out how to become a web designer from home, it may be worth honing your skills working for an employer for a while first. Many web designers choose to work for an agency to start with, whilst taking on freelance projects in their spare time.
If you find you enjoy and prefer the freedom of being your own boss, you can always become a full-time freelancer when the time is right and you have begun to make a name for yourself.
In either case, your portfolio should include samples that will appeal to whichever audience you are trying to impress. For example, potential clients will expect to see work you have completed for other clients, and will want to understand the actual process of working with you, whereas potential employers will want to see examples of skills and abilities that might be needed on their own team.
Remember that when you are first starting out being a web designer, the most essential thing is to gain experience, contacts and referrals. Of course, money is important, and it can feel frustrating being on a low income when you know you have excellent skills and capabilities. However, all web designers have to start at the bottom and work their way up, as in most other professions.
Be reassured that, if you have the talent and a strong work ethic, things will soon start to improve.
Learn how to sell yourself: build a brand
If you decide to take the freelance path, you will need to know how to market yourself and your services to potential clients in order to win web designer jobs.
It is essential to identify your USP (unique selling proposition) – something that sets you apart from all the other web designers out there vying for attention. Potential clients aren’t going to find you unless you put yourself out there. Marketing is an ongoing necessity for any small business (including for solopreneurs), and you can’t afford to be shy when it comes to self-promotion.
If you feel you lack confidence and know nothing about finding and converting leads, then consider taking a short course in marketing or hire a marketing coach as these are essential skills that all freelancers must learn and acquire to become successful.
There are many resources and techniques you could use to promote yourself as a freelance web designer. Here are just a few ideas:
- Look for part-time jobs with businesses who need someone to update and edit a few aspects of their site on an ongoing basis for a small monthly fee.
- Run social media campaigns on platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to engage with people who may be interested in your services. Create a Business Page, then launch a special offer and invite reviews from people you have previously completed work for.
- Run a few highly-targeted paid ads in Google Adwords, and set up retargeting campaigns to market your services to people who have recently visited your website.
- Encourage people to join an email list (offer a good incentive) and keep in touch with them by sending out a weekly or fortnightly newsletter. Include valuable information that your customers will really want.
- Produce blog posts, podcasts, video tutorials, and any other content that will cement your reputation as an authority figure in your field.
- Show off some of your work as case studies on sites such as Behance.
Keep Learning and Constantly Evolve
Web design inhabits a technological landscape which is in a permanent state of evolution, and web designers need to keep themselves informed about the latest – as well as anticipated – web design trends, in order to understand the ever-changing demands of users.
Web designers who are willing to periodically review and critique their own approach against the latest industry innovations will ensure that their work continues to be fresh, relevant and current.
Here are a few ways you might choose to keep learning:
- Join and become active in online peer groups, such as web design communities. As well as offering a great opportunity to learn from others, these can also be very helpful if you are freelance and often feel isolated. Popular online web design communities include Sitepoint and Uxmastery.
- Follow web design and development experts such as Sara Soueidan, Jeffrey Zeldman and Jesse James Garrett on Twitter.
- Read blog posts and news articles from the most authoritative industry sites to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in web design.
- Learn from great web designers and programmers. Visit other very well-designed websites, and conduct detailed analysis into how they are designed. Some of these ideas could help to inform your own designs. Inspiration is vital for all creative people, and web designers are no exception.
- Join and network at local meetups and industry conferences, and start collecting valuable contacts. Try registering with Meetups – a resource that helps you find relevant groups in your local area.
- Design is a very subjective matter, which is why it is essential to seek feedback from other people – try asking other designers, stakeholders and users to critique some of your designs.
Web design continues to be a highly sought-after profession as internet use across the globe continues to grow.
Becoming a web designer without a costly degree is definitely achievable, and in most cases potential employers prefer experience over qualifications any day of the week.
Learning how to become a web designer is not rocket science, but it does require time, effort, and an enquiring technical approach.
However, with sufficient enthusiasm, hard work, patience and lots of practice, you could find yourself embarking on a new career in web designing, creating first-rate websites you can be proud of, and earning a decent income as a result.