How to become a web designer
Since the first website debuted in 1991, the internet has grown exponentially. In the past 30 years, the web has expanded to nearly 1.9 billion websites. These sites range from personal blogs to expanding eCommerce firms, and while some see only a trickle of traffic, others manage millions of site visitors across several server locations daily.
The one thing that ties so many of these 1.9 billion websites together: All of them needed someone with a vision to create a unique website that appeals to visitors. In many cases, these websites needed a web designer.
Web designers are found across all companies and industries. With the Internet being the digital world we now live in, there’s a high demand for web design across the globe. With a drive to learn and eagerness to try new things, opportunities are many in this growing field.
If you want to know how to become a web designer, this is the guide for you. In it, you’ll get to know what it’s like working as a designer, what it takes to become successful in the field, and where your career can go with those design skills you’re ready to put to use.
Are web designers in high demand?
The demand for web designers is high and continues to grow as more of our life moves online. Behind each new tool, app, and online system is a team of web designers and developers who turned a vision into an exciting reality.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, web designer jobs are expected to increase by eight percent from 2019 to 2029. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, the BLS suggests this is actually much faster than for most occupations. This eight percent increase accounts for 14,000 new jobs with 174,300 web developers and designers currently in the United States, as of 2019.
As more people seek out web design skills, you can set yourself apart through professional development, deepening your knowledge, and carving out niche expertise. This can make you more appealing to hiring managers and companies in burgeoning industries. For example, demand is expected to grow for eCommerce web designers and site managers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a June survey byMastercard, eCommerce spending grew by 93 percent year-over-year in May 2020—accounting for 33 percent of retail sales in the United Kingdom, a record high. As people stayed home in 2020, online shopping skyrocketed, and many customers will continue to rely on digital options instead of returning to brick-and-mortar stores.
This is good news for web designers. As demand increases for eCommerce services, the need for your talent also grows. Designers who have skillsets related to designing and innovating design in the eCommerce industry have a strong job outlook ahead of them.
The good news is, the web design field is strong enough that you don’t necessarily need an advanced, niche skill set to break into the industry. There are opportunities to get noticed at all hiring levels.
What basic skills do you need to become a web designer?
At first, the field of web design might seem intimidating, especially to those who aren’t yet comfortable working with advanced design tools or taking on a variety of design projects. However, in this field, your creativity and innovation can take you a long way, even if you still have some technical learning to do. Here are some of the most important skills you need to break into this field as you begin to learn web design and develop your career:
Foundational design knowledge: Knowing the principles of design is critical to being a successful web designer. Understanding text hierarchy, color theory, and specific principles like variance guide your work and make it stand out among inexperienced designers.
Color theory: In addition to foundational design principles, you need to understand color theory. If you’re using clashing colors or aren’t familiar with the color wheel and how to choose complementary colors, it will show in your designs.
Design software: Adobe is one of the most popular design tools for developing initial designs, but a great web designer also knows how to use tools like InVision, ProofHub, and Sketch, in addition to WordPress and other major CMS platforms where your designs will be implemented.
Responsive design: In our digital world, people view websites and web interfaces on many different devices. Responsive design ensures that your designs can be viewed as they should be, regardless of the device. This creates a consistent experience, which all companies want to provide their users.
Communication: Web design is often a long-term process and requires consistent communication between different teams and stakeholders. Having good communication skills is critical to working successfully with an entire team.
Time management: As a web designer, you’re likely taking on more than one project at a time, whether you’re working for an agency with many clients or a single company with many on-going projects. Managing your time well makes you someone your team can rely on.
What advanced web design skills will help you stand out?
If you’re ready to stand out among the many web designers vying for work right now, consider adding the following skills to your resume.
User experience: Not all designers have experience developing a website that’s also built with a good user experience (UX). UX refers to the experience people have on a website, I.E. how easy it is to navigate. Having experience in UX strategy will allow you to build websites that not only look good but are also functional based on what the user wants.
Coding: Knowing your way around lines of code, like HTML and CSS, make you more valuable to your client or employer. With a deeper knowledge of code and development, you can get more innovative because you understand the inner workings behind the design.
SEO: Knowing how to incorporate quality SEO practices into your designs can help you work with the marketing team, who will likely be heavily involved in major web design projects. The better you can work with each team, the more valuable you become as a web designer.
Photo editing: Photo editing skills can help you go from simply designing a website with the graphics you’re given, and editing them to become one with the design. This simple skill can be invaluable to have in your toolbox.
What is the difference between web design and web development?
As you look into the field of web design, you may come across the term “web developer,” in job titles and discussions. While web designers and developers are similar, there are some distinct differences to keep in mind as you move ahead with your career path.
Web designers can benefit from having both a technical skill set to navigate the code of a website along with the creative visual skills to design skills. While you don’t need to know as many programming languages as web developers—or an in-depth knowledge of each one—web designers who can work comfortably in the website’s back-end can make design changes faster and provide more value to their employers.
In doing so, you become what is known as a “design unicorn.” Someone who can not only dream up the design, but also implement UX strategy and then build it.
What kind of education do you need?
According to the BLS, the average education needed to break into the field of web design is an Associate’s degree in web design, computer science, programming, graphic design, or related field. This is good news for people who want to make a career change away from their existing path or who don’t want to seek out a four-year degree. Most associate degrees can be completed within two years as a full-time student, or 3-4 years as a part-time student.
While an associate’s degree is valuable for understanding the basics of web design, some employers might require a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree can give you a chance to develop a wider range of skills and allow you to dive deeper into some areas that interest you. All of this allows your resume to stand out among designers at the start of their career who have a base-level of experience and skills.
However, if you have a clear career path ahead of you, you can still gain valuable skills on the job, as opposed to in a classroom. Your employer may even reimburse you for relevant coursework if they need you to grow your skills after you are hired. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) 2018 Employee Benefits Survey, 51 percent of respondents said their employers offer undergraduate educational assistance and 49 percent said they offer graduate educational assistance.
There are benefits to having both a bachelor’s or associate’s degree when entering the web design field. The choice is yours as to which one is right for you. However, there may be a third option outside of academia for developing your web design skills.
Can I become a web designer without a degree?
While many employers consider the education of a web designer in the hiring process, it is certainly possible to enter the field without a degree. There are several online web design courses to help you grow your skills and prove that you can thrive in this field.
One option is to attend a coding boot camp or a short-term intensive training program that is meant to prepare would-be designers to enter the field. Boot camps became popular in response to increased demand for web designers and a slow-growing talent pool. Companies couldn’t wait a year or two for a fresh batch of graduates—they wanted to hire employees right away.
The creators of these boot camps condensed college courses into six-month programs or focused on just one subject for 12-week periods. Many boot camp creators also emphasized networking and professional development, increasing the chances that their graduates were hired shortly after completing the camp. Not only are boot camps considered a faster alternative to completing a traditional collect degree, but they’re often more affordable.
If you are considering taking an alternative path from college to become a web designer, get clear on the credentials of the boot camp or online program you choose. Don’t forget to consider the company or institution providing the course. Colleges like the University of California and Cornell offer online boot camps that may be more legitimate and add more value to your career development, than one that comes from an organization you’ve never heard of.
How much do web designers make?
Despite the growing number of web designers entering the field, becoming a web designer can still be lucrative. According to PayScale, the average base salary for a web designer is $50,904 annually. However, this can change significantly depending on your location, industry, and experience. The bottom 10 percent of web designers make around $35,000 per year, while the top 10 percent earn $75,000 or more.
However, just because your career is in its infancy doesn’t mean you will earn the bottom tier of the salary range. Some entry-level positions for web designers start at $43,000, based on curated data from 129 salaries. Web designers who have more than 20 years of experience often earn more than $66,000.
Your salary isn’t just impacted by your skills and experience, but also by the area you live in. The minimum wage in Seattle is $16.69, which brings an annual salary close to $35,000 per year. With global brands like Amazon, Starbucks, and Redfin based in that city, demand for web designers is high. This means you stand to earn more than the minimum wage, especially if you have a unique skill set that these companies need.
While the increased salary is appreciated, it is often offset by the high cost of living in the area. Your paycheck might actually go farther if you earn less but live in a more affordable area making location an important consideration to make in choosing a job. Even if you work remotely, your salary is based on location.
Entering the field of web design can also serve as a starting point for a more advanced—and well-paying—career in UX and programming, being promoted into senior roles or specializing in your field to earn more money. For example, the average salary of a senior web designer is $71,758 and the average income for a senior UX designer is $103,536.
You don’t need to have a specific plan for your future career as you enter the web design field. However, as you grow your experience and learn more about the profession, consider what you want to do and how you can start preparing for that sooner than later.
What is a normal work environment for web designers?
As you enter the field of web design, you have three main choices for your future work environment: designing for a single company in-house, managing multiple design accounts at an agency, or striking out on your own, working as a contractor or freelance designer. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks depending on your career goals.
In-house web designers work for one company and manage their web properties, websites, and products. The main benefit of this option is the ability to truly sink into a single style and brand. For some designers, it’s more rewarding to watch a one brand grow and iterate than to work on multiple brands each week and even each day. It can also be less stressful than an agency environment.
In a design agency, you work on multiple projects at all times, potentially working on different client projects daily and weekly. Agencies are often considered to be more fast-paced than in-house teams, with tighter deadlines to meet client needs. One of the main benefits of working at an agency is the ability to learn a lot quickly.
If you’re just starting out in your web design career, this is a great opportunity to jump in with both feet and test your skills on a wide range of projects and challenges. You will also be working alongside other designers who can help you advance your network and knowledge-base at a faster rate.
As an entrepreneur, you can operate as a “one-person agency,” taking on your own clients and projects. You can dictate prices, deadlines, and the clients you accept. This is the most flexible work option, but also the riskiest. As a freelancer or contractor, you will have to find work for yourself, potentially submitting requests for proposals (RFPs) and selling yourself as the best person to give a contract to.
As you grow your freelance web design business, you may be able to take on contractors of your own and eventually hire employees, creating your own agency. If this is your plan, you’ll also need to develop soft skills like project management and communication, along with hard skills like accounting so you can better run your team.
To find the best web design job for you, know your strengths. Not everyone can thrive as a freelancer or in the fast-paced world of an agency, but others love it and wouldn’t work anywhere else.
What kind of workplace can you expect?
The high demand for web designers means there are various work environments and companies to choose from. While each company has its own policies and employee guidelines, there are some similarities across the field.
Web design is considered to be a nine-to-five job that can be done during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. Many web designers are able to maintain a healthy work-life balance with free nights and weekends away from the office. That being said, there are always some exceptions. Designers at agencies often work longer hours and freelancers tend to work at all times of the day when starting out or might prefer to work late into the night instead of working early mornings.
Web design is a job that can be done remotely with a strong internet connection, workspace, and access to the various tools needed. As a salaried employee, you may also be eligible for a work-from-home stipend to get your home office set up.
Because web designers can work remotely, some companies expand their hiring search to find top talent across countries. You may be able to work for a company in New York or Los Angeles without leaving your home in South Carolina. That being said, if your employer is in a different time zone, you may be asked to keep to their standard business hours, which means you may need to work late or clock in early to align with their time zones.
As a web designer, you can seek out remote work or find a company that still operates in an office. Knowing what works best for you will help you build a job search that leads you to a position where you’ll thrive.
What are the traits of a great web designer?
As you graduate from your web design boot camp of multi-year school, you need to stand out above your peers to appeal to top employers. Senior UX specialists and developers want to hire someone who can be an asset to the team, while companies who contract freelance designers want someone knowledgeable and reliable. This begs the question: what makes a web designer great? In addition to the standard skills that every designer needs, a great web designer also possesses the following qualities:
It’s unlikely that every project will be a from-scratch website that matches your vision. You may need to fix a poorly-made webpage, enter a project midway, or change your plans based on a client’s budget. If you can stay flexible and respond to change quickly, then you can thrive in the field of web design.
If you want to break into a specific sector, take time to understand the industry, customer base, and production process. This will help you anticipate problems and produce effective solutions.
Drive to learn more
Even web designers with decades of experience need to keep learning as new technology changes how they do their job and what clients and consumers want. This field is constantly evolving and there will always be a new skill, new tool, or new client request that you need to learn about. Those who are curious and willing to keep learning can thrive in this environment.
The best designers will find their way into jobs where they can flex their creative muscles on fun projects that are rewarding. For example, Netflix is viewed as a highly independent work environment. All projects begin with a “blue sky, anything goes,” mentality and designers are encouraged to challenge the status quo and test new ways to create a better customer experience.
This autonomy actually increases the amount of teamwork within the company as creative designers work to make their potential solutions and visions into realities. It also allows designers to truly shine a light on their creative ideas, making the work more fulfilling. However, to get a job like that, you need to prove that you have all the skills and qualities of a great designer.
How to Get Noticed as a Web Designer
Whether you’re just starting out in your design career or you want to launch your own web design business as a solopreneur, you will need to highlight your work and attract potential employers or clients. Here are some key tactics for getting noticed in the web design field, whether you’re looking to get started or move into a new role.
Build a website for yourself. Congratulations, you are your first client! Develop a website for yourself and design it using the skills that you learned in school or during your boot camp courses. This website can showcase what you know and serve as a web design portfolio to send to employers and generate client leads.
Network virtually and in-person. While in-person events and professional organizations can help you meet business leaders in your area, the demand for web designers spans across the globe. Consider joining web design groups on Facebook, Slack and LinkedIn to partake in discussions with others in the field.
Learn online: Attend webinars and look for virtual conferences to learn from national leaders and connect with potential employers.
Find a nonprofit to help. Many nonprofits and community organizations can’t afford design teams but desperately need people to update their websites and digital presence. Consider working with a cause you care about by donating a few hours each month to improving their web presence. You can meet people and grow your portfolio early on.
Review any non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). If you have worked with companies in the past that required you to sign an NDA, you likely won’t be able to showcase their work in your portfolio. If you haven’t signed an NDA on a project, ask your employer or client if you can share your web pages and consider asking them for testimonials about thequality of your work.
Position yourself as a local leader. Even if you only have a little experience, you can help other professionals who know nothing about web design. Consider hosting workshops, speaking at local business conferences, or helping students through mentorship. This will elevate you as one of the top web designers in your area and make you stand-out among designers who haven’t stepped out from behind their computers.
While it’s possible to land your dream job right away, most people don’t. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salaried worker stays with a company for 4.1 years. For younger workers, this median tenure drops to 2.8 years. Even if you’re happy in your current role, following these steps can help you attract more job offers and higher pay rates so you can build a career you’re excited about.
How to become a web designer
At the end of the day, there isn’t just one thing to know if you want to understand how to become a web designer. The demand in this field is constantly growing, but the best designers will stand out and receive the best job offers. To get started, evaluate your career goals to determine your educational path, whether you sign up for a four-year degree or attend a 12-week boot camp, and the design specialties you want to pursue.
Don’t forget to focus on building a strong skill set that spans beyond design. Knowing how to code, develop a functioning website, and communicate with team members makes you a more valuable job candidate or freelancer, allowing you to find work that pays well and leaves you feeling creatively fulfilled.