Being a ‘web designer’ has changed SO much over the years. There used to be a clear cut distinction between graphic designer, front-end developer and back-end developer. These days those lines are blurred and have crossed over more than at any other time. So how do you become great when you’re starting out?
Focus initially on becoming great with at least one or two coding languages
There is a phrase that goes like this: “Jack of all trades, master of none”. These days, jobs and contracts are chock full of requirements that would require you to be a graphic designer, a web designer, an app developer and a back-end developer all rolled into one.
Many seem to be unrealistic in their requirements but if you can show that you excel in certain areas you’ll stand more chance of securing freelance work and/or a job.
HTML(5) and CSS(3) should be main two as a web designer but there are other areas that need at least some knowledge. In the last 5 years the role of a web designer pretty much requires a few other tools in your toolbox. The other important ones to try to focus on are:
- Responsive design skills – Being able to turn a website into a responsive one will only get bigger for freelance work.
- WordPress / CMS – Many jobs and freelance work require some kind of data-base driven content. Having an understanding of at least one blog and ecommerce platform will not only help you find a job, it will also help you land more freelance jobs.
Learn from other websites
When I first started back in the 1990’s there were no books, no courses and very little online help for building a website. What I used to do, when I came across a great website, was to download it, strip it apart and then rebuild it from the bottom up to see how the code worked.
Still to this day if I see something on a website and i wonder how they did it, I’ll either inspect the elements or download the page and strip it down to that section’s components so I can work out what they did to achieve it.
I’m not talking about copying someones work, I’m talking about learning how they did it and applying that knowledge to create your own version on your designs.
Don’t stop pushing yourself!
During the naughties there wasn’t really much changing in the front-end World. 800×600 was the majority screen size, IE was the most used browser and a front-end designers couldn’t really push the limits because they were always restricted by a nameless browser dragging its feet, kicking and screaming, instead of pushing ahead (*Cough* Internet Explorer *Cough).
Over the last few years there has been an explosion of different methodologies, CSS advancements and screen sizes. Browsers (including mobile browsers) are trying much harder to standardise how a website will look across those browsers. CSS3 can do a LOT more than basic CSS and it will work across most browsers now instead of the lucky one or two.
There is a lot more to learn now than there was then and new techniques and ideas are coming out all the time. Use sources like Smashing magazine, Web Designer Depot and social media to find out what’s hot and what’s not. If you don’t keep up then you’ll very quickly be left behind!
You need a great Portfolio
You don’t have to have a large portfolio, you just need a few really good examples of your work. If you’re just starting out and don’t have a portfolio to show off then here are my suggestions:
- Charities are always looking for free help. Approach your local ones and see if any need help with their website.
- Create a hobby site. I created Torbay Fishing back in 2004 and it’s been my pet project for all those years. I constantly tweak and improve the content and design as a showcase.
- Do a “If they had come to me I would have designed it like this”. Improve a website and highlight why you did what you did to improve it.
- Offer to build a free website on social media. People have little to complain about if it’s free. Make sure you stipulate what it will and will not include.
Treat every client like they’re your only one
Many web designers get constant work from word-of-mouth and I’m no exception. Most of the websites I’ve built over the years have come from word of mouth. Even after the work is done I keep engaging with my clients, asking them how it’s going, do they have any questions and so on. I try to reply to all emails within an hour. If I’m out and about I’ll send them a quick email to let them know I can’t answer now but I will as soon as I get back.
If a client wants an update I don’t charge a fortune for it and I try to do it the same day. NOTHING is worth more than having people out there in the big wide World singing your praises!
I hope these tips help anyone starting out in todays crazy World of web design…
Stand out: http://www.dreamsmanpower.com/