But what exactly does the role of web designer entail? And, more importantly, how do you become one?
1. Research the Profession
The first step you need to take to become a web designer is to gain a clear and thorough understanding of that exactly the role entails, from what your duties will be to what skills you’ll need to succeed in the profession, as well as what a typical workday looks like and how much you’ll be earning.
Web designers are basically the architects of the web. They use their creative and technical skills to design websites from scratch or redesign existing ones. They’re responsible for the overall look and feel of a website – from colour schemes to fonts and navigation to responsiveness, the whole shebang – and for ensuring it all comes together to create a seamless experience for the end user.
Generally speaking, their typical day-to-day duties include:
- Meeting with clients to discuss requirements and project progress
- Presenting initial design ideas to clients
- Creating products that are user-friendly and effective
- Designing graphics, animations and manipulating digital images
- Testing and improving the design and site
- Uploading the site to a server
As a web designer, you could work in a number of industries, including technology, healthcare, retail, hospitality, consumer products and a wide range of professional services. Typical employers include specialist web design companies, large corporate organisations, software companies, IT consultancies and, basically, any organisation that uses computers.
The soft skills you’ll need include:
- Creativity and imagination
- Attention to detail
- Ability to work to tight deadlines
You’ll also need some of the skills listed below:
- Programming such as .net, XML/XSLT, ASP, PHP and Python
- Design and graphics such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash and Fireworks
- Content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal and Adobe Business Catalyst
Some web designers never touch any code – they simply create a website’s design in a software program like Photoshop or Illustrator and then send it to a front-end developer who will create the HTML and CSS for it. However, having said that, being able to both design the site and use a programming language to implement it will make you a stronger candidate.
Other skills which you might find particularly useful include visual design, UX, SEO, photo editing and copywriting.
Working Hours and Conditions
You’ll typically work 40 hours a week (Monday to Friday) but you may have to work extra hours or on weekends to meet deadlines. You may also work on-call, dealing with any unexpected problems that need to be solved at any time of the day.
Web designers are generally office-based. However, you may be able to work from home and you may be expected to travel to clients from time to time.
The dress code for this profession is usually casual, but this generally depends on the employer. You may need to dress more formally when meeting with clients.
People entering the profession can expect a starting salary of £18,000 to £24,000 a year, which increases to £25,000 to £40,000 a year with experience. Male web designers make the most money, taking home an average £29,912, while their female counterparts make 6.2% less at £28,058. The highest average annual salaries are earned in London (£37,021) and the lowest in Wales (£20,336).
Self-employed web designers set their own rates according to their experience, reputation and the complexity of the project they’ve undertaken. Those who are just starting out and looking to establish themselves in the marketplace might charge as low as £20 an hour, while very experienced designers typically charge £75 or more an hour. As a freelancer, your annual earnings will depend on your fees and the amount of projects you work on.
2. Get the Qualifications
Although there are no formal qualifications required to becoming a web designer (many employers value creativity and experience over degrees and certifications), a good standard of education can help boost your employability.
Here are the main entry routes into web design:
In addition to earning A Levels in relevant school subjects such as IT/computer studies, graphic design, multimedia, art and design, business studies, English and maths, further education (FE) qualifications (awards, certificates and diplomas) can be extremely helpful when you’re just starting your career as a web designer. They can also help support your university application if you decide to take the higher education route.
Relevant FE qualifications include:
- BTEC Level 2 Diploma in IT– entry with two GCSEs (A-D)
- BTEC Level 3 Diploma in IT (Web Development)
- BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in IT (Software Development)
- BTEC National Diploma in Software Development and Web Design
- QCF Certificate in Web Design & Development
Use the National Careers Service course search to find FE providers and courses.
Many universities throughout the UK offer degree courses which either include or are dedicated to web design. These include:
- University of Central Lancashire
- Edge Hill University
- Edinburgh Napier University
- University of Huddersfield
- Plymouth University
- Southampton Solent University
- Staffordshire University
Similar degree subjects include:
- Computer science
- Digital media production
- Fine art
- Graphic design
- Information technology
- Multimedia web design
- Software engineering
Look at the UCAS website to find more options. Make sure to research entry requirements carefully and visit university open days to learn more about each course and the university you’re applying to.
A foundation degree, HND or a DipHE can also be helpful. Likewise, a web design or multimedia course offered by a non-university organisation can be just as useful (whether it’s part-time, distance learning, etc) and there are many free online resources and tutorials available which you can use to build or develop your already existing skills and knowledge.
3. Land Your First Job
Getting your first job can seem an impossible feat, especially considering how employers demand applicants have a gazillion years’ of experience in the field. Here’s how to get around that.
How to Gain Work Experience
As mentioned previously, employers typically value experience more than qualifications. So, what can you do to make yourself a viable candidate?
- Freelance: Freelancing is an excellent way to build your portfolio (without which employers won’t take you very seriously). Check out sites like Freelancer and Upwork for relevant opportunities.
- Do an apprenticeship: Although apprenticeships have a bad reputation (rather unfairly), they’re a great way to start your career. You’ll learn new, relevant skills while you earn a salary. Search the Find an apprenticeship service for relevant apprenticeships in England.
- Get an internship: Like apprenticeships, internships also have a bad rep, largely due to the fact that they’re often unpaid and many companies treat interns as slaves or assistants rather than prospective employees. However, there are many benefits to getting an internship: they can give you a taste of the world of web design (thereby allowing you to determine whether you can really see yourself in this line of work), boost your CV, build your self-confidence and increase your market value.
- Volunteer: Contact your local school, church or a charity organisation to volunteer your web design skills. Not only will they get a free website out of it, but you’ll also get to develop your skillset and it will look good on your CV – it’s a win-win, really.
Where to Look for Web Design Jobs
A good place to start your job search would be a job board like Monster, Indeed, Reed or TotalJobs. You might also want to check out our very own job board over at CareerAddict Jobs (a bit of shameless self-promotion here).
Other sites worth a look include:
- The UK Web Design Association (UKWDA) where you can search for opportunities by category, location or job type.
- Design Week Jobs who list jobs across 15 different design disciplines, including web design and graphic design.
- Technojobs who only list IT and technical jobs, and have a dedicated Web Design Jobs
- Bubble Jobs who are the UK’s self-proclaimed #1 job board for digital and tech jobs.
Networking is an excellent way to find jobs, especially if you’re self-employed. Don’t forget to visit company websites to search for opportunities or even send a speculative application (many jobs often go unadvertised or are specifically created for promising individuals).
4. Develop Your Career
What can you do after you’ve successfully entered the world of web design?
- Move up the ranks: As you progress in your career and become more experienced, you could move into design team management. Alternatively, you may decide to expand your knowledge and move into web content management.
- Start your own business: This is the dream of many people – and with the appropriate skills, knowledge and reputation, it will be easier to achieve.
- Continue educating yourself: As mentioned previously, there are many online courses available (some free, some paid) which you can take to learn new skills or develop your already existing skill set.
- Keep up to date with industry trends: If you don’t already, you should start following a few specialist blogs and industry websites to help you keep abreast of trends and developments. Some great examples include CreativeBloq, CSS-Tricks, Designmodo, Design Bombs, Design Shack, A List Apart and Webdesigner Depot.
Are you considering a career in web design or currently working towards becoming one? Perhaps you’ve completed the journey and have some advice you’d like to share with up-and-coming web designers? Join the conversation down below and let us know!
Salary information is based on data compiled and published by the National Careers Service. Additional information was taken from the Office for National Statistics, Prospects.ac.uk and Careersmart.org.uk.
This article was originally published in March 2014.