As you may imagine, a web designer builds and designs the elements of a website. From developing the infrastructure of a website to creating design elements like typography, web designers focus on the nitty gritty details. What you may not realize is that some web designers also maintain and monitor websites for clients, creating ways to promote brands.
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What else does a web designer do? Web designers can assume a variety of roles, including that of web developer. Back-end web developers create the basic procedures that allow others to add pages to a site and ensure it functions correctly, while front-end web developers create the technical features for a website, which includes developing the site’s layout and integrating graphics, applications and more. Web and digital interface designers focus on creating the look and feel of a website, and webmasters maintain and update websites, fixing broken links and responding to user comments.
At a high level, a web designer ensures each website has seamless navigation and usability. A web designer also writes necessary code for the website, such as HTML or XML, and sees to it that the end product is easy to use and maintain. Often, they design and develop integrated graphics, audio and video to engage website users. Businesses also rely on web developers and webmasters to handle the upkeep of their sites, troubleshoot issues and respond to users who provide feedback to the company or report problems—which means that web designers may work closely with developers and webmasters.
Both professionals play an important function in business operations. If you work directly with a business owner to design their website, you’re creating the face of their business, which helps to attract clients. A website is more than a repository of information. A skilled web designer’s presentation of that information—through appropriate colors, fonts, graphics and layout—is integral to a company’s overall marketing strategy. According to an Inc. magazine article on e-commerce and converting site visitors to consumers, a strong website helps build trust. It also reinforces the company’s brand and its place in the marketplace, according to a Forbes article on digital influence.
Two researchers, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, discovered in the early 2000s that cognitive landscaping or the mental process people use to understand their environments was related to how people interacted with web pages. The Kaplans recommended that designers learn best principles to engender understanding and engagement with users of their websites. An effective, intuitive page layout provides coherence, for example, by helping users navigate through and understand the environment of a website. Good design also adds richness to the complexity of a page’s layout. Atlanta web developer company Trajectory put it this way: Clear, concise and compelling content assists in users’ understanding, clarifies a website’s message and is a distinctive imprint of a company’s voice, providing legibility.
How to Become a Web Designer
Becoming a web designer takes education and skill-building, but there is more than one path to carving out a career in web design. While a number of web designer positions may require a bachelor’s degree, the field is broad and open to different educational backgrounds, including candidates with high school diplomas.
Some employers look for web developers with technical degrees in such subjects as computer science or programming, while others look for those with design-related degrees focusing on web design, digital design or graphic arts. If you have demonstrated your abilities through work experience or web design projects, you may not need specific education credentials, though they certainly help.
Another potential way to boost your career prospects is to earn an industry certificate in key areas of the website industry such as e-commerce and site development administration. There are also certificate programs that focus on design skills valued in the market, such as Adobe. You can look for schools that offer short online web design certificate programs that not only teach you web design concepts, coding languages and best practices, but also prepare you for certification exams like the Adobe® Certified Associate (ACA) exam. These additional educational pathways may help you land jobs and advance within the industry.
Some community colleges combine several skills into one certificate that gives students the basic principles of effective website design, web programming and e-commerce. Often, these certificate programs are geared toward students who have programming skills and would like to expand into creative design and e-commerce. They can also serve as a foray into an associate degree program.
Making an attractive website is one thing, but creating one that instills trust in current and potential clients and business associates is another—and depending on the business, the latter may be a priority. As mentioned, there’s a psychological element to good visual design. It’s rooted in Gestalt psychology and involves the way we process visual stimuli, how it becomes identifiable in our brains and which design elements stand out. It calls for a clear understanding of design itself—the way color, fonts, white space and patterns work together to create an appealing message.
You probably don’t realize when you visit a website how the colors and the use of white space affect your mood and engagement with the site or the products on the site. Every color has its own connection to the subconscious.
To understand back-end website design, you’ll spend your time acquiring website design skills and technical skills and learning different coding languages. Let’s explore some of the common ones:
- UX: This acronym refers to user experience. As a UX designer, you’re always considering what the user needs when creating websites, apps and other technical products. To learn this aspect of web design, you would conduct research looking at user testing and evaluation. You’ll also master the process of ensuring that a website is responsive to both a mobile and a desktop screen and take into account the needs of special users, such as people with disabilities.
- HTML: The major coding language used to create the structure and content of a webpage is HyperText Markup Language or HTML. It’s the technical know-how that goes on the back end to make the front end of a website look attractive with well-designed paragraphs and headers and the visually pleasing photos, videos and graphics that make a website complete.
- CSS: Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, informs browsers how to format and style HTML for a web page. You can use CSS to adjust colors, fonts, backgrounds, and more. If you have a flair for design, CSS can give you the ability to use it.
- Design Software: As a web designer, you are likely to learn digital design tools, such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Sketch. They help you create mockups, make important design aspects such as logos and modify and enhance photos.
- Python: Python can be used as a scripting language for web applications and includes interpreted, interactive, object-oriented programming language. Even though Python is used by data scientists, computer programmers and mathematicians, learning Python may help in web development or software engineering as a basis for algorithmic learning and computing financial data, among other things.
In addition, if you aren’t familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), you may want to learn at least the basics since you may not always have copywriters or social media directors at your disposal. It may not be obvious, but professionals in the field will tell you that web design and SEO are intrinsically linked. After all, when you’re working with a client, they don’t just want a pretty site and good messaging; they want to be found on the Internet, which is where SEO comes in.
The same goes for digital marketing and social media. Clients often expect web designers, along with others working with websites, to at least have an overall understanding of these parts of online communication.
Soft Web Skills
It’s not only the technical and design skills you need to hone to compete as a web designer and snag that client or full-time job you’ve had your eye on. Developing “soft” web skills, such as creativity, attention to detail and problem-solving, is just as important.
You want to use creativity to design a website with zip that stands out while also following the instructions of your employer. Attention to detail makes a difference, too. A minor error in a code could take down an entire webpage. Not only do you need to pay close attention to your own work, you may be called on to fix the errors of others or just figure out why something isn’t working. Position yourself as the go-to person for problem-solving.
Organization is another skill you may want to master early in your career. Staying organized with technical projects and your time is important whether you’re stepping into a full-time web designing position or running your own web design business. You may want to investigate project management apps, such as Trello or Jira, to keep track of everything on your plate.
Other soft skills that might help to set you apart include the ability to communicate well, orally and in writing. You can’t just do your design work in a vacuum. You have to communicate regularly with your supervisors or clients, explain your process, your timeline and your final product. You’ll also confer with management on ways to resolve problems. You also may need to write copy for the site or edit existing copy. So, expanding your skills beyond the visual and technical may be worthwhile.
Finally, think about your employer or client and the overall picture when designing a website. You may need to wear the hat of a project manager. This means keeping their business plan, budget, and in some cases, employees, in mind to complete the job on time, with buy-in.
As everyday operations and commerce continues to shift online and as consumers gravitate toward mobile devices for work and leisure, web designers and web developers will remain in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of positions for web developers and digital designers is projected to grow 8% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Web designers and developers who are adept at multiple programming languages and familiar with digital multimedia tools, such as Adobe Flash and Photoshop, will have the best opportunities.
Along with web design, marketing and advertising agencies, industries in publishing, television, finance, management and numerous e-commerce businesses rely on web designers. The coronavirus pandemic has sped up what was already happening in the digital marketplace. According to new data from IBM’s U.S. Retail Index, the pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years. This means consumers are relying on websites more than ever to inform their purchases.
With so many businesses shifting from brick-and-mortar stores to an online presence, the need for web designers and developers to create, improve and maintain their sites and their mobile useability is evident.
Average Web Designer Salary
If you want to follow your dream of channeling your artistic and technical skills into a web design career, you’re probably wondering about the pay. The median annual wage for web developers and digital designers was $77,200 in May 2020, according to the BLS, with the highest-paid 10% of workers earning more than $146,430. Web designer salary varies by industry. Those working in publishing industries earned a median annual salary of $123,870, while those in computer systems design services earned median annual wages of $75,450.
If you have a knack for design and technology acumen, you may consider this career path—one with plenty of room for creativity. With relevant training and education, you may be able to combine and leverage those skills into a web design position.
Maybe you’re already working in the field. You may think of yourself as a designer who can create an attractive website, but with a little more research and training, including bootcamps and certificate programs, you may be able to position yourself as a professional adept at helping your employer or client bring in new business and solve problems.
Last updated: April 2021