How to Become a Web Designer

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4 Main Steps to Becoming a Web Designer

Step 1 Learn the principles and best practices of web design

Creating websites requires a myriad of skills that are best learned in a classroom setting. It’s possible to land a great job as a self-taught web designer, but completing a college degree program arms a future designer with a comprehensive set of foundational skills they’ll need on a daily basis.

Step 2 Learn (and continue to study) design techniques and theories

This is an ongoing skill set that should evolve over the course of a career since design preferences and styles continually change. Much can be learned in college, but motivated designers should seek additional instruction, reading and insight into the principles of aesthetics, layout, emphasis, contrast and creating a unified user experience.

Step 3 Earn web design industry certifications

Although not mandatory for a successful career, earning key industry certifications can help designers greatly improve their career prospects. Certifications demonstrate a high degree of proficiency and competency in crucial areas of the industry, such as design, e-commerce, site development and administration. Certification also provides employers with a benchmark of a candidate’s skills.

Step 4 Build a personal brand

This isn’t something that can be mastered in college. Successful web designers have a strong portfolio of past projects they can show to potential employers. They also have a strong network of colleagues and business associates that they can tap for freelance projects, job opportunities, education and collaboration. Rookie web designers can build their brand by joining industry organizations, attending relevant conferences and networking events, and by striving for a high degree of personal excellence in their projects that will garner the respect of their peers and employers.

FAQ on Earning Your Web Designer Degree or Certification

Web designers who earn a web design and development degree from an accredited college and complete the other steps above might still have some questions about what it’s like to work in the industry. Here are five commonly asked questions about the field of web design.

  • Although continuing education isn’t a requirement for web designers, it is if they want to stay on the cusp of new trends, tools and practices. The tools used to create websites are constantly evolving, and designers should strive to ensure their skills and knowledge continually adapts as well.

  • Although these terms are often interchanged, they really describe separate functions in the process of website creation and development. Web design is primarily concerned with site aesthetics, usability and informational hierarchy, while developers are responsible for taking visual mock-ups of sites and turning them into a fully functioning sites using a variety of programming languages. Some talented designers perform both functions, as do some developers.

  • Strong programs couple instruction in web design, computer operating systems and programming languages with study in business and communications. For instance, students may study topics such as designing and writing for the web, principles of site design, web media, page development, and introductions to several different programming languages. Additionally, coursework may include topics such as retail internet businesses, internet business relationships, cyberlaw and ethics, digital commerce and e-business, and human relations in management. Students should seek out programs that include study in modern website design and development and these related topics that routinely come into play in the workforce to ensure they have a comprehensive skill set.

  • Web design certifications were developed to meet the demands of small, medium and large businesses and organizations. They define the skills and knowledge required to effectively create and deploy websites. Certification demonstrates to potential employers that candidates have these required skills and abilities. Individuals who obtain key certifications can potentially command higher salaries and separate themselves from their peers during job interviews. They also remain at the forefront of constantly shifting technologies and design preferences.

  • Design professionals need to have a good mix of technical acumen blended with a high degree of creativity. They should be comfortable working independently, as well as collaboratively. They should have a solid understanding of basic business principles and be able to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing.

Web Designer Salary & Job Growth

Employment for web designers is on the rise, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics reports. In 2016, there were 162,900 web designers and developers employed in the U.S. In this section, we’ll look at expected pay, employment, and other key metrics for web design professionals.

Web Designer Pay

Median annual salaries for web designers in May of 2017 was just under $68,000, the BLS reports. However, the top 10 percent of designers took home more than $122,000. Here’s a breakdown of median annual wages for web designers by specific industries:

  • Publishing--$71,060
  • Computer systems design--$68,500
  • Advertising and public relations--$66,230
  • Management, scientific and consulting services--$65,620

According to Payscale.com, highly experienced senior-level web designers took home just under $75,000 annually. Wages in the industry can vary depending on years of experience, responsibilities, and geographic location.

The following chart shows employment levels and mean annual wages for each state:

Alabama Mean wage annual: $59,560
Currently Employed: 600
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15%
Alaska Mean wage annual: $60,040
Currently Employed: 190
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -4%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $71,180
Currently Employed: 2,570
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $51,370
Currently Employed: 340
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 18%
California Mean wage annual: $84,270
Currently Employed: 21,150
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 21%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $71,490
Currently Employed: 2,140
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 42%
Connecticut Mean wage annual: $76,310
Currently Employed: 1,210
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15%
Delaware Mean wage annual: $69,280
Currently Employed: 290
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15%
Florida Mean wage annual: $62,290
Currently Employed: 6,930
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 22%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $77,950
Currently Employed: 2,710
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%
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Job Outlook for Web Designers

According to the BLS, employment of web designers and developers is expected to rise by 15 percent, or 24,400 new jobs, through 2026. The continued growth of e-commerce and expansion of current online retail websites is predicted to be a major driver of growth in the sector, the BLS reports. Job prospects should be best for developers who know multiple programming languages, including JavaScript and Java, Python, HTML, XML, CSS, Ruby and other languages widely used in web development. Web designers with strong working knowledge of programs such as PhotoShop and Flash also face stronger job prospects in the coming years.

Finding a Web Designer Program

Web designers often have a wide range of education, from bachelor’s degrees in web design and development, computer programming or computer science to associate’s degrees coupled with years of work experience. Although an associate’s degree is a common educational obtainment for entry into the field, prospective web designers might consider completing a bachelor’s degree program to face better job prospects since many employers prefer to hire designers who have completed baccalaureate degrees.

Designers also should know multiple programming language and how to use multimedia publishing tools. Lastly, they should routinely polish their skills with these languages and tools since web design is an ever-evolving field.

Students considering web design as a professional should weigh the following points prior to enrolling in a college program:

  • Length of time.

    A key component to any postsecondary education. Students who want quick entry into the workforce might opt to tackle a two-year degree plan rather than enroll in a four-year bachelor’s degree program. However, many online colleges offer accelerated or competency-based degree programs where students can move ahead as they quickly assimilate new course materials.

  • Cost.

    Web design and development is a popular degree path that can be taken either online or on-campus at a community college, which can save students a great deal of money on tuition versus attending a four-year university. Students should strive to ensure they can attend either a two-year college or a four-year university for the duration of the program prior to enrollment by applying for federal student loans, grants or similar common types of tuition assistance.

  • On-campus or online?

    Students can attend an on-campus program, or blend on-campus instruction with online learning in a digital classroom. Or, they can pursue 100 percent online degree programs. Students should know which delivery format best suits their learning style before selecting a college and a program.

  • Type of degree offered.

    Pursuing a degree is a big financial decision, as well as a significant time commitment. While a two-year associate degree is the most common educational obtainment for web designers, there are many tangible benefits associated with pursuing a bachelor’s degree. In addition to web development and design, baccalaureate students also learn valuable communications, writing and business skills that can help separate them from their peers during competitive job interviews and in the workplace.

Students interested becoming web designers can use the search tool below to help find schools sorted by state, degree level and area of study.

State
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Professional Web Designer Associations & Groups

Completing a college degree program and gaining work experience aren’t the only ways web design professionals can boost their skills and build their personal brand. Forming a network of business and professional connections is a crucial part of a talented designer’s career path.

The following organizations can help web designers meet like-minded peers, as well as gain specialty certifications that could lead to increased job prospects or new clients.

  • Web Professionals.

    This organization dedicated to professionals who create and manage websites helps advance professional standards, develops web standards and provides opportunities for education and career development. Offers many different certifications for apprentice, associate and senior web designers.

  • Association of Web Design Professionals.

    Provides a directory listing for web design businesses, freelance designers and others.

  • International Web Association.

    Provides key industry certifications and education for web professionals. Certifications include: Certified Web Professional Associate; CWP Site Design Specialist; CWP E-Commerce Specialist; and Master CWP Designer.

  • Webgrrls.

    Organization founded in 1995 is dedicated to promoting female web professionals by providing support, education, events, networking and job opportunities.

  • American Webmasters Association.

    Professional association founded in 2003 to provide support to web designers, webmasters and web marketers. Member benefits include education, networking opportunities, the annual AWA Awards conference, and job prospects.

Resources for Web Designers

These additional resources can help web designers gain extra knowledge and skills that can help advance their careers, as well as provide inspiration for new design ideas.

  • HTML5 Boilerplate.

    Rather than always creating from scratch, HTML5 Boilerplate allows web designers and developers to begin new projects with robust templates that can save considerable time.

  • Web Resources Depot.

    An online repository of industry news, design suggestions, web trends and other hot topics that can help designers create fresh and relevant sites across a wide range of industries.

  • A List Apart.

    ALA bills itself as a website for people who make websites. ALA content dives deep into the principles of development, design and web content with an eye toward best practices and standards.

  • Dropbox.

    Designers can use Dropbox to seamlessly share site mockups and files with clients during the design process.

  • DesignerList.

    A online compilation of design blogs, sketch, sharing and project management tools, stock photo sites and other relevant resources that come into play during any given project.

  • Codeacademy.

    Learn new programming languages, including Javascript, Python, SQL and others.

  • Usability.gov.

    This leading government resource on user best practices is full of how-tos and many different tools for designers.

  • Photoshopetiquette.

    Knowing how to use Photoshop is one thing, knowing how to properly use it in a collaborative design environment is another. Photoshop Etiquette is an online guide that helps designers implement quality control measures and workflow principles that set both novice and seasoned web designers apart from their peers.