In the mid-90s when web was new, everyone wanted to be a web designer. Back then, you could be a web designer from home as well as hold down a full time office job; you could be a web designer at 13 as long as no-one found out; you could web design from your laptop while enjoying your holiday in Hawaii.
Fifteen years on, the craziness is gone and web design is acknowledged as a realistic but select profession, requiring qualifications and design experience, creative talent and business communication skills.
Steve Gordon, a professional web designer, says web designers today need to be able to market themselves and the business and manage professional client relationships as well as program code.
“You can’t be a straight geek and become a successful web designer anymore,” says Gordon.
He says beyond the ability to code in web languages such as HTML and Java and other technologies including ASP, PHP, AJAX and Cold Fusion; web designers require artistic focus and plenty of marketing nous. In addition, knowledge in content management systems such as Joomla, Drupal and blogging platforms such as WordPress is a necessity to be successful.
There is a difference between web development and web design, says Morgan Johnson, director of web design firm Quadra Design. Quadra Design employs five designers and two developers and Johnson says designers glean intelligence from the customer regarding their requirements for the web site and how it will map to their company brand.
Once the planning and the design of a user interface have been completed, the information is passed to web developers – programmers skilled in web languages – for site development.
Johnson says Quadra Design recruits web designers from local schools or anyone with a web design certificate.
“New web designers can learn many things at the job, but without having some creative talent, they cannot be good web designers” explains Johnson.
He says web design companies want graduates with “something quite special” and need people with a good understanding of the design fundamentals of typography and layout.
Steve Gordon, managing director of web design company, agrees web design graduates need to be able to liaise with clients to find out what is important to the business – design skill alone doesn’t cut it.
“What does the client most want from a web site – is it qualified leads, is it revenue, is it customer knowledge; is it profit?” says Gordon. He says web design is not as straightforward as many people think, with keywords, category listing, search engine optimization and navigation are all essential components that need to be right.
However, he says experienced and successful designers can not only charge for the cost of designing a site, but may be able to add site support and monitoring services to their business charges.
Web design salaries start in the high $20,000s and progress up to around $75,000 for a senior web designer say Gordon and Johnson. Self employed designers with talent and business flair can earn a lot more, and creative directors can earn up to $110,000.
However, despite the financial reward and creative satisfaction of web design, Johnson says Quadr Design finds it hard to source good web design graduates. Although the specific tools required for new media design are taught in web design courses, these courses lack detail, says Johnson. He recommends keen candidates follow up standard courses with postgraduate courses in specific software applications used in the workplace.
* A degree or certificate helps. Many top universities and colleges offer web design programs. There are also smaller specialized schools. Look locally or online to find such classes.
* You need to have creative talent; just technical knowledge is not enough
* Top business communications and analysis skills are essential. Since you work closely with clients, communication skills and customer service skills are a must.