Web designers combine creativity with technical know-how to produce websites that meet their clients' requirements

As a web designer, you'll plan, create and code web pages, using both technical and non-technical skills to produce websites that fit your customers' requirements.

Being involved in the technical and graphical aspects of pages, you'll determine not only the look of the website but how it works as well. You may also be responsible for the maintenance of an existing site.

The term web developer is sometimes used interchangeably with web designer, but this is misguided. Web developing is a more specialist role, focusing on the back-end development of a website and will incorporate, among other things, the creation of highly complex search functions.

The growth in touchscreen phones and tablet devices has dictated a new way of designing websites, with the web designer needing to ensure that web pages are responsive no matter what type of device is being used. Therefore, the need to test websites at different stages of design and on a variety of devices, has become an important aspect of the job.

Responsibilities

As a web designer, you'll need to:

  • meet clients to identify their needs and liaise regularly with them
  • draw up detailed website specifications
  • design sample page layouts including text size and colours
  • design graphics, animations and manipulate digital photographs
  • register web domain names and organise the hosting of the website
  • present initial design ideas to clients
  • carry out coding using a variety of software
  • work with different content management systems
  • search engine optimisation (SEO)
  • meet relevant legal requirements such as accessibility standards, freedom of information and privacy
  • design the website's visual imagery and ensure it's in line with company branding policy or the requirements of the client
  • proofread content and make changes where necessary
  • edit content, debug code and re-design web pages
  • work with other web specialists, including web developers and graphic designers
  • liaise with outside agencies
  • test the website to ensure it's working
  • hand the completed website over to the client
  • provide post-sales technical support
  • train the clients' staff
  • research current design trends
  • undertake continuing professional development (CPD) activities to keep up to date with new software developments.

Salary

  • Starting salaries vary and can range from £18,000 to £24,000.
  • With four to six years' experience and more, salaries can increase to between £24,000 and £40,000.
  • Those in senior roles can earn upwards of £40,000.

Salaries tend to be higher in London and the South East, depending on the size of the company and its location. A way to increase your salary is to be the first to specialise in emerging technologies.

Additional benefits might include pension schemes, an on-site restaurant, parking and life assurance, but it's not unusual for small companies simply to offer a salary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll generally work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but you might be required to work extra hours in the evenings or on weekends to meet deadlines. Some jobs may involve being on-call to deal with unexpected problems that need solving at any time, day or night.

As the equipment required to be a web designer is simply a computer, software and high-speed internet, you can work from almost any location. This lends itself very well to freelance work, being self-employed and working from home.

What to expect

  • The job involves spending hours at a keyboard and demands high levels of concentration. To prevent eye strain, a bad back or other related health problems, regular breaks from the screen are recommended.
  • Depending upon your employer, your dress code can be informal, or more business-like for meeting clients.
  • This profession is currently male-dominated, but steps are being taken to redress the balance. For information and jobs geared towards women entering the industry, visit Women in Technology.
  • Web designers are essentially office based. Travel to client sites may be required especially when working on a large and complex project, and they may be based there for the duration of the project. Self-employed and freelance web designers will often work from home but may work in their client's offices from time to time.
  • The top location for web design jobs is London, with the south east of England also providing a good number of jobs. Other hot spots include Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and the M4 corridor around Slough and Reading.

Qualifications

There are a number of entry routes into web design. A formal qualification is not always necessary, as some employers place greater value on creativity and experience.

However, larger employers who offer graduate training schemes may require a related degree at either undergraduate or postgraduate level.

Relevant degree subjects (with either a creative or technical element) are numerous, but could include:

  • computer science
  • digital media production
  • fine art
  • graphic design
  • information technology
  • multimedia web design
  • software engineering
  • web design.

Many universities offer web design with additional subjects, such as communications, technology, development, advertising, management and languages. These can be useful should you wish your career to go in a specific direction, such as advertising, moving into management or working abroad.

Tech Partnership Degrees provides information about degrees and degree apprenticeships for those wanting a career in the digital industry.

Entry with a postgraduate degree or a Level 5 qualification (foundation degree, HND or a DipHE) is possible but a relevant subject, work experience and a good portfolio will be required by an employer.

In addition to qualifications, a portfolio of relevant work to show prospective employers will be essential. This could be in hard copy form or using a digital platform such as a website to showcase your work.

Entry without a degree is also possible. If you are self-taught, have developed a number of websites and have a portfolio then an employer may be interested in hiring you. This can also lead to becoming self-employed and setting up your own business.

An alternative is to undertake courses offered by non-university organisations. Numerous training providers offer web design courses which can be studied in different ways, such as in a part-time capacity or via distance learning. These providers include:

Skills

You will need to show employers evidence of soft and technical skills.

Soft skills include:

  • attention to detail
  • creativity
  • analysis
  • teamwork
  • team leading
  • problem solving
  • delivering presentations
  • ability to teach yourself new technical skills
  • communication skills.

Technical skills include:

  • Coding - HTML, CSS, Javascript, jQuery, Dreamweaver
  • Programming - .net, XML/XSLT, ASP, PHP, Python, Django
  • Design and graphics - InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash
  • Content management system (CMS) - Wordpress, Adobe Business Catalyst, Drupal, Joomla, Ektron, Zope.

It's best to show a combination of technical skills from each of the categories. However, the specifics of what's expected from you will vary depending upon the employer, the technical level of web design in the job you're applying for and the level of job role for which you're applying.

Work experience

Your web design experience doesn't need to be extensive and any experience, whether paid or voluntary, is useful. You could design websites in your own time for family or friends or embark on a summer internship or a placement year. The important thing is to develop a portfolio of work that can be shown to prospective employers and to keep up to date with the latest trends in web design.

Joining clubs or societies at university can be helpful. Particularly, those involving computing, web design or multimedia and where the opportunity for creating websites might arise. Ensure, if only at a basic level, that you can perform all the tasks of a web designer.

You can find advice on how to get into digital careers and read case studies of people working in digital jobs, on the Bubble Digital Career Portal.

Employers

The variety of industries that might employ web designers is potentially very large, as any organisation that has a website may recruit a web designer to work in-house or as a freelancer.

Some employers will have their own in-house web design team or they may use external web design agencies, freelancers or a combination of all of these.

Web design agencies are a good source of vacancies.

Other sources of work include:

  • public sector organisations - such as universities or the police force
  • private sector organisations - like design agencies, banks, supermarkets, online retailers and law firms
  • third sector organisations - large and well-known charities.

The main difference between employers is the type of work that might be expected. For example, working for a design agency will mean working on a variety of projects, with a range of clients in different industries. So the work will be very changeable and varied.

Working for an in-house team may mean less variation as you could be working on just one large website.

Working freelance or being self-employed could also mean that the work is varied, but the amount of work may be unpredictable with peaks and troughs throughout the year, which could impact on your income level.

You can find help and advice on freelancing from The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).

Look for job vacancies at:

The British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) provides information about the digital industry.

Specialist recruitment agencies such as Henry Nicholas and Michael Page commonly handle vacancies

Freelance work can be found through Freelancers.net.

Professional development

Keeping up to date with new technical developments, as well as new design concepts and trends is essential for developing your career. Your employer will normally help you to do this by offering in-house courses, arranging for you to attend off-site training courses, or by providing you with the facilities to train yourself.

Adobe Digital Learning Services offer certification in use of their industry-standard software or consider Certified Internet Web Professional (CIW) certifications. There are numerous other training providers offering professional development courses.

Maintaining up-to-date knowledge of current design trends can be done by following web design award websites such as CSS Design Awards, reading professional web design magazines such as .net magazine and reviewing other websites.

Career prospects

As web design is a multi-faceted role, the first few years of your career will be spent developing the variety of skills required to do the job. This may take four or five years, at which point you could be promoted to senior designer.

Once you've identified your strengths and which aspects of the work you like the most, you could move into other roles with responsibility for large-value projects, managing high-profile clients, leading project teams, usability, consulting or even become a director of the company.

If you feel that you would rather concentrate on the creative aspect of web design, you could specialise in areas such as:

  • graphics
  • user interface design
  • interactive design
  • front-end development
  • information architecture.

Alternatively, you may decide that you prefer a more technical role and so you could specialise in the more technical aspects of coding and develop a speciality in that area.

Another option is to obtain a teaching qualification and teach web design at a further or higher education institution. You could also work as a private tutor, teaching individuals or small groups.

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