Love all things web and internet? Creative and techy too? A career as a web designer may be right for you
Web designers plan, create and code web pages, using both technical and non-technical skills to produce websites that fit their customer's requirements.
They are involved in the technical and graphical aspects of pages, producing not just the look of the website, but determining how it works as well. Web designers might 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, on a variety of devices, has become an important aspect of the job.
Your duties as a web designer will vary depending upon the type of organisation you're working for and the technical level of the website, but can include:
- meeting clients to identify their needs and liaising regularly with them
- drawing up detailed website specifications
- designing sample page layouts including text size and colours
- designing graphics, animations and manipulating digital photographs
- registering web domain names and organising the hosting of the website
- presenting initial design ideas to clients
- coding using a variety of software
- working with different content management systems
- search engine optimisation (SEO)
- meeting relevant legal requirements such as accessibility standards, freedom of information and privacy
- designing the website's visual imagery and ensuring it's in line with company branding policy or the requirements of the client
- proofreading content and making changes where necessary
- editing content, debugging code and re-designing web pages
- working with other web specialists including web developers and graphic designers
- liaising with outside agencies
- testing the website to ensure it is working
- handing the completed website over to the client
- post-sales technical support
- training client's staff
- researching current design trends
- continual professional development to keep up to date with new software developments.
- 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.
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.
There are a number of entry routes into web design. A formal qualification is not always necessary as some employers value 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 are numerous, but any with either a creative or technical element would be useful. This 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, languages and many more. These can be useful should you wish your career to go in a specific direction, such as advertising, moving into management or working abroad.
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 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.
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 distance learning or part time. These providers include:
You will need to show employers evidence of good soft and technical skills. Soft skills include:
- attention to detail
- team leading
- problem solving
- delivering presentations
- ability to teach yourself new technical skills
- communication skills.
It's best to show a combination of technical skills from each of the categories below. 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.
- 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.
Web design experience doesn't need to be extensive. You could carry out work experience, design websites in your own time for family or friends or embark on a summer internship or a placement year. Any experience will contribute to you securing a job. The important thing is to develop a portfolio of work that can be shown to prospective employers.
Any sort of web design experience, whether paid or voluntary, is useful. While at university, joining clubs or societies which include computing, web design or multimedia and where the opportunity for creating websites might arise is a good start.
Ensure that you're up to date with the latest trends in web design by undertaking relevant work experience and being able to undertake, even at a basic level, all the tasks a web designer will have to perform.
Advice on how to get into digital careers and case studies of people working in digital jobs can be found at Bubble Digital Career Portal.
To develop their website, employers may use a number of options including their own in-house web design team, external web design agencies, freelancers or a combination of all of these. With this in mind, the variety of industries that might employ web designers is potentially very large, so any organisation that has a website may recruit a web designer to work in-house or as a freelancer.
Web design agencies are one primary source of vacancies for web designers, but there are others.
- Public sector organisations - universities or the police force
- Private sector organisations - such as design agencies, banks, supermarkets, online retailers and law firms
- Third sector organisations - large and well-known charities.
The main difference between them is in the variety of work that might be expected, for example, working for a design agency you will work on a variety of projects working with a range of clients in different industries. Therefore the work will be very changeable and varied. Working for an in-house team the work may be less varied as you could be working on just one large website. Get more tips on how to find a job.
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 will impact on your income level. Find help and advice on freelancing from The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).
Look for job vacancies at:
- BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT)
- British Interactive Media Association (BIMA)
- Bubble Jobs
- Creative Review
- .net magazine
- The Tech Partnership
- UKWDA Jobs
Recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies and there are numerous specialist IT recruitment agencies.
Keeping up to date with new technical developments, as well as new design concepts and trends, will be essential to developing in 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 an 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.
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 have identified your strengths and which aspects of the work you like 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:
- 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.