Web designers plan, create and code web pages, using both non-technical and technical skills to produce websites that fit the 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 can be confusing. 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 recent 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 a viewer is using. Therefore the need to test websites at different stages of design, on a variety of different devices, has become an important aspect of the job.
Web designer duties can vary depending upon the type of organisation worked 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;
- 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 of experience, salaries can increase between £24,000 and £40,000.
- Salaries in excess of £40,000 can be achieved for more senior roles.
Salaries tend to be higher in London and the South East. Salary size will depend upon the size of the company and its location. A way to increase salary is to be the first to specialise in emerging technologies.
Additional benefits might include pension schemes, 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 are generally 9am to 5pm but can involve 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.
What to expect
- 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.
- This profession is currently male-dominated, but steps are being taken to redress the balance. For information and jobs for women who want to work in technology, go to Women in Technology.
- Depending upon the employer, the dress code can be informal, for example jeans and a t-shirt. When meeting clients it may be necessary to wear more business-like attire.
- As the equipment required to be a web designer is simply a computer, software and high-speed internet, the work can be done from almost any location. This lends itself very well to freelance work, being self-employed and working from home.
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 and 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, i.e. 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. There are numerous training providers that offer web design courses, which can be studied using different modes of study, e.g. distance learning, part time. Training provider examples include:
You will need to show evidence of the following soft and technical skills.
The soft skills required include:
- attention to detail;
- team leading;
- problem solving;
- delivering presentations;
- ability to teach yourself new technical skills;
- communication skills.
Employers prefer a combination of technical skills from each of the categories below, however, this will vary depending upon the employer, the level of the job and the technical level of web design:
- programming: .net; XML/XSLT; ASP; PHP; Python.
- design and graphics: InDesign; Illustrator; Photoshop; Fireworks; Flash.
- content management system (CMS): Wordpress; Adobe Business Catalyst; Drupal; Ektron; Zope.
Web design experience doesn't need to be extensive, it could be work experience, websites designed in your own time for family or friends, a summer internship or a placement year; but 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.
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.
Any sort of web design experience, whether paid or voluntary, is useful. While at university a good option is to join clubs or societies which include computing, web design or multimedia and where the opportunity for creating websites might arise.
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.
For example, public sector organisations might include universities or the police force; private sector organisations might include design agencies, banks, supermarkets, online retailers, law firms; and third sector organisations might include 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.
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:
Look for job vacancies at:
- BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT)
- British Interactive Media Association (BIMA)
- Bubble Jobs
- Computer Weekly
- Creative Review
- .net magazine
- The Tech Partnership
- UK Web Design Association (UKWDA)
- Careers service vacancy lists.
Recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies and there are numerous specialist IT recruitment agencies.
It will be essential to keep up to date with new technical developments, as well as new design concepts and trends. 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 Training Services offer certification in use of their industry-standard software.
The BCS offers professional development courses for IT professionals, although none specifically related to web design. However, some of their courses could support the work of a web designer, e.g. architecture and system development.
There are numerous other training providers offering professional development courses; examples include:
- Distance Learning Centre
- National IT Learning Centre
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 a 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 may 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 then 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.