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I Want to be a Web Designer - What Does it Take?

I get interviewed from time to time from future web designers. Recently a high school student emailed me for some tips so I thought I'd record them here.


Tyler: I'm a high school student interested into going in the field of web design and would like information concerning the field.

Response: We understand you are requesting information regarding the web design industry.

Can you be more specific in your request?

What questions can we answer for you? (You can't just give away the farm gotta make 'em work for it)

Tyler: Specifically I'm interested in the type of education required.

Response: This is a skill set specific industry. Two types of education:

1. Tools - ability to use tools in graphic and web design, i.e. html
editors, vector tools, image manipulation tools - Illustrator, Photoshop,
Fireworks, Notepad, Dreamweaver, etc.

2. Talent/Skills -ability to have an eye for design, look and feel, color
palettes, etc. In addition skills in programming such as PHP/ASP,
xhtml/css, Flash, Apache, Unix - etc depending on the type of work you go

Tyler: What type of degree do I need?

Response: The answer no one wants to hear is you don't need a degree to get into Web Design. If you have one it won't hurt, but it's like any other career, experience rules, degrees are the icy on the cake. If you have solid work experience and a decent portfolio - that's the key.

The problem is getting experience is difficult if you do not have a portfolio or solid resume. Getting a degree may get you in the door with an internship or entry level work.

Bottom line is everyone has to start somewhere. Everyone I have ever hired had the skills and/or portfolio to prove themselves. Not one had a degree in web design/programming etc. However, having a degree in anything will give you good business background and maturity which is very apparent when someone comes to me for work. If I had to choose between an artist with a degree and an artist without, and they both had a portfolio and experience, I'd obviously take the person with the degree.

Tyler: What kind of classes should I take in college?

Response: Whatever the school will offer related to the skill you're going for. Web design is such a general term. There are coders, designers, administrators, webmasters, server admins, production artists, creative artists, illustrators, etc. They all have their place in Internet technology and many overlap.

Tyler: What exactly does the field entail?

Response: General question - but basically it's a very technically specific career. This is not a job for people who do not like to study and read. We read, read, study study all the time. You always have to be at the top of trends in order to beat or stick with the competition. As soon as you think you're putting out good work, someone will do something more creative or stunning. We push each other constantly and there is no room to relax. Also there are very skill specific education that must be learned for each type of job previously mentioned. If I'm a coder, I need to keep up with web standards and browser trends constantly. If I'm an illustrator, I need to keep up with print file preparation set by printing industry and software makers etc.

Tyler: Are web designers going to be in demand?

Response: Oh yes.

But don't let this lead you to believe that you will be part of that demand. It is a very competitive market and just because you are a designer and there is a need for designers doesn't mean that you will get work. You have to have all the things any business requires to be successful. Sales, marketing, high quality website, portfolio, client base to show to potential clients, references, statistical data to see trends in your business, and decent customer service to retain and earn new clients.


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