Web designers are responsible for creating the look and feel of World Wide Web pages for a client's Web site. This involves developing a graphic design that effectively communicates the ideas being promoted by the Web site. A web designer may take part in the initial planning of a Web site, meeting with the client to discuss ideas for the layout and organization of the site, the types of colors or images to use (photos, illustrations, videos, etc.), and other matters concerning overall graphic design. Sometimes a web producer has already developed a basic concept for the web page. In this case it is the web designer's task to create a design that matches the producer's ideas.
Once the basic concept is agreed upon, the web designer must collect the text documents and images that will appear on the page and convert them into a form in which they can be viewed. This requires a mastery of HTML (hypertext markup language), the computer language used to create web pages. The designer must also have knowledge of the most current HTML extensions—programs that make it possible to add special features to web pages such as animations and interactive surveys. Because a Web site may incorporate a variety of different functions, including clickable e-mail contacts or the ability to download files to a computer, the designer must have a working knowledge of FTP (file transfer protocol) and other programs that enable these functions to work.
Because web designers work with a client or web producer to develop and refine ideas, they must have strong verbal and visual communications skills. Designers should be able to listen closely to the client and create pages that reflect what the client is looking for. They also need to be flexible because they may be called upon to change their designs. Since Web sites are constantly updated to remain current, a designer has to be able to work well under the pressure of tight deadlines and changing demands.
Education and Training Requirements
Web designers typically have a background in fine arts, graphic design, or publishing combined with college courses in computer science and hands-on computer experience. A web designer may have a four-year college degree, a two-year associate's degree, or perhaps no advanced schooling at all. Many web designers teach themselves HTML and acquire other necessary computer skills on their own.
All designers must have training in computer graphics packages such as Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Paint Shop Pro as well as knowledge of Flash, XML-based web applications and programming, XHTML programming, and other web development languages and technologies. The designer should also be comfortable working with a variety of operating systems such as Windows, Macintosh, and Unix. Since computer technology changes rapidly, web designers must constantly stay abreast of new developments in graphics software packages as well as those in the World Wide Web and related technologies.
The HTML Writers Guild offers web training and a certification program. There are four web study certification levels offered: Web Technologies, Web Programming, Web Graphics and Multimedia, and Web Business. Students must pass the web study courses before obtaining certification.
Getting the Job
As more companies develop their own Web sites, web designer openings can be found in classified ads in local newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet itself. Quite often, web designers begin their careers as graphic designers or layout artists for advertising firms or publishing companies. After learning the appropriate computer skills, they can transfer their artistic experience to the online world.
Prospective web designers should put together a portfolio of their work to show to potential employers. Many web designers are freelancers who sell their services to clients on a consulting or contractual basis. Self-employed web designers often establish a personal page on the World Wide Web that showcases their design skills for potential customers.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
There are several different career paths available in the field of web design. The entry-level position of assistant designer involves designing certain elements of a web page or Web site. Project managers are in charge of the design or redesign of entire Web sites. The project manager may work with freelance artists and writers who supply materials to be incorporated into the Web site. Design directors oversee the work of a number of web designers, reviewing and correcting it and making suggestions to improve the design. A design director is usually the person who meets most often with the client to discuss ideas and make sure a project meets the client's expectations.The World Wide Web and its related businesses are growing at an astounding rate, so the employment outlook for web designers is excellent through 2014.
Web designers usually work in a modern office environment. Much of the work requires long hours of solitary effort, although designers must also meet with clients and supervisors to discuss projects in progress. Freelance web designers work mainly out of a home office, but they may be asked to perform some work at the client's place of business. Web design takes place in a fast-paced, creative atmosphere in which one must constantly develop new ideas and respond quickly to changing needs. This may involve working long and irregular hours to meet tight deadlines or make last-minute changes to an existing design.