Web Designer

    If you are wondering how to become a web designer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of the design industry, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Web designers use a combination of programming and design skills to build or revamp websites. A good web designer needs both creative and technical skills. They must be able to picture how a site will look (at the ‘front end’), and also understand how it will work (at the ‘back end’).

    As a web designer, you would work on a wide range of projects which could include anything from an interactive educational resource to an online shopping site.

    Typical responsibilities:

    meeting the client to discuss what they want their site to do and who it is aimed at
    preparing a design plan, showing the site structure and how the different parts link together
    deciding which text, colours and backgrounds to use
    laying out pages, postioning buttons, links and pictures, using design software
    adding multimedia features like sound, animation and video
    testing and refining the design and site features until everything works as planned
    uploading the site to a server for publication online.
    Depending on the project, you may be contracted to maintain your client’s website once it is up and running.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good website designers include:

    an understanding of internet programming and scripting languages
    a good working knowledge of the main web design software
    strong creative skills
    good problem-solving skills, together with a logical approach to work
    the ability to explain technical matters clearly to people who may have little knowledge of IT
    an ability to work to deadlines
    an understanding of legislation and guidelines for website accessibility
    a willingness to keep up to date with changes in technology and software
    a working knowledge of equipment such as scanners, and digital photo, video and audio equipment.
    You will need good business management and negotiating skills if self-employed.

    How to become a website designer
    You do not need any formal qualifications to become a web designer, but most designers have experience in other design fields or have taken training in web design software, either through college or by self-teaching.

    Employers will want to see evidence of your ability, so you will need a portfolio of work to demonstrate your creative and technical skills, usually in the form of a CD, DVD or ‘live’ websites. This could include college, paid or voluntary work.

    If you have little or no experience in web design, you could take a college course, which would give you a good grounding in design and technical basics. Courses include:

    BTEC Interactive use of Media levels 1 to 3
    OCR Certificate for IT Users – Level 2 (CLAiT Plus) and Level 3 (CLAiT Advanced)
    OCR iMedia Users levels 1 to 3
    City & Guilds E-Quals IT Users awards (7266) – Level 2 (Diploma) and Level 3 (Advanced Diploma).
    You could also take more advanced courses, for example foundation degree, BTEC HNC/HND or a degree in a design or multimedia subject. Relevant subjects include:

    web design and development
    multimedia design
    digital media development
    interactive computing.
    These courses are very widely available. To search for colleges and universities offering foundation degrees, HNC/HNDs and degrees visit the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

    E-skills UK and the British Computer Society have information on their websites about careers in web design. You can also find details about web accessibility standards through the World Wide Web Consortium website.

    Training and Development
    In this type of work, it is very important to keep your skills and knowledge up to date, as technology moves on very quickly. You will find it useful to have a good working knowledge of at least two of the following design packages:

    Flash and Fireworks
    FrontPage (for PCs).
    You may also need experience of both Apple Mac computers and PCs. You can do courses at local colleges covering these packages and you can find many online training sites, which are often free to use.

    If you want more flexibility and control over your designs, some understanding of coding, scripting and programming is helpful. This includes:

    Active Server Pages (ASP)
    PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor also known as Personal Home Page).
    You could also learn how to use cascading style sheets (CSS), which would allow you to control formatting and styles across multiple web pages.

    Although not essential, you could take an industry certification scheme such as the Certified Internet Web professional (CIW) Master Designer course. See the CIW site for more details.

    The UK Web Design Association is a free membership organisation for web professionals. Its website contains numerous links to online training resources, web-related issues and job searches. Non-members can also access these links.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Salaries for new web designers are between £15,000 and £20,000 a year.
    Experienced designers can earn up to £30,000.
    Senior designers and those with specialist skills, for example Flash programming, may earn up to £40,000.
    Self-employed web designers negotiate their own rates.

    Job Prospects
    You can find work with web design companies, in the IT departments of large public and private organisations, or as a freelance designer. There is a lot of competition for contracts but prospects for skilled web designers are very good.

    If you work for an organisation, you could progress in your career by moving into design team management, or by expanding your skills to become a web content manager, responsible for all aspects of website business and development. See the related profiles for more details about these roles.

    With the right skills and experience, you could set up your own company.

    Useful design industry resources:
    UK Web Design Association

    e-skills UK
    1 Castle Lane
    SW1E 6DR

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