Prologue: The purpose of this post is not to say “don’t continue your education, become a web designer”, but to remind us all that education is not the only option. I decided the conventional route of tertiary education wasn’t for me. I came into a web agency with no prior experience or knowledge, just the want to learn and use the skills I had been taught in school. It is the best decision I ever made.
When I left school five years ago, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure what career I wanted or what I would need to study. It’s safe to say that I had never before even thought, or knew, about web design or how to become a web designer.
I’ve split this post into two sections – resources you can use, and my story of how I inadvertently became involved with web design.
Resources: Tools to become a Web Designer
On the face of it, code can look daunting, but don’t worry! You’ll soon begin to understand the basics and build on your knowledge.
w3schools.com is the go-to place for learning anything web related, design or development. W3Schools is free and regularly updated, the code you learn is easily applicable in today’s web industry. Your starting points as a web designer should be HTML and CSS – these are the barebones of any website you use. The W3Schools has its own online ‘TryIt Editor’, so anything that you learn, you can immediately try and test on their website – no external tools necessary.
Notepad or TextEdit. These are the default text editors installed on Windows and Mac respectively, so they’re free to use. You can begin to learn web design by using these tools to work on code and create your first web project.
Lynda.com is a premium online training website. There’s various courses are website design and web development at various levels.
Treehouse.com, like Lynda.com is a premium trading website. The linked course will start with the basics and help you to create your first website with features such as forms and tables that will work on your laptop, tablet and mobile phone.
Stackoverflow.com is a community of web designers and developers. Users who are stuck can ask questions and get a response from other users to help them create a certain feature for their website, for example. No matter how advanced you become at web design or web development, you’ll always find yourself on Stack Overflow.
Adobe Suite is the most commonly used software used by commercial agencies. Dreamweaver is the main tool used by web designers and is fairly user intuitive, so you can fairly quickly get up to speed with using it to create code. The Adobe Suite can be pretty expensive, but don’t worry it’s out of your price range – it’s easy to use when the time comes and you’re part of an agency. You might also be interested in Notepad++, a free, more robust version of Windows Notepad for coding.
FileZilla. Once you’re content with creating code, you might decide to purchase a domain name (www.yourdomain.co.uk). To upload the code and files you craft, you’ll need a tool like FileZilla (known as an FTP client) to upload them to your website domain. Completely free.
How I became a Web Designer
From my own experience, I’m a firm believer that you don’t need to go college or continue to University to enter the web design sector. The fundamentals of web design can be picked up through some incredibly useful websites and with the rise in apprenticeships, you can even learn on the job, like I did.
My career started as a wannabe graphic designer and digital marketeer. I was interested in using social media to influence people and drive sales, and always wanted to make the graphics and advertisements that helped swing decisions when you’re thinking of what shoes to buy, which hairspray to try or which company to use. This initial interest is what led me to an apprenticeship in Social and Digital Media – the very start of my working career, working as part of the team at a local web design agency.
The problem I faced, and a problem I was very open about when taking the job is that whilst I wanted to be a graphic designer and develop these beautiful advertisements and branding, as much as I tried to, I wasn’t able to hand draw. I found this to be a stumbling block but I persevered and I always tried my best, but I was never going to be a hand drawer. Little did I know, this wouldn’t be a problem for much longer.
Part of my role within digital marketing was not only to create graphics for advertisements, but I also began to create the emails that would deliver these advertisements to you. I’m going to apologise now incase you’re thinking it was me that designed some of those advertising emails that reach your inbox hundreds of times a week (it probably wasn’t). What I began to learn was that these well formatted, designed emails are created through images and code. Whilst your images may look great, you become reliant on code to dictate where your image lies in your email, and rely on code to format your text, and rely on code to make sure that when someone clicks ‘Unsubscribe’, the link actually goes to an unsubscribe form(!)
I quickly became immersed in creating these formatted ‘HTML’ emails, and my newly found knowledge of code was transferable. HTML is the backbone of any website you view today, and I was beginning to be tasked with using my basic coding knowledge to update some of our client’s websites. With each task came the need to know a little bit more, and between being taught by colleagues and by using the resources I’ve listed above, I slowly became more and more experienced in web design. To the point where I was able to meet with clients, discuss their requirements and work with them and the team to create these ‘responsive’ websites.
Web design became my common ground of wanting to create beautiful things online without the need for drawing whilst still being able to work on digital marketing. With that satisfaction in my job, I continued to learn and work on more and more projects with a diverse range of clients. Slowly, I began to move further into the development side of the web (what’s the difference?) and become more rounded employee. I can safely say that I love my job, and it all started by wanting to have a go at something.