Opportunities in Website Design

By: Rich Goldman

Whether you are a recent graduate, self-taught or an established designer looking to make a change in your career, web design as a vocation has changed out of all recognition over the last few years. Where HTML jockeys once ruled the web, today if you want to get ahead in web design you need an armoury of skills that you can sell to an employer. More designers are also breaking away from traditional studios and setting themselves up as freelance agents in a bid to fulfil their creative ambitions.

No matter how you came into web design, understanding the market as well as possessing the skills you'll need to succeed are both essential. To make it in what is now a very competitive and creative environment you'll need flair, good business sense, solid skills in your chosen field and a relentless pursuit of your goal. Web design is one of the most dynamic fields any designer can work in, but how do you land that dream job?

Design landscape

The dotcom crash of the late Nineties was a turning point in web and multimedia design. Before the crash shook the industry, anyone with a basic knowledge of HTML could get a job hand coding pages or flying an early version of Dreamweaver. The design industry that had a background in print couldn't quite understand what design for the screen really meant. After the crash, some hard lessons were learnt as the industry put itself back onto its feet. The new web would not only have a much sounder business footing to build on; it would also use the design lessons of the screen generation and apply them to the new wave of websites that blasted across millions of PC screen worldwide.

The good news is that today if you're looking for a web or new media post, the range of jobs on offer has mushroomed. Where once HTML skills reigned supreme, today a more rounded approach to design is required by the industry as a whole. Yes, technical ability is still required, but this must be supported with a well defined design sense. If you can't use your technical prowess to solve problems, you'll find it impossible to land a job in this industry.

No blagging allowed!

One question that is often asked is what skills you should gain to give yourself the best chance of securing a job. Web design today encompasses many technical disciplines, which you'll be required to be fluent in. The industry as a whole is moving away from highly specialised designers to staff that is multi skilled.

The design industry doesn't tolerate anyone who can't deliver what they say they can. If you're lucky enough to land a position, from day one you'll be required to prove to your employer that they made the right decision. You can either do the work or you can't there's no middle ground. And in an industry that puts great trust in reputations, you should protect yours at all costs.

You can't have failed to notice the increase in online portfolios that have now become a part of
the design landscape. In this industry it's what you can do that counts to prospective employers. They simply don't care which university you went to or who your teachers were. All they want to know is what you as a designer can do for them. You show them with your portfolio. It should showcase your best work but also illustrate the kind of designer you are. Companies that are commissioning web designers for entire web based projects or for content need to know you 'fit' with the company, and that the work you'll produce complements their brand identity. Take a look at your current portfolio. What's it say about you? Does it reflect your particular design sensibilities?

Many budding web designers are of course self-taught. If you're reading this and have never had a formal design lesson in your life, this doesn't mean you have to abandon your dream of becoming a web designer. Academic qualifications have to a degree (excuse the pun) taken a back seat in favour of hands on skills. Web design is now a diverse industry and offers a large number of specific jobs that you can work in. From creative director to artworker, there is a job that's perfect for you. Talk to other designers; expand your knowledge and work on developing your creativity. But don't forget that often you will be asked to work within a team, so hone your communication skills as well.

Freelance freedom

Landing a job in a design agency can be easier said than done, which is why many designers make the decision to employ themselves. Going down the freelance route can have many benefits, but take this step with great care. Running your own design agency will require that you're not only the design principle but also the person who has to deal with the more mundane tasks of running a business such as cash flow and profit and loss. Do you have a business head to go with your design talent?

Freelancing can also be a lonely existence, with just yourself to rely on for company. You may find that your personality and therefore your design sense is better supported in a group environment. This is why, over recent years, design collectives have appeared that offer the independence of being a freelance designer, but also the rewards of shared studio space and of course the creative input from the other designers in the office. This could be a halfway house for you if you aren't keen on full employment but dread the thought of working alone in your spare room. How many mates did you keep in touch with after your graduation year? Give them a call you might have a new business in the making.

Design future

Web design is a dynamic industry perhaps more dynamic than any other. To attract employers or get a regular flow of work into your own business, you must understand the market you're in and produce work that demonstrates an understanding of today's culture but which also has one eye on the future. If you can spot design trends in the web industry you will never be out of work.

Flash continues to be dominant on the web, and with a new version always ready in the wings you'll need to get up to speed with any new features quickly. Don't forget you're in competition with every other designer in the industry. Learn how to use the new tools, but use them creatively. Ask yourself how you can catch the eye of prospective employers. Corporate clients will also want to see that you can produce work that considers the accessibility laws they have to abide by. You may be able to produce some great web design work, but this must always be within the context of regulations that your client is all too aware of. In the commercial world that will pay your mortgage, there is little room for design for design's sake! Save this for your personal web projects.

A career in web design can be extremely rewarding. Whether you take the path of employee or start your own agency, the same principles apply; you are in a competitive industry with other agencies or designers chasing a finite amount of work. In an industry that has become very crowded of late, employers and clients with money to spend are looking for the diamonds in the rough. Work at your portfolio. Enter all the competitions you can. Look for innovative ways of getting your work seen. Eventually you'll get your break and your career will be up and running.

Careers and Job Hunting
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