Advice for starting out in web design

  annickcg2004 20:31 08 Feb 2008

Help! I am thinking of starting out in web design; however I am a complete novice.
Most web design work requires either a high level of education (ie degree or equivalent) or lots of experience.
Obviously I need to spend money on gaining knowledge through online/open university courses, however which ones should I choose?
Also, after gaining basic knowledge, how do I build up a portfolio of work?
Many thanks

  ElanMan 08:36 09 Feb 2008

Hi, in my experience, you don't need a degree to find work as a web designer. I own my own web design/development business and I have never been to University. As a potential employer, I would much rather look at your ability as opposed to any qualification. That said, a qualification can show that you are committed to learning.
Another problem I have with 'web designer' courses is that they are very general (you learn a little about lots of stuff but not enough of each) and by the time you are 'qualified' some of the stuff you have learnt is out of date. The internet is a fast changing environment with new technologies/techniques coming along all the time.
In your position, I would buy a couple of good books.
For starters, I would recommend 'Head First HTML and CSS' by O'Reilly Press, a brilliantly written book that makes learning the basics really easy.
If you want to learn PHP, I would recommend anything by Larry Ullman, again great books.
Subscribe to related magazines (Netmag is very good) and keep up with what's happening with the industry.
As for creating a portfolio, either offer to do a site for a friend in business or just create fictional businesses and create sites for them i.e a dentist's site, a fashion house etc anything that comes to mind. Try and create sites that really show off what you can do.
One final thought, a general knowledge of all related languages/technologies is good, as knowing how the backend of a site is built can help you when designing the front end for example but the best way to get employed by an agency would be to specialise in one particular area. There aren't many people who can claim to be excellent in both design and development, so I wouldn't try, I would choose one area and become excellent in that. This will definitely increase your chances of finding work.
I hope that helps you.
Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

  Forum Editor 12:50 09 Feb 2008

and a career as a web designer will certainly be that much easier if you have at least some sense of design. People buy with their eyes to a large extent, and a site that works well and looks good will always attract more traffic than one which works well but looks pedestrian.

Apart from that, you'll need some technical knowledge, and that can only be gained by working hard. There are several lines of attack; reading certainly has its place, but above all practice is what helps. Get hold of some decent design software - DreamWeaver, or Expression Web, for instance, and a good image-manipulation application like Photoshop or (less expensively) Ulead PhotoImpact. What you don't need, if you're planning to work for yourself, is any formal qualification.

Then practice - open a webhosting account and buy a domain name. Design a site and publish it to your account. Tweak it and design some sub-dommain sites, then tweak those, too. Practice and practice until you know the software pretty well. Look at lots of other sites and learn about design - what looks good and works well. Learn about copyright, and some basics about online selling, and learn about how shopping carts work.

Then, when you think you're ready to start charging people for your work, find your first client. In most cases this is the hardest part of all - people want to see previous sites you've designed, and you don't have any. A good ploy is to contact some local charities and/or businesses and offer to design a site for nothing. You're bound to get some work that way, and suddenly you have some previous work to show real paying clients.

It isn't easy, and it won't happen overnight, but if you have design talent, and you're prepared to slog at it you'll succeed. If you have no flair for design it might be better to consider some other ways to earn money, because competition is very stiff - there are literally hundreds of thousands of other people out there, doing what you're trying to do.

  gibbs1984 19:58 10 Feb 2008

I'm not in the Web design business (although I wouldn't mind being in it) but I learnt through doing tutorials on the Internet and by reading a couple of books. I also search the web for inspiration on different design techniques.

Just finished a short course at the Open University in web development applications and onto the 2nd one out of 6, don't really need to take them but it's fun.

click here

ElanMan: What's O'Reilly's books like? I've heard good things about them and ordered Head First JavaScript a couple of days ago, can't wait to start reading it.

  ElanMan 20:20 10 Feb 2008

Hi gibbs1984,
You won't regret buying any of the 'Head First' series of books from O'Reilly.
The way they are written makes it so easy to learn.
It's a shame that all computing books aren't written this way!
Once you've read one, you're sure to buy another!
It's a pity that the 'Head First' series doesn't cover more languages/technologies.

I hope you enjoy your read!

  gibbs1984 20:31 10 Feb 2008

Thanks ElanMan,

The easy reading is the reason that I'm opting for O'Reilly's.

  DieSse 11:31 13 Feb 2008

My advice -

Relegate the fancy technology to second place, and concentrate on the design side. You can make good looking websites with relatively simple technology.

There's plenty of reading on the web about basic design principles - google

website design principles

website tutorials

for instance. You can sketch out (in fact it's good practice to do so) a site layout, navigation, content, and so on.

You can then implement and tweak the design with a simple web construction package. Then perhaps move on to doing the same design with more advanced tools, as you learn them.

What makes a good website is not the tools you use to construct it, but it's ease of use, readability, attractiveness, speed etc.

  Forum Editor 17:51 13 Feb 2008

with relatively simple technology."

I agree with every word of that. A good designer with entry-level software will beat a mediocre designer who has all the software bells and whistles every time.

  JAC13 21:35 15 Feb 2008

I taught myself to web design. My other half was pestering me to build him a website, so I did!
I have nothing more than GCSE's and 3 if I can do can!

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